The Secrets of Evil by Robert Bolaño

“This story is very simple, although it could have been very complicated. Also, it’s incomplete, because stories like this don’t have an ending.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 144 pages.
Read August 31, 2018.

Should books be published posthumously? Books like Go Set A Watchman changed the way fans looked at some of their favourite characters and its publication created a lot of controversy about whether or not it should have been. With this particular book, many Bolaño fans seemed thrilled for another chance to read the last remains of a brilliant writer. I for one, am also glad. Robert Bolaño died in 2013, at the age of fifty, of liver disease. This book is a compilation of stories that were discovered on his computer after he died.  Despite having not read anything by Bolaño beforehand, this book was given as a very thoughtful gift and reminder that even the most talented of writers have a process and that not everything that they write is going to be palatable right away. Knowing these small details about this short story complication allowed me to really appreciate its contents, albeit even unfinished.

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Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño. Source: The Globe and Mail

One of my favourite stories in this compilation is “Colonia Lindavista”. This dream-like narrative involves a young teen writer who often listens to his neighbours having sex. late at night. The narrator is curious about their acts but is more intrigued by the silence that follows. The narrator, like many of us, wonders about the private lives of other people.  Many of the stories are brief and offer a glimpse into the private realm of a character but don’t mistake this brevity for lack of depth, Bolaño’s writing style is more than equipped to deliver a full immersion into a character or story.

I read this novel in one sitting, and I would recommend the same for any readers looking to approach it as if you read the stories individually you may not be able to fully appreciate the stories as some are more ‘finished’ than others. The biggest take away I got from this novel is a reflection on my own writing and enforcing my ‘never-give-up’ attitude. It has also instilled a desire to read more by Bolaño to get a better taste for his work as I sense a genius lurking in between the pages of this short compilation.

 

I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates

There are some real gems in this book if you enjoy something a bit more on the dark side. 

“I had forgotten that time wasn’t fixed like concrete but in fact was fluid as sand, or water. I had forgotten that even misery can end.”

3/5 stars.
190 pages, Hardcover.
Read from Oct 13, 2017 to Oct 24, 2017.

This book had been sitting on my shelf for way too long. I was only vaguely familiar with the author and unsure what the stories might be like it so I avoided it. I guess I was expecting some thought-provoking literary fiction as I was not prepared for the morbid and fascinating content that this book contained. Or for the cliffhangers. God damn, nearly every single story left you hanging.

The book is broken down into four parts and seems to carry similar themes: Part one looks at inward conflicts and decisions in relation to others; Part two delves into life-changing interactions with others; Part three looks at the intricacies of human relationships. Part four is the least morbid of the parts and focuses on kindness and strength in relation to the bigger world of human interactions. In fact, one of my favourite stories is in this section, Three Girls. The story starts by following two girls in a bookstore who recognize Marilyn Monroe, who is clearly attempting to keep her identity a secret, and the two girls decide to not approach her and allow her to keep her privacy.

The majority of the stories, especially the suspenseful and morbid ones often left you with a cliffhanger ending. Sometimes this approach worked and other times I found it aggravating and annoying. Just as some of the stories highly successful while others were completely unmemorable.  The story that stuck with me the most is The Instructor. A new teacher at a college teaching a composition class has an unusual and strange student who leaves her intriguing but highly personal and disturbing poetry for his assignments. He was a former prisoner who now appears to be stalking her, which, she strangely does not seem to mind.

The abrupt cliffhangers and the occasional boring story was just enough to stop me from giving this book four stars. However, there are some real gems in this book if you enjoy something a bit more on the dark side.

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

“That’s what it’s like to lose a woman. And at a certain time, losing one woman means losing all women. That’s how we become men without women.”

“No matter how empty it may be, this is still my heart.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 240 pages.
July 3, 2017 to July 6, 2017.

Men get lonely too and are perhaps the worst at dealing with it. Who better to put that masculine pain into words than Murakami. This book contains seven unique stories about men who have lost or have been unable to attain that special lady in their lives. From cheating, divorce and death, this book is a tragic read with relatable emotions. As with all of Murakami’s works, you are taken down a rabbit hole to another world of emotions and feelings that we keep hidden away.

In the story titled, Samsa in Love, Gregor Samsa, the notorious character from Kafka’s work, wakes up to find that he is no longer and insect but rather a human and learns to find love. A creative and reverse take on the classic story.

My favourite character by far was the female driver in the story Drive My Car. A gentleman actor hires a driver to get him around. He prefers female-drivers and his latest hire is a tough and unreadable woman with whom he feels compelled to share his sadness, fears and secrets.

My favourite story, however, is The Independent Organ. Dr.Tokai is a successful and unmarried man. He has managed to live his life without becoming attached to a single woman and lives his life in an array of numerous affairs with women who interest him.  Above all, they had to be intellectually stimulating to him. If he thinks that the woman is becoming attached to him he respectfully ends the affair.  In the end, he falls for a woman who was very much like him with relationships. She was not exclusively his, which he did not know, and when he wants to express his love he learns that she has pursued another man instead of him. Devastated, the doctor starves himself to death. He deprived his life of meaningful love for so long that when he finally felt it he could not cope with the heartbreak. It is in this story that the most misogynist passage is found:

“Women are all born with a special, independent organ that allows them to lie. This was Dr. Tokai’s personal opinion. It depends on the person, he said about the kind of lies they tell, what situation they tell them in, and how the lies are told. But at a certain point in their lives, all women tell lies, and they lie about important things. They lie about unimportant things, too, but they also don’t hesitate to lie about the most important things. And when they do, most women’s expressions and voices don’t change at all, since it’s not them lying, but this independent organ they’re equipped with that’s acting on its own. That’s why – except for a few special cases – they can still have a clear conscience and never lose sleep over anything they say.”

Rather than being offended by this passage, I saw it as the naive view that Dr.Tokai had of women. For all the time he spent with women, he did not know or understand anything about them or how his own choices and lies affected them. This passage is about him as he projects his faults onto women and it is this exact perception that validates his detachments.

This book is for everyone. As we have all felt lonely at one point in our lives. For those that love Murakami, this is a nice addition to the expanding Murakami collection of works. Even for those that are not fans or have not read Murakami yet, this collaboration of short stories is a tame introduction to his world and writing style.