the guardian Tue 06 March 2012
These pieces include sketches from a return visit to Bolaño's native Chile, short newspaper columns largely about books and authors, and glimpses of life with his family in Blanes, a Catalan seaside town. Tentatively compared to "a kind of fragmented autobiography" in Echevarría's introduction, the collection has obvious omissions as a memoir but does reflect Bolaño's multi-faceted, contradictory personality, by turns engaging and cantankerous, shy and outspoken and strangely obsessed with ranking fellow writers. A personal canon soon emerges (Borges, Cortázar, Kafka and, in poetry, Nicanor Parra), but so does an anti-canon led by Isabel Allende ("kitsch") and Paolo Coelho ("a soap opera Rio witch doctor"). Among the highlights are an account of visiting Borges's grave in Geneva, memories of his years as a book-thief, thoughts on Martin Amis's Experience, Thomas Harris, Cormac McCarthy, Mark Twain and Mario Vargas Llosa, and a wonderfully vivid interview (his last) that he gave to the Mexican edition of Playboy.