Roberto Bolaño: A Little Lumpen Novelita


People who come out of nowhere to try and put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs.  All writers are pigs. (Antonin Artaud, epigraph to A Little Lumpen Novelita).

By calling his novelita “lumpen”  (the same word is used in the Spanish title) Bolaño signals that he has no interest in it as a literary creation. As in By Night In Chile he pulls off the trick of bursting through the literary frame, setting his narrators free in the world to tell us stories that once heard can’t be forgotten.

Suddenly the night stopped existing and everything was constant sun and light. At first I thought it was exhaustion, or the shock of our parents’ sudden disappearance, but when I told my brother about it he said that he had noticed the same thing.  Sun and light and an explosion of windows. 4

Teenager Bianca and her little brother are orphaned in a car accident and left to fend for themselves on a fraction of their father’s pension. We know nothing about what life was like before; everything is happening in the glare of the present and the past has been wiped out. Although they’re under age and they drop out of school, nobody in authority seems to have any concern for their welfare. They find low-end jobs, watch porn movies and quiz shows, find themselves sharing their flat with a couple of clownish petty criminals her brother met at the gym where he sweeps the floors.

Although gradually Bianca becomes less numb – At night when I went to my room…I thought about my parents, the accident, the winding southern highways, and everything seemed so far away that it made me weep with rage – the only future she can see is ‘a life of crime’:

I didn’t like my life.  The nights were still crystal clear, but I had become less of an orphan and I was moving into an even more precarious realm where I would soon lead a life of crime.  What sort of crime? It didn’t matter. It was all the same to me, though of course I knew that in the kingdom of crime there were many stages and levels and no matter how hard I tried I could never reach the top.

I was afraid of becoming a prostitute. I didn’t like the idea of it. But I sensed that it was all a matter of getting used to it. 48

The ‘life of crime’ her housemates dream up for her turns into a richly noir, classic Bolaño experience that brings Bianca’s will alive again.

This isn’t only a story about young people. As Bolaño said, “we are all children”. Circumstance, habit and routine make up our reality, and if they’re turned upside down we’re alone in a world that doesn’t care about us. Who knows what happens next? Where do we find the will, and the direction, to go on?

Bolaño’s last published work, this is right up there for me with By Night In Chile.

Thanks to Guy for bringing it to my notice.  Here’s his review:





5 thoughts on “Roberto Bolaño: A Little Lumpen Novelita

  1. This must be what life is like for quite a few of the people who I “meet” (almost always in case files) in the course of my studies of the justice system — a place where the past (for whatever reason) is irrelevant, the present is a bit of a blur, and the future seems out of their ability to affect. Thanks, Gert –

  2. How plausible is this? In Canada, Children’s Services would be in there so quick that their heads would spin. But I understand the concept of a catastrophic event that changes one’s life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s