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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Little Lumpen Novelita

Roberto Bolaño

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To purchase A Little Lumpen Novelita

Title: A Little Lumpen Novelita
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 109 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Little Lumpen Novelita - US
Una novelita lumpen - US
A Little Lumpen Novelita - UK
A Little Lumpen Novelita - Canada
A Little Lumpen Novelita - India
Un petit roman Lumpen - France
Lumpenroman - Deutschland
Un romanzetto lumpen - Italia
Una novelita lumpen - España
DVD Il Futuro - US
  • Spanish title: Una novelita lumpen
  • Translated by Natasha Wimmer
  • Una novelita lumpen was made into the film Il Futuro in 2013, directed by Alicia Scherson and with Rutger Hauer playing Maciste

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Our Assessment:

A- : restrained but powerful little work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allg. Zeitung A+ 2/10/2010 Katharina Teutsch
Le Monde diplomatique . 1/2013 Dominique Autrand
NZZ . 31/8/2010 Andreas Breitenstein
Publishers Weekly . 2/6/2014 Gabe Habash
The Spectator . 23/4/2016 Louis Amis
The Washington Post . 17/11/2014 Marie Arana
Die Zeit A 26/8/2010 Adam Soboczynski

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "On y retrouve, concentrés en une centaine de pages, les grands thèmes de son œuvre : le passage périlleux de l’adolescence à l’âge adulte, la violence du monde, la tentation du mal, le réel comme mode particulier d’une irréalité fondamentale. (...) Glacé, ce texte tremble pourtant d’une étrange ferveur." - Dominique Autrand, Le Monde diplomatique

  • "Es ist das Desaster eines Aufwachsens in eine ideell enthöhlte und moralisch zersetzte Welt, das Bolaño anhand dieses einfachen Figurensets in Szene setzt. (...) Ein gespenstisch-obszönes Ballett der Einsamkeit und des Begehrens, der Nähe und der Verstossung, der Willenlosigkeit und des Kalküls hebt an. (...) Noch einmal ist es Roberto Bolaño in zwingender Weise gelungen, die obszöne Leere und existenzielle Verschattung unserer digital verspiegelten Wohlstandsgesellschaft auszuleuchten: Es gibt kein zweites Leben ohne ein erstes." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Though the plot is linear, the "secret story," as the author liked to call it, bends and twists, refusing to be pinned down, and thus drives the reader to glorious distraction. This is the book’s real draw. A Little Lumpen Novelita bears Bolaño’s hallmarks: dread, detective work, and dreams" - Gabe Habash, Publishers Weekly

  • "(I)t offers, if far from the deepest example, probably the easiest means yet of enjoying his electromagnetic style in its fullest maturity." - Louis Amis, The Spectator

  • "It is an electric jolt of a novel about urban youth, anomie, sex and crime (.....) Perhaps it is enough to say that Bolaño speaks for an entire continent, a whole universe of the dispossessed -- more than his generation. He is, in this novel, Borges’s rebel son, Cortazar’s wiseacre nephew. He is also -- and most important -- entirely himself." - Marie Arana, The Washington Post

  • "Es gibt Romane, die schlechterdings alles Essenzielle der vergangenen Jahrtausende verweben: die Mythen der Antike, die christliche Weltschöpfung, die ewigen Gegensätze von Helligkeit und Dunkelheit, von Glück und Schmerz, Aufklärung und Barbarei, Reinheit und Schuld. Roberto Bolaño ist dieses Kunststück auf nur 110 Seiten gelungen." - Adam Soboczynski, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Little Lumpen Novelita is narrated by Bianca. Her situation has changed, she wants to make clear -- "Now I'm a mother and a married woman" are the opening words of her account -- but the period she describes ("not long ago") is of her teens, after she and her brother were abruptly orphaned and left to their own uncertain devices. Their parents die in a car crash; they have an aunt but she takes no interest in them: "my brother and I were alone in the world" Bianca realizes at the funeral.
       They live in Rome. They remain in the family apartment and get their father's pension, but it's barely enough to get by. Eventually, they get jobs -- Bianca in a hair salon, her brother at a gym.
       Bianca and her brother are not the epitome of the Marxian Lumpenproletariat, but they hover near lumpen-status, at that particular fringe of society, the pull and need of a descent into low-level criminality always close -- Bianca sensing the possibility of her being drawn into at least some form of prostitution, for example -- the possibility of becoming a functioning part of everyday society, of leading a 'normal' life coming to seem more or less out of reach.
       Bianca's opening words suggest she manages a transition to traditional respectability -- motherhood, marriage -- and A Little Lumpen Novelita is indeed just an episode -- but one in which Bolaño artfully explores what (limited) possibilities Bianca and her brother have, and the choices they make.
       Bianca's brother brings home two men, one from Bologna and one from Libya, two friends who, despite not being related, look strikingly alike. The men stay -- they sleep in the parents' unused bedroom -- and a faux-family is formed. The men are tidy and considerate. They take advantage of Bianca, but only when she lets them; despite being intimate with them, she can't -- or can't be bothered to -- tell them apart. The men add some structure to the household -- but also threaten to pull Bianca and her brother down, into a lumpen-existence; Bianca feels herself: "moving into an even more precarious realm".
       Eventually, a plot is hatched, to take advantage of a former Mr.Universe and sometime movie-star, known as Maciste -- the role he played in a couple of films --, whose real name is Giovanni Dellacroce. Bianca is brought to his house as an offering and left with Maciste -- "plunged into total darkness". Maciste's world may not be the hell she might have feared -- it is more his personal hell -- but, as she understands, she is there to be taken advantage of and, in turn, to then use her access to take advantage of Maciste. That's the plan.
       Bianca goes along, even as the pot at the end of the rainbow remains elusive. Eventually she decides what she needs to do, and she frees herself; "I am going to start a new life" she resolves and announces, and she does, staking out her independence, her future life.
       It's a dark story, but neither revels in misery nor offers false hopes. Bianca is an entirely convincing narrator in Bolaño's vision of a teen maturing into adulthood, even as the plot, piece by piece, borders on the absurd. It's beautifully told, too, subtly allowed to unfold. Barely a hundred-pages, A Little Lumpen Novelita is a major work, and a profound one.
       The epigraph Bolaño prefaces his story with are harsh words from Artaud:

All writing is garbage.

People who come out of nowhere to try and put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs.

All writers are pigs. Especially writers today.
       The words suggest self-loathing, and it's hard to forget that this novel was the last Bolaño saw published, shortly before his death. Bolaño seems like the last writer (and reader) who would agree with the claim that: "All writing is garbage"; given the care he shows with his narrator, and with his story here, it suggests perhaps some guilt at taking on this role, at speaking for Bianca (even as she is a fictional being entirely of his own creation); if so, the tension certainly worked for the best: it is a remarkable narrative.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 September 2014

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A Little Lumpen Novelita: Reviews: Il Futuro - the film: Roberto Bolaño: Other books by Roberto Bolaño under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Roberto Bolaño lived 1953 to 2003.

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© 2014-2021 the complete review

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