Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño

Woes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño (cover art)

There were moments, mid-text, that I nearly forgot that this is an unfinished work. After all, Woes of the True Policeman isn’t the first of Bolaño’s works to experiment with fragmentation (in both phrase and plot), and there are also some stunningly beautiful passages. The five-page, single sentence barrage that glosses Amalfitano’s life is powerful–enough so that I got to wondering why it didn’t make the 2666 cut. But this early passage proved to be an exception. As other reviewers have noted, Woes of the True Policeman reads, by-and-large, like the literary equivalent to an outtakes album, and any close examination exposes prose that’s a bit too rough around the edges to be considered top shelf Bolaño. (To be clear, this is in no way a dig at Natasha Wimmer’s translation, which is potent and vibrant, as I’ve come to expect.)

As one who’s partaken in and enjoyed a fair bit of Bolaño’s oeuvre–and whose favorite chapter in 2666 is quite possibly “The Part About Amalfitano”–I’m appreciative of the opportunity to follow the evolution of both characters and ideas that go on to play key roles in Bolaño’s most ambitious text. But that’s about all that Woes of the True Policeman offers, and, while likely meaningful to Bolaño enthusiasts, I must ask: is this alone enough to justify publication? If, as the afterward claims, Bolaño worked on this text for upwards of thirty years but left it unpublished, and seeing as much of the text was adapted to fit into other works, I can’t help but wonder how Bolaño would feel seeing this “novel” on the shelves. I generally try to avoid spending too much time and analysis on extra-textual musings, but I can’t shake it in this case. Regardless, Woes of the True Policeman is out in the world, so you might as well dig in.