Today's major TV shows are stuffed with the rich plots and tangential characters that Chilean novelist, Roberto Bolano excelled at - and we're running out of new episodes of those shows to watch and re-runs to overuse. Ten years after Roberto Bolano's death instead of delving back into the Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Wire and other boxsets isn't it time the UK embraced some Bolano?
Yes, I love these shows too. They have all helped make the kind of storytelling you need a flow chart and pen for popular. But The Hour and The Wire aren't coming back, and Mad Men has only got one more gloriously whisky-drenched series left. That's before Don Draper's liver or mind explodes. Roberto Bolano's jigsaw plots, strong characters and artfully told stories from different views could be the answer. There's also plenty of mezcal and troubled individuals too.
The work considered Bolano's masterpiece, 2666, is a novel of nearly 1000 pages sprawling across five books, a few continents and countless interwoven characters. It's worth getting excited about. Despite spanning over decades and all those personalities, it still manages to pay satisfying attention to the emotional development of each character and remain concise. 2666 has already been compared to The Wire by journalist Adam Kaufman who labelled both as "two of our young century's most brutal and gripping pieces of crime fiction" in The Rumpus. Brutal.
In another of his works, The Savage Detectives, the main characters are, as Rafael Barrios's diary entry in the novel describes: "Have you ever seen Easy Rider?...That's basically what we were like back then. But especially, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano." But it's the way that Bolano writes in the voices of so many different characters that really keeps you wanting more and would appeal to any Game of Thrones fan.
Men, women, poets, criminals and the mentally unstable Quim Font express themselves, as Bolano deals out more personalities than in three series of the hit TV series.
Game of Thrones uses views from different personalities to create political characters, very few black and white situations, and barely any winners. Without the shifting perspectives and rich character stories that it shares with 2666, Game of Thrones would not be able to tell its story as it does and offer the unique quality that gives it appeal beyond the fantasy audience.
Perspectives and numerous narrators are also used to great effect in Mad Men. There's deep insight into the lives of Pete Campbell, Peggy Olson, Sal Romano, Roger Sterling, Joan Harris nee Holloway and of course Don Draper amongst others. It means we sympathise with and see the faults of each character. And in some cases the faults of characters are obvious. At first it's easy to loathe Pete Campbell, but as we see more of him he's almost likeable.
Returning to 2666 and The Savage Detectives; Mad Men, Game of Thrones and The Hour use minor characters all the time to dramatically change the story, like Walder Frey. The bastard. In 2666 an entire part of the book is written from the perspective of University professor, Amalfitano who has only made a brief appearance up until then. It is the characters he is connected to who have a strong influence on the story, but seeing the story from his point of view becomes vital. And characters contributing diary passages in The Savage Detectives observing Belano and Lima are mostly forgotten after their entries. But without them no one would be able to tell the whole adventure.
The part written from Amalfitano in 2666 helps create a story cushioned with tangents. There are postcards from Amalfitano's departing wife who's "pretext was a plan to visit her favourite poet who lived in the insane asylum in Mondragon". It's probably his and her descent into madness. And if our TV habits are anything to go by we love a bit of human desolation.
Amalfitano is a broken man, worried about his daughter and mentally unstable. Mad Men and The Hour have given us marriage problems, drink problems, arrogance and a helping of mental instability, and I've loved cringing through every bit of it. Bolano gives us Quim Font and Amalfitano amongst others, and tracks them intimately on their way down.
2666 and The Savage Detectives would have any Game of Thrones fan twitching with joy. And there's enough ice cool mysterious people to satisfy your Mad Men and The Hour fix. And did I mention the drink mezcal? In America, Bolano's popularity is already rising as more of his novels are translated. Ten years after he passed away, a wide audience is embracing more sprawling, jigsaw plots, desiring dark humanity in characters and even consuming the door-stop thick Game of Thrones novels. So, do not despair at your overused boxsets. Use them as a seat, or a bookend and transfer your attentions to a Bolano novel.