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The Spirit of Science Fiction Reviews

The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolano, Natasha Wimmer

The Spirit of Science Fiction

Roberto Bolano, Natasha Wimmer

3.00 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Penguin Press
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication date: 5 Feb 2019
ISBN: 9780735222854

The Spirit of Science Fiction is a kaleidoscopic work of strange and tender beauty, and a fitting introduction for readers uninitiated into the thrills of Roberto Bolaño’s fiction. It is an indispensable addition to an ecstatic and transgressive body of work.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
3 stars out of 5
Chloe Aridjis
15 Feb 2019

"...this sense of the fugitive, the restless characters and their obsessions, that both buoys the narrative and ultimately lets it down"

The book is a hymn to Mexico City, and it’s fascinating to see which topographical features of the vast metropolis are pulled into focus. There’s a lyrical description of the fictitious poet José Arco, author of “Eros and Thanatos” (and an early incarnation, perhaps, of Ulises Lima in The Savage Detectives), riding his own motorcycle through the nocturnal urban landscape.Bolaño’s eye alights on the venerable Bucareli cinema – “A benevolent king, practically a paragon of virtue, host of those with nowhere to sleep, dark Disneyland” – and the basilica of Guadalupe, looming in the distance like a giant beetle. Melancholy and despair are offset by comedy, wonderfully present in scenes from a poetry workshop: one of Bolaño’s microcosms of choice, and the ideal space for intellectual strutting and sparring...its unsturdy architecture is at moments redeemed, particularly in part one, by scenes that bear the exuberant spirit of the work to come. Everything feels fleeting and precarious, and it’s this sense of the fugitive, the restless characters and their obsessions, that both buoys the narrative and ultimately lets it down. Too many roads lead nowhere


4 stars out of 5
Jake Kerridge
20 Mar 2019

"an eccentric, zestful vision of Seventies Mexico"

It may be prentice work, but the mixture of passionate hymning of the beauties of women and literature, fabular digressions and offbeat similes (one character is described as being “like the coat of paint on a crossbeam”) is immediately recognisable as Bolaño... Although there is plenty of the farce and bawdry familiar from his later books, the tragic quality that haunts Bolaño’s masterpieces is absent here. But the novel’s sunny sense of what it is like to be a young man falling in love – with words and ideas as well as with women – is irresistible, and beautifully caught in Natasha Wimmer’s translation.

2 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
10 Feb 2019

"This rambling early novel by the late Chilean author fails to honour his brilliant legacy"

It’s easy to see why this novel was never published in Bolaño’s lifetime. It’s a rambling, dispiriting mess, symptomatic of the way publishers have dredged up substandard work from this great writer’s past in the hope that it might catch some of the reflected glory of his two great novels. Let us hope The Spirit of Science Fiction is the last of these tawdry outtakes that can only serve to diminish the legacy of one of the most remarkable literary voices of the past 50 years.

3 stars out of 5
James Marriott
8 Feb 2019

"extraordinary, dream-like final section"

...an interesting, but by no means essential addition to the Bolaño canon... This novel feels unfinished — it is more a series of impressions than a coherent narrative. While that’s probably partly design, I suspect it’s also down to the way it was pieced together out of Bolaño’s archive... The best of these impressions is the book’s extraordinary, dream-like final section... Hardcore Bolaño fans will want to get their hands on The Spirit of Science Fiction. However, if you have not read him before, you would be better off starting with his brilliant 1998 novel The Savage Detectives...

3 stars out of 5
1 Feb 2019

"This mishmash of plots and themes is often beguiling"

This mishmash of plots and themes is often beguiling. There are strokes of absurd humour and sudden dark turns that feel like the work of the later writer. Particularly good is the novel’s coda, in which a vague utopia is half-glimpsed through the steam and sweat of Mexico City’s bathhouses. But The Spirit of Science Fiction is dreamlike in the proper sense of the word. Motivations and themes appear, occupy centre stage, then melt away like smoke. Whenever the reader feels they have found their balance, the scenery revolves, a new idea arises and it is as if previous events have never taken place. Remo’s job writing poetry reviews fades from sight; both characters allude to some future catastrophe that never occurs. This novel does not feel unfinished. It feels like it was written very rapidly, then never revisited.