Amulet

Amulet - Roberto Bolaño, Chris Andrews This novella/short novel takes an incident from Bolaño's brilliant 'The Savage Detectives' and weaves a new tale from it. The incident in question concerns the narrator, Auxilio Lacouture, and the Mexican regime's violent repression of student protest in the turbulent year that was 1968. Auxilio refers to this incident, the defining moment of her life, time and again throughout the book.

Like the longer work from which it derives, 'Amulet' is set in the world of Mexico City's poetry scene. It slips between description of a number of events and a series of hallucinations. The atmosphere Bolaño creates is unnerving.

Bolaño writes fairly convincingly from a female perspective, a notoriously difficult trick for a male writer to pull off. I guess it helps that his narrator is an oddball, not a 'conventional' woman. The dream-like repetitions move the narrative along in a fevered state of tension, reflecting the unease that habitually accompanies this writer's work. And it's a pleasure to make fleeting re-acquaintance with a few of the characters from 'The Savage Detectives'. And Bolaño knew what he was doing, of course. The opening and last lines are both memorable ones.

Unless it was self-deprecating high irony, the least likeable aspect of this book was the narrator's account of Arturo Belano, the fictionalised version of our novelist who first appears in 'The Savage Detectives'. Auxilio/Bolaño paints a picture of a romantic and heroic figure, returning from his defence of Allende against Pinochet to take on the lords of Mexico City's underworld. Hmm... According to some accounts, Bolaño never even returned to Chile at that troubled time (bringing to mind the controversy over Laurie Lee and the Spanish Civil War, another prose writer who saw himself as primarily a poet). There's nothing wrong with self-mythologising but a little due modesty doesn't go amiss.