Friday Faves: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and why it’s so special to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from librarian and blogger Jeremy Earl:

I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no invitation ceremony. It was better that way.

I first found out about Bolano when I was looking around Planet Books and an acquaintance who happened to be working there recommended The Savage Detectives (something that underlines the value of book stores). He was effusive about Bolano’s writing and was of the opinion that it was rough but brilliant. That was enough for me.

The Savage Detectives is one of the most original novels I have ever read. It plays with form and utilizes clever literary devices, yet at the same time it stands as a parody of such pretensions, something that is really hard to pull off successfully. The novel is divided into three sections. The first is told from the first person perspective of a seventeen-year-old student living in Mexico City in the mid 1970’s called Garcia Madero. He’s invited to join a poetry group called the visceral realists, even though he’s not sure what it even means. I suspect that it is a parody of both the literature scene generally and Bolano’s writing style itself. I can imagine a critic using such a term to describe Bolano’s writing. Madero meets two poets, Arturo Belano (Bolano himself?) and Ulises Lima. At the end of the first section Madero flees Mexico City in the company of these two poets.

In a total departure from conventional form the huge middle section is the story of what happened to Belano and Lima after the events of the novel told from the perspectives of those who met them on their travels through Europe and Africa over a period of twenty-years. The narrative never engages directly with the protagonists, rather they walk like ghosts sustained by a multitude of stories told by others, some bitter, some glowing and some bizarre. This section is maddening, brilliant and totally original.

The third section brings the reader back to the first person perspective of Madero and to the end of his association with Belano and Lima and the visceral realists. At the completion of this amazing novel I could have easily turned to page one and began again, such was its hold over me. I finished The Savage Detectives some five years ago and I still haven’t read another book that has made such an impact on my psyche. It felt like the novel had been absorbed into my life, changing my everyday perspective and gifting me inspiration and verve. This is what you want from a novel, not just mere entertainment, but something that can transform and inspire.

Roberto Bolano died in 2003 but he has very much been active in a literary sense, with numerous posthumous novels and collections published, including the massive novel 2666. He was also somewhat of a mysterious figure, a Chilean who was persecuted by the Pinochet regime and who then lived in exile for the rest of his life, mainly in Spain where he wrote whilst living a simple life. Bolano’s life reads like that of a fascinating character in a novel whose life story was tragic, inspiring and mysterious. I acknowledge that he’s not for everyone, but I can guarantee that if you read Bolano you’ll never be the same again.

From Jeremy: Literature has always been important to me and was the perfect antidote to the problem of being a young introvert. So it’s no wonder that a love of literature has stayed with me throughout my life, leading me to complete a literature degree at UWA. Now I’m surrounded by books both at work (I work in a library) and at home, where they are crammed into bookshelves and stacked in unsteady piles anywhere they will fit. As I tend to my book review blog I’m also attempting to write at least one novel in my lifetime, so that it can be stacked unsteadily somewhere after being enjoyed by other lovers of literature.

Your turn: Have you read any of Bolano’s novels? I struggled through 2666, and bailed on The Third Reich but something about this one definitely appeals to me.

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Friday Faves  The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano   ANNABEL SMITH

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