Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

"God bless them, they were so young, with their hair down to their shoulders and carrying all those books.” This wistful observation comes from an aging, drunken, failed poet in The Savage Detectives, the grand novel that made Roberto Bolaño famous in Latin America when it was published in 1998. The tension between vitality and its erosion—between youth’s gorgeous recklessness and its inevitable decay—fuels this remarkable book and fills it with an aching sadness.

When Bolaño, a peripatetic Chilean who also lived in Mexico and Spain, died of liver failure in 2003, at the age of 50, he left behind 10 novels and three short-story collections, all written in the last decade of his life. His major works are The Savage Detectives and 2666, a massive posthumous novel which will be published in English for the first time next year.
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Meet the Visceral Realists: a razor-tongued, pot-smoking, self-obsessed gang of horny Mexican poets. There's Ulises Lima, a vagabond who infects his gracious hosts with scabies. And Luscious Skin, a lothario who recounts a "butt-lashing" sexual encounter over four very detailed pages. They're the anti-heroes in The Savage Detectives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), a bizarre and mesmerizing novel by the late Chilean-born author Roberto Bolano.

Just now published in English, the book is a fist-to-gut introduction to a deceptively powerful writer who died at age 50 in 2003. It's a lustful story--lust for sex, lust for self, lust for the written word. On a self-destructive quest to figure out what the hell their own movement is even about, the gangster poets swing you from Mexico to Paris and back, eluding murderous pimps, plotting revolutions, and having lots and lots of sex along the way.
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