A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Memoirs are not necessarily a good idea. At least, it’s often a bad idea to read them if you don’t want your worst impressions to be confirmed. I’ve never fully signed up to the cult of Neruda; his poetry always left me with an oddly antipathetic feeling, even though I could hear that powerful eloquent voice of his and marvel at the strength of his imagination. I always had the impression of a rather childish, egocentric man at the heart of it all; the same naivety and absolutism that informed his politics seemed to permeate his art too.
Confieso que he vivido is Neruda’s playground. Every thought he has about himself is explored in full. Every moment of celebrity, every sexual encounter, every bird, bee or butterfly is presented for us to inspect and admire. Like Salvador Dali, he dramatises his own life and acts out every one of his inner urges as if it were a divine dictate. It makes for an extraordinarily colourful read, shot through with astonishing, vivid moments of beauty. It’s also extremely tiresome.
However, if you have no illusions about the great man’s character (or love him so much you can withstand anything), his memoirs are worth reading for the language alone. This is Neruda’s great gift: the ability to present an object or a person or a scene in a way that is new and surprising and yet so evocative, you can’t imagine any other way to describe it. (I can never open a bottle of Chilean Cabernet without thinking of his “wine with purple feet”.) One reading has left me with a whole collection of images engraved in my mind: the vermillion-painted hazelnuts in the forests near Temuco; the luxurious table set out by the three elderly French sisters in their mansion in the woods; the strange nausea at the base of the skull that comes (Neruda tells us) from opium.
I would strongly advise reading this memoir after you have got to know Neruda’s poetry. Partly because he constantly explains his own work; it’s advantageous if you know it, and his account will give you startling insights into works you already think are familiar. And partly because if you enjoy his poetry, the chances are that you’ll enjoy his prose enough to put up with his personality.
Pehuen Editores 2007, paperback, 472 pp., ISBN: 978-956-16-0396-7