I could put together a book by now. My complete works. (Dec. 28)
The seventeen year-old Juan García Madero, having only recently entered into the adventurous life of poetry and sex, and on the verge of a more unusual adventure, wrote that. He has written 55 poems of 2,453 lines. I do not believe that Roberto Bolaño ever gives us a hint of what any of those lines actually look like, although I am probably wrong about that. This is an easy book to be wrong about. See, here’s a hint on November 29:
There’s no free table, I said and went on writing. My poem is called “Everybody Suffers.” I don’t care if people stare.
Oh good Lord. Thank you, Roberto Bolaño, for sparing this reader that poem. Also see the amusing Nov. 4 entry (“The first [poem] was about the sopes, which smelled of the grave”)
García Madero never publishes his book. He vanishes. The big central section of The Savage Detectives that interrupts García Madero’s diary is on one level a compilation of twenty years of the history of Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, but it is also the record of the absence of García Madero, who appears only in flickers. The only explicit mention of his name is a denial of his existence. I did not notice any of this until I was on the next to last page of the novel. It is deliberately made hard to see – among the dozens of narrators and other characters, surely García Madero will turn up at some point.
So one strong temptation is to read García Madero back into the middle of the book, to tease out his complete works. A valuable effort, although I am pretty sure there is no answer. He is there in various ways, perhaps quite important ways, unless the lesson he learned in the Sonora desert in early 1976 was to escape from this crazy book, or perhaps to imitate Césarea Tinajero, with one improvement: publish nothing. Publish just one word and they come after you! By “they” I mean Death and the Eumenides. Best to engineer your own absence.
Much of Bolaño’s art is the creation of absence, the undermining of meaning. An analogy is a visual artist’s use of negative space. Bolaño, too, writes around the void. This is what I meant when I said yesterday that, while knocking down my fantastical theory about a particular detail of the plot, we found, as is typical with my experience with Bolaño, that even clearly stated points turn out to be deeply flawed as evidence, presented only by one of the novel’s many madmen, for example, or contradicted elsewhere. Bolaño creates jigsaw puzzles with pieces that do not fit, but different pieces depending on how you start the puzzle.
The Savage Detectives reminds me of no other book so much as Wuthering Heights, another novel of the void, another malformed puzzle that continually strongly suggests solutions to its puzzles but refuses anything resembling proof. Wuthering Heights is, of course, an utter freak among Victorian novels.
The Red and the Black is also kin to The Savage Detectives, and unlike Brontë's novel is mentioned several times by Bolaño. He wants us to know that García Madero has read it, for example. Stendhal’s novel is another that seems to retreat from or withhold a clear meaning at key points. Unfortunately, I am not such a good reader of Stendhal, so I am unsure how to pursue this idea. Well, no, I know how – read more. That is always the solution to the mystery, whatever it is, the only tool this Amateur Detective has.