I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Leap Into Darkness

A Leap Into Darkness

Matt Bucher
A Little Lumpen Novelita, by Roberto Bolaño, trans Natasha Wimmer, New Directions, 128 pp, €19.95, ISBN: 978-0811223355 One of the last of Roberto Bolaño’s books to appear in English bears the curious title of A Little Lumpen Novelita. The diminutive serves as a disingenuous shrug: this old thing? It is a short book, but not one lacking in significance in its role in European literature and Bolaño’s fictional universe. Indeed it reinforces its author’s status as the most important Latin American writer of his generation and a towering figure in the world of letters. The story of the novella is straightforward, but manages to weave together several of Bolaño’s signature themes in its taut simplicity. When their parents are killed in a motor accident, Bianca and her brother must live alone and struggle to survive. Eventually the two give up on school and find menial jobs. One day Bianca’s brother returns to the apartment with two men: one from Libya and the other from Bologna. The two men become roommates of sorts, cleaning and cooking but not working, eventually finding their way into Bianca’s bed. Economic conditions deteriorate and the foursome relies on Bianca’s meagre income as a hairdresser. Like a wave of nausea approaching, Bianca feels herself teetering on a life of crime. Dreams occupy a unique place in Bolaño’s narratives. Like more traditional magical realists such as Borges or Garcia Márquez, he uses dreams not only as a projection of the subconscious but also as the focal point of creation. Throughout the novella, Bianca is haunted by the death of her parents and her projected dreams assume the function of films that both terrify and distract her. The Bolognese and the Libyan convince Bianca to visit the home of an old man named Maciste (or “Giovanni Dellacroce” or “Franco Bruno”), a former Mr Universe and actor who is now blind. She plays a prostitute but secretly searches Maciste’s mansion, looking for a safe holding enough money to allow her and her roommates to escape their miserable lives. Maciste is the Hercules of Italian cinema. Maciste/Hercules appeared in dozens of silent films before being resurrected as a kitschy superhero in the 1960s. Bolaño’s Maciste is an emblem of faded glory, and as his health deteriorates throughout the story, Bianca finds him to be more pitiful and endearing. Through this relationship, however, Bianca finds the strength to shake off the guilt…

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