This is one of the great books. It centres on a group of young poets - the 'visceral realists' of Mexico City in the 70s and is clearly based on the writer's own experiences. It is a book saturated with poetry and poets, all of whom are obsessed by every aspect of the poetic world. They consume poetry like water, like wine. They write feverishly.
The narrator, a young man yet to lose his cherry, discovers this world and becomes a part of it. He has adventures and sexual experiences which are described in amusing and intense detail. We meet the myriad characters and bathe in the atmosphere of the vast city at night, so vividly portrayed.
Some 200 pages in, the book takes a turn. In place of the single narrator, we have numerous characters telling stories relating to the main narrative we have just read but of course they view it from a different angle. Each interlocks and expands our understanding of the many levels of this meta story, the focus of which are two perfectly named central characters - Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima. The books final section, returns to our original narrator and a final road trip. More than that I don't wish to tell you.
When I first started reading the book I devoured some 40 pages straight and then could stand it no more. I put the book down and wrote eight poems. I determined there and then to take my poetry more seriously, made silent vows to sit down every day and find the passion that was driving these characters to write as if life itself depended on it. I read some more. I wrote some more.
This a truly great novel that envelopes you in its warm, sensuous embrace. Not since 'Under the Volcano' have I felt so immersed in the dream-world that is Mexico to me. Nor is that all. The characters travel to Barcelona, Israel, Africa, Paris, London. In each the smell of the street rises from the pages. And such characters, so beautifully realised they live like vivid creatures in one's mind with a beautiful balance between male and female sensibilities.
Then there is the sheet poetry of Bolaño's prose, which flows so mysteriously and unexpectedly at every turn, with a lightness and a humanity that tickles the senses, warms the heart, challenges prejudice, makes fun one minute, skewers pretensions at the next. Always so human. So knowing.
Justly celebrated as the greatest Latin American novel since 'One Hundred Years of Solitude, it also bears comparison with the best of the Beat novels. This is a work that will endure. It has already enthralled and inspired readers of many cultures. Furthermore, it will subtly change the way you think about the world - about life. Bolaño has found a way of telling new stories in new ways. His important place in world literature is secure.