By Roberto Bolaño
A deathbed confession revolving round Opus Dei and Pinochet, By evening in Chile pours out the self-justifying darkish thoughts of the Jesuit priest Father Urrutia.
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Having underscored the energy and poise of the writing, which “is little short of magnificent,” he contends that “the novel remains precious and in love with its own cleverness” (Hall 20). This 38 The Experimental Fiction of Murray Bail verdict, moreover, seems to be supported by the author’s confession that the book contains diverse puns and allusions, many of them obscure or recondite (Lysenko 40–41; Chisholm 42), and that it depicts an “adventure of the mind, a journey through a history of ideas which happen to be mine” (Sayers).
Similarly, despite alleged interest in portraying states of mind, Bail is seldom concerned with individual consciousness as a means of bringing protagonists to life or with tracing their psychological development in the manner of Flaubert, the great Russian novelists, or White—authors whose examples he has praised. Instead, Bail is intent on how individuals perceive and react to the world during a revelatory incident, like a host who hides from his guests or a rabbit trapper who finds intolerable the fortnightly intrusion of a workmate on his silence.
At the same time as he was effecting this crucial transition to the novel with Homesickness, written with the aid of three-yearlong writer’s grant from the Australia Council, Bail was also working on his first published study of a painter, the reclusive Ian Fairweather. In some respects this was a strange choice—and an interesting conjunction. Why burden himself with additional labour when his first novel was already proving so demanding? Why single out a painter of English extraction and with a decidedly international outlook when Australia was much more preoccupied with its landscape artists and the radical figurative and representational innovations of painters such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, John Percival, and Albert Tucker?
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño