The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño. Picador. *****
Stumbling across Bolaño’s Savage Detectives at the staff book swap left me reminiscing over my discovery of Borge’s Collected Fictions. Fittingly, Detectives struck my like a bolt of lightening. And they say that lightening doesn’t strike twice.
Overtly autobiographic (the main character’s name is Belano), stylistically Borges-hero worship, for great swathes this fantastical text is more poetry than novel.
Bolaño’s work is an exquisite demonstration of descriptive prose. The world-building is sublime. Jumping from continent to continent, through a generation of characters who serve as friends, lovers, admirers and enemies, the reader can’t help but get lost in it all. Countries and cities that the reader has never visited, appear in the mind as though traversed daily. The building and crumbling of friendships and relationships similarly engross the reader. There is just so much to see here.
The book is book-ended by the diary entries of a testosterone-fuelled teenage poet. Said poet hero worships Belano, and his accomplice Lima, setting the scene for a phenomenal journey out of 1970’s Mexico City and in to the 21st century. The enormous Act II encompasses the adventures the protagonists take from teenage poet-revolutionaries to middle aged men. This expanse is narrated from the points-of-view of those who know (or think they know) the poets best.
So fascinated by the autobiographical nature of the fiction, I read all I could find on the author. This unsolicited Bolaño quote captivated me:
“[Literature] is the product of a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears.”
The Savage Detectives is emphatically that. This tale of two vagabond poets is so beautifully written, so painstakingly constructed, that after 580 pages the reader is so consumed by the characters’ worlds that you can be forgiven for assuming you had really been there, an innocent observer throughout.
This is the second Spanish-to-English translated work I have come across by complete fluke. This coincidence, the similarities with the work of Borges, and my absolute absorption in Bolaño/Belano’s world demanded further reading.
My next challenge is 2666, Bolaño’s tour de force, which will provide me with plenty of reading over the Christmas break.