Monday, May 21, 2007

Roberto Bolaño - The Savage Detectives

Phil Brown reviews Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives.
There's a real Beat Generation feel to this picaresque novel with its myriad weird and colourful characters, its agitated restlessness, its lack of restraint and the inherent idea that literature constitutes a sort of existentialist political ideology.

For Bolano poetry is the purest, most political literary form and his narrative is filthy (I use the word advisedly) with bards of all sorts – mostly politically naive, slightly deranged losers.

The main characters, poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, are almost certainly Bolano himself and his pal Mario Santiago who once formed their own avant-garde literary movement – the infra-realists – in Mexico City in the 1970s.

They used to go to readings by Octavio Paz (the Mexican writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990) and shout their own poems out. Talk about rude.

In The Savage Detectives, Belano and Lima form a movement called the visceral realists.

They are passionate about their poetry and entrench themselves in Mexico City's Bohemian literary underground before setting out on a quixotic adventure in search of another poet, Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonoran Desert and obscurity decades before.

As with any true quest it's the journey that's important and what the heroes learn along the way which is, frankly, not much.

But there's plenty of wine, women and song en route, lots of politics and way too much poetry.

The intricacies of the local literary scene are exhaustively chronicled and the parade of writers and lowlifes is as endless as it is confusing.

At the beginning of the book we are being told this story by a young man who looks up to the two adventurer poets but in the end a cacophony of voices end up telling the tale.

Self-indulgence is a hallmark of this work and that puts it squarely in the Beat tradition.

Kerouac's alcoholic delusions and his pretentious meanderings led him, eventually, into a morass of despair and after more than 500 pages of The Savage Detectives that's where I ended up too. Read More

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