The Savage Detectives is kind of a hard read. It’s also really, really long. It’s also worth getting through. I’m not sure how I came across it, though Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666 has been on my radar for quite some time. I haven’t tackled it yet because it’s even longer than this one. Until recently, I’ve never been a fan of long books, probably because I was conditioned in college to read short ones quickly. Longer books, though, like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, are steadily growing on me.
The Savage Detectives is split into three parts. The first is somewhere under two hundred pages, and it’s a nice, easy read. It’s generally about this early college-age kid, Juan Garcia Madero, who fancies himself a poet and joins a sort-of movement in Mexico called the visceral realists. He meets other people, some of whom are poets and others who pretend to be poets, and Things Happen. The most important of these other characters, we figure out later, are Ulises Lima and Arturo Bolano. They end up running off withe Garcia Madero and a prostitute named Lupe. Then we get to the second part, the bulk of the book, told by lots of narrators. All of the stories at least mention Ulises and Arturo, but some only tangentially. Wikipedia (I know) has a good list of the various characters telling the stories. Ulises and Arturo went to Europe for a few years, then back to Mexico, and got into mischief. They kind of turned people off. They didn’t seem to write much poetry. Finally, we reach the third part, which is a continuation of the first. After leaving town (they were all trying to hide Lupe from her pimp), they drive to the Sonora Desert to search for the founder of visceral realism, Cesárea Tinajero, and Things Happen.
I really loved this novel, though it took me forever to read. It seems like the kind that you need to reread and study: it’s really complex, and working on wrapping your head around all of it would probably be rewarding. That said, I’m not going to reread it – at least not in the near future.
For a novel about poets, there’s very, very little poetry in it, and we only get to see one official visceral realist poem by Cesárea Tinajero, which is basically a series of drawings. It’s interesting that we don’t hear anything from Ulises Lima or Arturo Bolano themselves, that it’s all stories surrounding them. Even Garcia Madero, to my knowledge, only appears in the first and last parts.
A funny bit: At some point while I was reading, I tweeted that Bolaño shares Don DeLillo’s love of lists, even that he puts DeLillo’s lists to shame. Then, toward the end (page 574), Bolaño talks briefly about DeLillo, calling him a “phenomenon.” That gave me a chuckle.
It would actually be pretty interesting to compare Bolaño to DeLillo. The Savage Detectives fits pretty squarely under the Postmodernism bracket (vague as it is), and there are lots of Deserts and unhappiness and motels. Bolaño almost makes DeLillo interesting again.