"A hypnotic deathbed confession revolving around Opus Dei, crazed schemes, poetry, and Pinochet, 'By Night in Chile' pours out the self-justifying dark moments of Father Urrutia, a half-hearted Chilean priest.
'By Night in Chile's single night-long rant provides-- as through a crack in the wall-- a terrifying, clandestine view of the strange bedfellows of Church and State in Chile. This wild, eerily compact novel-- Roberto Bolaño's first work available in English-- recounts the tale of a poor boy who wanted to be a poet, but ends up a Jesuit priest and a conservative literary critic, a lap dog to Chile's rich and powerful cultural elite, by whose favors he meets Pablo Neruda and Ernst Jünger. Father Urrutia is offered the tour of Europe by agents of Opus Dei (to study the 'disintegration of the churches,' a journey into the realm of surreal); and ensnared by this plan, he is next assigned-- after the destruction of Allende-- a secret, never-to-be-disclosed nighttime job involving Pinochet. Soon, Father Urrutia's memories go from bad to worse."
This certainly isn't an easy book to read. For starters, there are so many cultural allusions, it's not even funny. It helps to be familiar with some classical poets such as Leopardi, Neruda, etc. It would also help to be acquainted at the very least with Opus Dei and Marxism.
The fact that this book is made up of two paragraphs is a little disconcerting when you first open up this novel-- a wall of words is always a little daunting. But if you've read the above description (taken from the inner flap of the book) you'll kind of see why it's written the way it is and maybe you'll come to terms with it.
There is a sort of dark humor that runs in the book. Speaking personally, I have a dark sense of humor as well, but this book reached down to a different level of dark humor, so for the most part, I took this book seriously and didn't even realize that a funny something had just flown past me.
This is one of those novels where you need to read it at least two times before you understand. Having read it only once, I would tend to agree with that statement. Luckily, the book is only 130 pages long, so it won't be too big of a chore.
Even though I have only read it once and the humor was on a different plane than I, I still really enjoyed this book. I typically don't like political/religious books because I don't understand them, but with a little research, it was easy to draw parallels and I got quite a bit of enjoyment out of it. The only thing that is sucking the enjoyment out of it is the fact that I still have to write a paper about it today. I've never been less excited to write something...
'By Night in Chile' is a tricky book filled with all sorts of literary culture that will keep you thinking and interested. I give it: