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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Secret of Evil

Roberto Bolaño

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To purchase The Secret of Evil

Title: The Secret of Evil
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Genre: Fiction
Written: (2007) (Eng. 2012)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Secret of Evil - US
El secreto del mal - US
The Secret of Evil - UK
The Secret of Evil - Canada
The Secret of Evil - India
Le secret du mal - France
El secreto del mal - España
  • Published posthumously in 2007
  • Spanish title: El secreto del mal
  • Translated by Chris Andrews
  • With a Preliminary Note by Ignacio Echevarría
  • Includes three pieces previously published in Between Parentheses (translated by Natasha Wimmer)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : some very fine pieces, little that is frustratingly incomplete

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 11/9/2014 Sam Jordison
Letras Libres . 5/2007 Rodrigo Fresán
TLS . 1/6/2012 Michael Kerrigan
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2013 Andrew Martino

  From the Reviews:
  • "(W)hile this is not a good starting place for first time readers of Bolaño, those familiar with him will know that his crumbs are likely to be interesting. (...) There are also a few bravura, remarkable pieces of writing, most especially a story called 'Labyrinth'" - Sam Jordison, The Independent

  • "Una cosa está clara: Bolaño escribía desde la última frontera y al borde del abismo. Sólo así se entiende una prosa tan activa y cinética y, al mismo tiempo, tan observadora y reflexiva. Sólo así se comprende su necesidad impostergable de ser persona y personaje. No importa -- mal que les pese a los patológicos patólogos siempre a la caza de la no-ficción en la ficción -- dónde termina Bolaño y comienza Belano." - Rodrigo Fresán, Letras Libres

  • "Gesture takes precedence over meaning; action usurps actor: what's seen, heard and assumed imposes its own shape on what is. A narrative of lovemaking disintegrates into something frightening, cruel and inhuman -- it's the story of Bolaño's writing life." - Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In terms of uncharted territory, there is nothing really new or all that exciting collected in The Secret of Evil. In fact, the stories and sketches themselves are clearly in various states of composition. Yet for those of us who have read Bolaño before, this collection is important. What the reader experiences is a secret world revealing the author at work." - Andrew Martino, World Literature Today

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:

       The Secret of Evil is, as Ignacio Echevarría explains in his Preliminary Note, a selection of: "stories and narrative sketches gleaned from the more than fifty files found on Roberto Bolaño's computer after his death". (Three of them were also previously published in the collection Between Parentheses.)
       The title-piece begins, appropriately enough -- and equally applicable to most of what is collected here:

     The story is very simple, although it could also have been very complicated. Also, it's incomplete, because stories like this don't have an ending.
       'Stories like this' takes on a second meaning in such a posthumous collection, where it's often not clear what state of completion the author had reached with a given piece. Just to hedge his bets Echevarría also suggests about Bolaño: "All his narratives, not just The Secret of Evil, seem to be governed by a poetics of inconclusiveness." Sure, that's also just an excuse further rationalizing publishing Bolaño's left-overs, but happily this looks to be the cream of the left-over lot and despite the occasionally inconclusive or sketch-like feel to the pieces, this is much more than just a collection of fragments.
       Several of the pieces are autobiographical, and some also feature Bolaño's alter ego, Arturo Belano. 'The Old Man and the Mountain' describes Belano's relationship with (Ulises) Lima -- a beautiful little sketch of the poetic duo that also feature in The Savage Detectives. The collection also ends with the moving 'The Days of Chaos' -- all the more resonant because of the time when Bolaño sets it, and the reflective tone. It concludes, heartbreakingly (Bolaño didn't make it that far, dying in 2003):
     This was in the year 2005.
     Gerónimo Belano was fifteen, Arturo Belano was over fifty, and sometimes he could barely believe that he was still alive. Arturo had set off on his first long trip at the age of fifteen too. His parents had decided to leave Chile and start a new life in Mexico.
       There are other variations on biography, too, which take Bolaño further. 'The Colonel's Son' is an amusing take on a narrator reading: "a summary of my days on this bitch of a planet" into a: "very low-budget film, pure B-grade schlock" that he catches on TV (though he can't even remember the title) and which he describes in great detail. 'Daniela' is a short introduction to a woman born in 1915, who introduces herself as: "a citizen of the universe" and describes her deflowering at the age of thirteen.
       Real people also figure prominently in several of the best (and most complete) stories: in Scholars of Sodom Bolaño tries to write about V.S.Naipaul; in Labyrinth he takes as his starting point a photograph of several prominent French intellectuals, including Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva, taken around 1977 [see the picture at The New Yorker site] in what becomes a typical Bolañian flight of fantasy grounded in the literary.
       'The Vagaries of the Literature of Doom' may already be familiar from Between Parentheses, in which it is also included, but remains worth revisiting; it is a beautiful take on Argentine literature, beginning with the summing up that:
As a poem, Martín Fierro is nothing out of this world. As a novel, however, it's alive, full of meanings to explore, which means that the wind still gusts (or blasts) through it, it still smells of the out-of-doors, it still cheerfully acepts the blows of fate.
       Bolaño notes Borges' dominating influence -- not just Borges' work, but the influence his opinions and even mere existence had:
     With Borges alive, Argentine literature becomes what most readers think of as Argentine literature. [...] When Borges dies, everything suddenly comes to a stop.
       (He also closes the piece with the reminder: "Corollary. One must reread Borges.")
       And there's the great riff built off of summarizing Osvaldo Lamborghini's efforts (an author also referenced in 'The Colonel's Son'):
The problem with Lamborghini is that he ended up in the wrong profession. He should have gone to work as a hit man, or a prostitute, or gravedigger, which are less complicated jobs than trying to destroy literature. Literature is an armor-plate machine. It doesn't care about writers. Sometimes it doesn't even know they exist. Literature's enemy is something else, something much bigger and more powerful, that in the end will conquer it. But that's another story.
       It may occasionally seem ridiculous how much more of Bolaño's work keeps appearing in English -- a new volume every few weeks, it sometimes seems -- but he was prolific, and he had a lot of stories to tell and things he wanted to try out. The Secret of Evil may be a collection of work that, for the most part, he didn't consider ready for publication, but it is still a very fine collection and its appearance welcome. Better, even, than some of the early work, The Secret of Evil isn't just of interest for diehard Bolaño fans.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 April 2012

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The Secret of Evil: Reviews: 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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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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