To an extent, the value and interest of Cowboy Graves depend on a prior familiarity with the sprawling, hyperlinked metaverse of Bolaño’s fiction. Taken on its own, the first, titular story would feel rather slight; the fact that it’s narrated by Arturo Belano, Bolaño’s alter ego from The Savage Detectivesand elsewhere, significantly warms up the atmosphere... Characters, fictional cities and real-life poets recognisable from other novels flicker briefly into sight and then vanish. Cowboy Graves is a minor chamber in the labyrinth of Bolaño’s fiction, but it’s one with many doors.
These infernal, internal references are infuriatingly tantalising, especially if, like me, you want a solution and are terrified this is a Latin American Voynich Manuscript, and the secret is that there is no secret. The eponymous first part is a disjointed Bildungs-roman, and although the jacket flap mentions a return to the Chilean revolution, that is the least and most bathetic part of it.