Amulet by Roberto Bolaño
Picador: paperback published 2009: 184 pages
Auxilio Lacouture is trapped. For twelve days she hides alone in a lavatory on the fourth floor of the university. Staring at the floor, she begins a heartfelt and feverish tale: she is the mother of Mexican poetry.
This highly charged first-person semi-hallucinatory novel is a potent stream of consciousness through which the poets of Mexico rage and swirl. Filled with wild, dark literary prophecies, heroic poets, mad poets, artists ‘choked by the brilliance of youth’, Auxilio’s passionate narration – both heart-breaking and lyrical – is suffused with the essence of Bolaño’s art.
I have to say how much I enjoy Bolaño’s writing; it’s beautiful and emotional. I’ve only read one book, but his writing feels so distinctive that you get a real sense of the writer and what care and attention he gave each word. You want to read aloud just to roll the words around your mouth and taste them.
Auxilio is a compelling narrator as the heroine of this story – she has a powerful voice for such a brief amount of pages. And when it says it’s “semi-hallucinatory”, it’s not kidding. From the cold tiles of a fourth floor lavatory, Auxilio trips back and forth in time – meeting poets and artists and broken people and powerful people throughout – sometimes blending between times and places with a simple glance at a pair of curtains.
She even meets those she never met, and people that never existed. She discovers herself as the mother of Mexican poetry, and realises the secrets of experiences not yet experienced. You feel the grit and fear and seriousness of poets, and the heartbreak and sorrow that comes with it.
Because it is such a short book, I wondered if I really got a sense of Mexico as Auxilio saw it – it felt integral to the story, and yet she never seemed to focus on it so much; she would shy away every time she came too close to a personal review of the country. I read The Old Patagonian Express during university (a top recommendation by a tutor and it’s stuck with me ever since), and the sense of Mexico it evoked was so powerful I could practically taste it through the pages. I almost wanted that feeling again with this book – Bolaño’s writing certainly has the ability to do it.
It’s another read that reminds me of Catch-22. You can’t read the book – you have to absorb it… as horribly clichéd as that sounds. I found that if I concentrated too hard on the words, I got lost and confused. Whereas if I just let it happen as I read it, like not looking it directly in the eye, it was fantastic.
But then I fear if I say too much about the book, you won’t “get it” when you read it. It has to be a personal experience – a personal understanding of Auxilio. Bolaño is a poetic and genuine writer, and an absolute pleasure to read – whether you read Amulet or another of his novels, I can’t help but feel that his writing is an experience of pure joy.
Next book: As I explained on Twitter, this next book is part of the “pick a book, any book” game I play occasionally. The rules are very simple – pick up a book that you like the look of, whether you like the title or even just the cover, but you CAN’T read the blurb. You read this without knowing anything about it, and find out what the story is as you read it. This “pick a book” choice is Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann – and I picked it for the title (in my opinion, if there’s the word “tigers” there, it can’t go wrong).