An excellent work, but ultimately falls short of true greatness. It's a craftily written and cogent meditation on the nature of writing and literature, through a semi-autobiographical story of a 1970s Mexican revolutionary ("avant-garde", in a way) poetry movement. The basic issue is one of authenticity, and Bolaño very attractively both proposes and ironizes the potential of "down-to earth" approaches (basically the Starving Artist stereotype) to providing good and exciting literature. But thematic complexity also fizzles out at this point, and ultimately the novel emerges as slightly navel-gazing, shying away from any kind of explicit situating of the problem within larger social issues/frameworks (politics, gender relations, etc.). Coupled with Bolaño's own personal arrogance, it all comes across as a slight misfire - a work by a talented writer, and certainly very very polished, but transmitting a (to my taste) all too myopic perspective, which hurts even more because it's all actually very well-written
. This thematic "lack" reflects, in a way, in the plodding tedium of the middle part of the novel, which could be cut by at least half with no serious consequences. There is some experimentation with form here, but it's neither maddening genius (e.g. Pynchon or DFW) nor short and "snappy" enough to not feel stale (as some of J. G. Ballard's more exciting novels). So, could be better, but still a pleasant, intelligent reading experience.