Roberto Bolaño has been such a disappointment. His over-inflated reputation would have been so much fun to puncture. No, I’m not that kind of writer, but it would have been satisfying to read other people take down that fraud Bolaño and the fools who praise him.
Instead, the balloon seems to have been inflated to the proper poundage. Oh well. Maybe the next big hype will be a con job. Let’s hope.
I liked them. They reminded me of the beats. (The Savage Detectives, 183)
Did they ever. If I had picked up The Savage Detectives without knowing anything about it, the first part of the novel, 137 pages of the diary of a seventeen year-old Mexico City neo-beatnik who has just discovered poetry and bohemianism, would have done me in. Here’s the unimpressive page 90 test:
Last night something really bad happened. I was at the Encrucijada Veracruzana, leaning on the bar, switching back and forth between writing poems and writing in my diary (I have no problem going from one format to the other), when Rosario and Brígida started to scream at each other at the back of the bar. Soon the grisly drunks were taking sides and cheering them on so energetically that I couldn’t concentrate on my writing anymore and decided to slip away.
The voice of that kid is all too plausible. 650 pages of this - forget it! Details of the Mexican setting aside, and the details do have their interest, I have read this book before; it’s just more of that kind of thing. I would wonder why everyone was getting so hopped up about it. Unless I had been lucky enough to flip ahead fifty or a hundred pages.
The idea of not knowing anything about The Savage Detectives before reading it - I just said that as a joke.
I’m not trying to justify myself. I’m just trying to tell a story. Maybe I’m also trying to understand its hidden workings, workings I wasn’t as aware of at the time but that weigh on me now. Still, my story won’t be as coherent as I’d like. (297)
I knew a lot about this book before I read it. For example, that once that kid goes on the road with his angel-headed poet pals, on page 139, the one voice becomes many more, dozens more, and the single story shatters. This is the flashy show-off section of the book, as Bolaño wanders the globe and mimics all sorts of different people, including an impressive variety of madmen, at the same time telling the story of a couple of the Mexican poets, but obliquely, and perhaps also telling yet another story in the negative space of the first one. I would bet you eleven dollars that at least two of the sections were separately written short stories that were retrofitted into the novel. Bolaño expands one of the best of them into an entire novel.
Then after several hundred pages the party is over, everyone goes home, that proto-poet and his diary return, and I finally discover why Bolaño has made me spend so much time with that kid. The key sentence, on the next to last page, was “I’ve read Césarea’s notebooks” (646). I might well have said aloud, “Oh, I get it.” But I should have gotten it quite a bit earlier.
I could go on and on like this. It’s the great strength of book blogs, yes, that personal voice, my reaction? Even though I haven’t said a dang thing.
Richard and Rise organized the shindig and link to even more fragmented voices.