Saturday, 22 July 2017

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

Review of 'The Savage Detectives' by Roberto Bolaño

I was doing really well at keeping up to date on posting on this blog last month, and then I read this massive tome. So, sorry for my absence, but this novel took a while to work through. I was meant to read it two and a half years ago as part of my lit course, but it was big and heavy with small font so I avoided it at all costs and Wiki'd it for the seminar. I've read quite a few nice, speedy novels recently so I thought it was time to tackle it.

The Savage Detectives is one of Bolaño's longest works. Initially a poet, he turned to, in his opinion, an inferior form of literature: fiction. Bolaño was a traveller, and spent most of his life poor, finally turning to fiction as a way to secure income. 

Usually I wouldn't do a little author bio for you, but as one of the main characters, Arturo Belano is a loosely autobiographical figure, I felt as though it was important.

The novel is very much a South American novel. Not all of the text, or possibly not even the majority of the text, takes place in South America, and yet it remains an intangible zone throughout the entirety of the novel. It's there in the conversation between narrators, and there in the discussion of literature, which features heavily in the book. 

The Savage Detectives is written in three parts. The first is a story from the viewpoint of a 17 year old poet named Garcia Madero. He becomes entangled with a group of poets who name themselves the visceral realists. Even if you search this term, all you get are mentions of Bolaño and this novel. It's a form of poetry that is discussed at length in the text, but as with any avant-garde form of art, it's true form is never pinpointed. It's un-pinpoint-ability is part of what it is.

The second part features over 40 narrators. It's confusing, and at some times mindless. Some narrators only feature once, and some come in waves of repetition. It took me a while to link this mass of scenes, but the one thing they all have in common is that these people have met Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the founders of visceral realism. These people tell stories that span twenty years as well as multiple continents. Movement between chapters and narratives is harsh and abrupt. It constantly keeps you questioning and leads you off into different realms of thought. Again, I feel as though this is part of the idea of visceral realism.

If you define 'visceral' you come across the idea of something relating to ones feelings rather than to ones intellect. This features throughout The Savage Detectives. We're met with  crude sexual scenes, scenes of abject poverty, alcoholism and the desire to learn. Belano and Lima do not do what they need to do in life, they do what they feel like doing. 

The final section picks up exactly where the first section leaves off. Belano, Lima and Garcia Madero are travelling across the desert with a prostitute they saved from her pimp. The pimp is hot on their tails, but they're also in search of a visceral realist poetess, who has only ever published one piece of work. This final section follows them in their journey to the heart of visceral realism. 

Have you read this? What did you think?

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