The Savage Detectives,
written by Chilean-born novelist Bolaño (19532003)
in 1998 but only now published in English, is the
novel that made Bolaño famous amongst Spanish
speakers and is considered his masterwork. Heavily
autobiographical, it traces the actions of a small
literary movement, the Visceral Realists, from 1975
to the mid-1990s. The action, as far as it goes,
revolves around Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano
(Bolaño's alter ego and a regular in his novels),
founders of the Visceral Realist movement.
The book is top and tailed by entries from 17-year-old Juan Garcia Madero's diary, a new recruit to the movement, who records the events of 1975 and 1976 as the three men and a fugitive hooker search for a nearly forgotten Mexican poet who apparently went missing in the Sonoran Desert some decades before. The middle 400 pages record the testimonies of more than 40 observers (friends, enemies, lovers etc) through whom we track Belano and Lima's movements around the globe from 1975 to the mid 1990s, to find out what became of the two optimistic but doomed poets.
Call me shallow, call me ignorant, but I have to say that The Savage Detectives literary angst left me cold. I'm not a big fan of magical realism, but if this is the counter to magical realism then, please, bring on the middle ground! The Savage Detectives is less about narrative and more about literature itself. If you enjoy the first 120 pages, read on and you'll soon find your voice added to those in praise of this deep and meaningful novel. However, if you're still finding it hard going around page 100, you might want to call it a day.
As always, you don't have to take one person's word on any book recommended at BookBrowse. Below are a sample of the many positive reviews for this iconic classic. You'll find more reviews at BookBrowse, plus an excerpt:
"One of the most entertaining
books about writers and their discontents since
Boswell's Life of Johnson. A brilliant novel, fully
deserving of its high international reputation." -
"Over the last few years, Roberto Bolaño's reputation, in English at least, has been spreading in a quiet contagion; the loud arrival of a long novel, The Savage Detectives, will ensure that few are now untouched." The New York Times, James Wood (full review).
"[W]hat ultimately holds The Savage Detectives together is the strength of Bolaño's vision. What all the characters share is a sense of instability and terror lurking just beneath the surface, a pervasive disquiet that drives the prose." - The San Francisco Chronicle, Vinnie Wilhelm (full review).
This review was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the March 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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