Like virtually everything the incomparable Chilean wrote, a newly excavated trio of unarguably minor novellas, Cowboy Graves, is companionable, exotic, witty and glamorously suggestive ... To an extent, the value and interest of Cowboy Graves depend on a prior familiarity with the sprawling, hyperlinked metaverse of Bolaño’s fiction ... In fact, Cowboy Graves may be the most plainly autobiographical fiction Bolaño ever wrote ... A primary element in the compound that keeps Bolañoites hooked is the voice: it hardly matters what it’s saying, or what the torrent of words ultimately amounts to, when it speaks so seductively (as it does in Natasha Wimmer’s dependably limpid translations) ... 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.
In effect, the novels are a prelude, the stories an aftermath, each gesturing urgently at the scale of the biographical explosion that must lie in between. It would seem almost a violation of the 'poetics of inconclusiveness' to fill in that missing space. But this is precisely where the novella succeeds ... Our fascination comes mostly from spotting, amid the narrative shrapnel, flashes of future works and roads not taken ... The skywriting Messerschmitt from Distant Star, the escape scene from The Savage Detectives, a shelf’s worth of Nazi Literature in the Americas — all are present, but as what Elena Ferrante has called frantumaglia, the primordial jumble from which the artist slowly extracts and elaborates the work ... Between these two bookends — cool triumph, hot mess — sits an unrelated piece called French Comedy of Horrors. It’s the most recent thing in the book, and, as the title suggests, the funniest — less a novella than a shaggy anecdote ... Even more than the 'oasis of horror in a desert of boredom' (the Baudelairean epigraph to 2666), this is what anchors the Bolañoverse: the loss of youth inscribing a larger loss of historical possibility, in an elegy for a future that never came to be. But at least inside the fiction, the possibility of change, of poetry, isn’t lost for good — just gone underground, like Bolaño himself.
... contains writing completed over a period of 10 years, and features many of the touchstones Bolaño was known for: semi-autobiographical narration; a humorous, fragmentary style; and the sort of intrigue that grabs hold of you and never lets go, despite offering no easy answers ... Bolaño’s powers are on full display in French Comedy of Horrors ... French Comedy of Horrors reads like the first 40 pages of a full novel, and I’m saddened it won’t eventually be fleshed out. Across its scant pages, Bolaño builds a whole world, only cracking the lid on a Pandora’s Box, the effects of which can only be inferred ... As enticing as French Comedy of Horrors is, the real stars of the show are the two other novellas ... These two sections, Cowboy Graves and Fatherland, resonate so closely together, that French Comedy of Horrors feels a bit out of place sandwiched between them; almost acting as an intermission. Cowboy Graves leads up to the coup, and Fatherland follows it. The overall effect is a deepening of the work, as each section becomes a lens through which to view the other ... What this collection offers is something so rare; not only new work from a beloved and still-resonant deceased writer, but a look at writing itself, as afforded through these incomplete and transfixing works. We see Bolaño’s pen, tracing the same lines, diverging slightly, drawing again. Even beyond the larger context of Bolaño’s work, these three pieces in concert have their own vocabulary, their own rules. As Bolaño explored similar spaces across these sketches, we are given a much more complete view of the picture he may have come to paint, as much through what he didn’t write as what he did.
The three novellas in Cowboy Graves seem like a functional draft of his masterpieces such as The Savage Detectives, 2666, Distant Star, and Nazi Literature in the Americas. The prose is not quite Bolañoesque yet. However, it must be said, the blueprint of a masterwork is always worth reading. Cowboy Graves shouldn’t serve as an introduction to Bolaño’s oeuvre; rather, the experienced Bolaño readers can survey it to glimpse into his artistic process, into the fountain of his creativity. Bolaño simply didn’t need any muse besides his readings and his recollections ... His writing is global and encyclopedic, curative and addictive, and vibrant and visceral. The immediacy of the prose is almost palpable ... But if you’re a Bolaño novitiate, do not start with Cowboy Graves.
... these are more than fragments, and while not complete works of fiction in and of themselves, they are polished short works (offering tantalizing suggestions of what they might have become). Bolaño did use some of this material in his other work, but these are not simply cast-offs, with each showing considerable potential of being worked into a larger work but also standing quite well as is, on their own ... throughout, there's a remarkable ease and naturalness to Bolaño's prose here: these chapters, in particular, have the polish of finished pieces. Arturo's narrative seems to ramble about, covering a great deal but doing so effortlessly and naturally: in a relatively small space he conveys a remarkable amount about his family and their circumstances ... the writing is remarkable—it all seems so natural and simple—and the various (and many episodes) are truly engaging. The only real difficulty—one can hardly call it a fault—is the lingering sense of incompleteness...not in the sense that the pieces are too rough and unedited—almost everything here feels polished to publish-readiness—but rather that one suspects he wanted to add more to them ... there's actually a good case to be made for this being a good introductory collection for those new to the author, offering as it does both the basics about Bolaño's formative years...as well as a good but not overwhelming sampler of what he can and likes to do in and with his fiction ... worth reading, confirming yet again what an amazing talent Bolaño was.
... despite the twilight horror, Bolaño writes beautifully. His maze is full of terror and fear, focusing on the experience of young men and their driving anger. If Murakami is seeking a cure to the loneliness of globalization, Bolaño is more worried about the violence of globalization. Often his characters witness tremendous trauma inflicted by the Pinochet regime’s coup. His characters continually reckon with the use of poetry in a war-torn world ... Bolaño constantly builds a web of fragments for readers to collect and relish ... Like Bolaño’s own stories-within-stories, the endless book projects toted out by his publishers lead us further into a video store with a basement and a secret tunnel leading us through the sewers to a secret library ... This world of collisions, mazes, hiding, and art is its own galaxy to explore. Cowboy Graves offers an intriguing and at times fragmentary detour into Bolaño’s world.
Bolaño’s prose is inimitable: cheeky and mordant, dancing like a firefly in the blurred spaces between history and memory, fact and imagination, fun and fea...finds him in a playful mode, even as he sticks to his unique, twisted world view ... A wistful portrait of a time before madness, Cowboy Graves lingers because of what it doesn’t mention: the lives lost, the terrible happenings that take place afterward ... As one would expect from a book compiled from unpublished writing, Cowboy Graves lacks the wild ambition and gravity of Bolaño’s best work, but it’s still a tasty summation of his talents, presented in miniature. In its loose, wide-ranging energy, Cowboy Graves is a pleasing epitaph for a literary career that refused to stand still.
Bolaño’s brilliant oeuvre expands with another bright starburst, this one comprising three separate yet thematically connected novellas ... Like much of Bolaño’s more recent posthumous work, this title’s been assembled from a seemingly endless archive of handwritten notes and floppy disks. Even in unfinished works, Bolaño’s inimitable style and searing vision will appeal to fans and new readers alike.
An appealing if inchoate episodic collection ... a mélange of recollected dreams, letters, and detective-style case files. While the loosely connected vignettes in each novella fail to fully cohere, they show a writer working to capture the fragility of identity and relationships in revolutionary settings. These drafts reveal Bolaño (1953–2003) perfecting the literary obsessions that became his emblems.
The science fictional, Jesuit-twitting story within the story is vintage Bolaño while Fatherland, the third novella, is especially fragmentary and inconclusive ... enigmatic ... Each story reveals a centrifugal writer with a brilliant command of words and no fear of a plot’s getting away from him.