August 14th, 2014
“Whereas the Porta-Bolaño world is one of violence and sweaty-balled erudition, entering The No World Concerto is like entering an M. C. Escher lithograph.”—Darren Koolman
Since our featured this book is Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe by Chris Andrews, we thought we would take a closer look at the work of one of his early collaborators and life-long friend, the Spanish novelist A. G. Porta, author of The No World Concerto.
Bolaño and Porta co-wrote Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic), which was published in Spanish in 1984. It was the first published book for both authors.
In an article about Bolaño in Public Books, David Kurnick writes that the book:
Announces the birth of some of Bolaño’s durable obsessions, most notably his vision of the physical and moral proximity of artistic practice and state terror. [The novel is a] noir account of an unlikely crime spree undertaken by a Joyce-obsessed Spanish writer and his South American girlfriend over a long Barcelona summer….
In his introduction to the 2006 reissue, Porta quotes a 1981 letter from Bolaño proposing to “do with Joyce (or with J. J.’s Ulysses) what Joyce had done with Homer and the Odyssey. Of course there’s a big difference! But the result could be really interesting, a kind of Pollock drip-painting, the translation of Joycean symbols and obsessions into a short, violent, rapid novel.” In the event, the novel does not demand a refresher course in Irish modernism: allusions to Joyce abound, but they take a backseat to the action (the duo likes to cite Ulysses’s opening lines at the start of each stick-up).
A. G. Porta has also written several novels on his though as of yet, the only one translated into English has been The No World Concerto (for more on the book read Eric Lundgren’s excellent review in The Quarterly Conversation).
In describing the book Darren Koolman, one of the novel’s translators, writes:
The No World Concerto features some of the characters from [Porta's] previous three novels. But, besides retaining the same beguilingly simple prose style and metatextual construction, it is markedly more ambitious than any of his previous works. Ostensibly the story of an old screenwriter’s struggle to finish his script, and his relationship with a former student—a female piano prodigy referred to only as “the girl”—who is similarly struggling to write her own novel, it is a bewildering superposition of tales within tales that often blend seamlessly into one another…. As with his first novel, the book is haunted by the ghost of Joyce, and again like that novel, there is the folie à deux relationship of two ambitious characters intent on escaping their situation. But whereas the Porta-Bolaño world is one of violence and sweaty-balled erudition, entering the No World is like entering an M. C. Escher lithograph.
Below is an excerpt from the novel that includes a translator’s preface by Darren Koolman.