By Night In Chile – Review

By Night in Chile is a 130 page novella by Roberto Bolano giving a night long rant by the aged and sickly priest,  Father Urrutia. Over the course of the rant we are given an oral history of the priest as he attempted to be a writer himself, gained some prominance in literary circles as a critic, attended literary parties and tutored Pinochet on Marxism while continually returning to lash out at a “wizened youth” who has become the Father’s foil.

It is never openly stated but it becomes a fair interpretation to say that the wizened youth who so haunts the rants of Urrutia isn’t an actual person but possibly the ghost of the father’s past when he was perhaps a bit more idealistic and true to his goals than the man he became. Even as Urrutia claims the “wizened youth” has grown more silent in contrast to Urrutia’s rant, and while the old priest never admits to have been wrong, a sense that the father knows he is only deluding himself and that the specter of his youthful self is right haunts the pages.

Urretia comes across as a priest who isn’t overly interested in the religious side of his job. Whenever he turns to use or advocate prayer or religious practice in a meaningful way, he finds it difficult to invoke and laments himself of his own shortcomings. When visiting a party while wearing his cassock or while being asked to perform mass while travelling across the Atlantic, however, he revels in his duty and performs them with aplomb. 

It becomes difficult to say whether his entire life is defined by this shallowness or whether its just his spirituality that is lacking for his love and respect for literature seems sincere in a way that his devotion to his faith does not. In a time of stress, he turns towards classic literature. He reveres Neruda. Nearly every significant conversation he has connects to literature in some way. While part of this clearly belies the fact that he is more interested in being a writer than a priest, it doesn’t make his respect for it any less.

If you’re a fan of Bolano this won’t disappoint but if you’re new to his work, I would suggest something a bit less intimidating in format. While it’s only 130 pages long, it is one long unbroken paragraph of text with sentences that occasionally run for several lines. It’s like a light version of Daniel Foster Wallace in some regards, though the text itself will make you think of the obvious Notes from Underground. While it’s a good read, and a recommended read, it’s also not something for everyone.


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