3 Stars - Recommended to people who know things about war and strategy board games, or don't care if they don't know things about war and strategy board games
8 CD's (approx 10hrs)
Publisher: MacMillan Audio
I don’t think Bolaño and I were meant to be.
Now, before you start throwing tomatoes, hear me out:
My initial experience with Bolaño had not been an easy one. I read The Savage Detectives back in 2009 and found myself alternately aggravated, disgusted, amused, and frustrated.
I was aggravated because I felt he was simultaneously writing “over my head” and talking down the bridge of his nose at me. And disgusted because he gave his female protagonist a stinky hoo-hoo and seemed to get a kick out of allowing her to whine about it again and again.
(Must I admit that this book gave me a huge case of the Do I Stink Too’s for months after I read it?) (And how strange is it that all I can remember about this book is the god awful contemplation of her stinky hoo-hoo, when I never even mention it in my damn review?)
Yet I also found myself amused because, at the time, it was unlike anything I had read before. The high brow you'll-never-be-a-poet-the-way-we-are-poets-ness of it was sort of intriguing. And I was frustrated because he seemed to gain some kind of sick, twisted pleasure in making this anything but an easy, enjoyable read.
Fast forward to present day. I had successfully avoided all contact with Bolaño and his aggravating, disgusting, amusing, frustrating ways until Tara (BookSexyReview) gave me The Third Reich as a Christmas present. Still, I managed to suppress the urge (oh how difficult, right?) to read him until a few weeks ago, while nosing around the audio section of a new pop up wholesale bookstore – all new audiobooks for $5 bucks each! I saw The Third Reich just sitting there and took the low price, and the fact that it was even there in the first place, as a sign and made the purchase.
So I listened to it, with fingers fiercely crossed and hoping against hope that hearing Bolaño might be preferable to reading him.
I want to like Bolaño. I really do. With so many people singing his praise, I can’t help but feel that I am missing something here. How am I not getting it? What do you people see in him? Am I picking up all the wrong books?
The Third Reich failed to hook me. The first hurdle? The story is told in journal format (oh god why do authors write in journal format? Don't they know how much I hate it? Hasn't it been done to death and beyond?). The second hurdle? Our main character Udo is a snoozer. Like, lock himself in the hotel room and play a solo historical war strategy board game while on vacation in Spain with his super patient and forgiving beach bunny girlfriend, snoozer! The third and most devastating hurdle? All this time and energy that Bolaño puts into setting things up - much like Udo's game pieces - with so very little payoff in the end.
The overall story was ok, if you can move beyond the fact that all of the characters are intensely unlikable and incredibly full of themselves. There's Udo - the above mentioned game board geek who eventually caves to his girlfriend Ingeborg's pleas and parties in the clubs at night; the vacationing couple they befriend - Charlie and Hannah, who cling just a little too closely for Udo's comfort; The Wolf and The Lamb - a strange twosome who weasel their way into the fold; and El Quemado - the hideously burned man who lives on the beach and has managed to catch Udo's attention.
While Ingeborg, Hannah, and Charlie hang out, Udo allows El Quemado to play opposite him in The Third Reich. And when Charlie suddenly disappears, and the girls head back to their hometowns, Udo stays behind under the pretense that he wants to find out what happened to him, while completely glued to the game board and his nightly meetings with El Quemado.
The parts I liked? All the times Udo thought he was in control and wasn't and didn't have a clue. Why? Because he was so pretentious and assumed he always had the upper hand on everyone and was better than everyone, and I like watching (or in this case, hearing) people like that suddenly realize they don't and they aren't.
The parts I could have done without? All of those chapters in which Bolaño details the movements of the counters across the game board. Yawnfest! I can't even begin to pretend to know what the hell he was going on about. And I certainly wasn't going to go and read something else to help me understand what the heck he was going on about so I basically just zoned out until he got back to the actual storyline again.
The really sad part about all of this? This is one of Bolaño's earlier novels, a novel he never pursued publishing while he was alive, and there's a part of me (not a very big part, because I've only read one other book of his and really have no grounds for comparison) that believes that perhaps it shouldn't have been. It feels so blah and unpolished. But that might just be my angst talking.
I think it's safe to say that Bolaño and I won't be seeing too much more of each other in the future. And while I can pretend to be concerned about that, I won't, because you and I both know I can't be.