David Lentz's Reviews > The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
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Aug 26, 12

Read from July 08 to August 26, 2012

Roberto Bolano has created a truly poetic masterpiece in his literary novel, "The Savage Detectives." Because the book is so rooted in the visceral realist movement of Mexican poetry, it is fitting that the narrative style should flow so lyrically as it does. The book is a sandwich that begins and ends in the form of a diary that carries the story line forward toward fruition. The filling in the middle is comprised of points of view principally by the main players of this tale seeking to build an underground literary movement and by virtue of its literary merits to enable it to become mainstream. The focus of the narrative is upon two poets and a prostitute who know each other from Mexico City. The real narrative impetus for this character-driven story line is the innovation through which the characters become known to us by virtue of the descriptive stories of encounters by those who know them. It's a bit like Balzac's "Human Comedy" insofar as we gain exposition about both the main figures of the stories and their lives based upon what other people say about them. High verisimilitude is achieved in the narrative in both Balzac and Bolano by this method of exposition. It is true that ultimately we shall be remembered by what others who survive us have to say about us. The narrative describes the dismal, abject poverty of the poets who sacrifice nearly every material comfort so that the poetry of their visceral realism can become recognized for its true merits as a literary movement. Their artistic persistence is noble, heartbreaking and only after many years brings them the prospects of earning the credibility of a cultural movement. Octavio Paz lingers as a leitmotif tormenting these true poets with his material wealth and acclaim as a Nobel poet whose literary gifts as a poet they don't seem to respect. This novel is a joy to read and purposely I read it slowly to savor the narrative with its literary contributions to narrative style. If I'm being honest, there were a few times when I wished the narrators' POVs had more nuance in the writing style as the narrators were so idiosyncratic themselves. I also feel that the title of this book does an injustice to its purpose as a world-class literary novel and seems to present it as a lesser murder mystery. If you love literary novels, then you'll adore this book. The writing is elegant, innovative, powerful, lyrical and sophisticated: what a masterpiece! Now I look forward to reading more novelists from Central and South America based upon the genius that I discovered in this novel by Bolano so rightly recommended highly by my discerning friends at Goodreads.
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Reading Progress

07/19/2012 page 30
5.0% "Intriguing, literary novel written in a lyrical, narrative style."
08/11/2012 page 331
57.0% "A truly great literary novel."
08/12/2012 page 353
61.0% "A truly great literary novel."
08/14/2012 page 401
69.0% "A truly great literary novel."
08/19/2012 page 485
84.0% "I adore this literary novel."
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Comments (showing 1-24 of 24) (24 new)

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Corey Lemme know how you liked this. I couldn't make it all the way through.


David Lentz I'll give it a go, my friend, largely based on the recommendation of GR Friend Ian Gray with whom this book is involved in a group read. I just finished "Infinite Jest" and only an iron enabled me to make it through that tome. If I can make it through "IJ," then I assume I can pretty much make it through almost any literary novel. Time, as always, will tell. Please stay in touch, Corey.


Corey I have a signed first of "Infinite Jest" and I mean to get to it someday. It's very daunting but I've enjoyed his other books. I have dubbed this the summer of Crap and Classics. I am alternating thrillers like my dad used to read (John D MacDonald, Jack Higgins, pulp fiction, etc.) with classics I've been meaning to get to like Hans Fallada's "Every Man Dies Alone," which I just finished. He should be mentioned with Mann and Grass.


David Lentz I'm adding "Every Man Dies Alone" by Fallada to my GR Reading List and will buy it from your online store. Thanks, Corey.


Corey Wonderful. I hope you like it as much as I did.


David Lentz I couldn't find Fallada's book on your store's web site. I will keep trying with future books so that you gain the business. FYI -- I have added "FRB" to a few Goodreads Listopias, summarized below your GR Books' Pages, and your own vote would improve their listing rankings. Hope you get a chance to read Gary Anderson's new novel, "Best of All Possible Worlds" -- it's superb.


Corey Sorry. The Fallada novel won't turn up on our site till tomorrow afternoon probably.
Aren't you kind? Much appreciated, my friend.
I am making a note of Gary Anderson's book right now. Thanks.


s.penkevich Nice, hope you like this one. I'm really digging into it.


David Lentz This novel just came in the mail and I am eager to get started. Glad to hear you are becoming immersed by your reading. We have very similar tastes in this sense. I'll follow your comments on this novel with interest.


s.penkevich It really struck a chord with me, it reminds me of early college days when everyone is so excited about being cutting edge in their ideas of the arts. I'll be looking forward to your thoughts as well.


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Hope you enjoy this, David.


s.penkevich How are you coming with this one? I really enjoyed it, I think it all comes together nicely.


David Lentz I am impressed by the innovation in the narrative style by which characters in individual chapters paint on their own canvasses their experiences with other characters in order to build full pointillist portraits. This interlocking narrative of perspectives is the way in which life and heaven actually work. Balzac manages a similar narrative approach in his Human Comedy in which novels titled after protagonists share views of each other and may vary wildly from book to book. The flow of the narrative voices is lyrically rich and sonorous and poetic. At times, though, it seems that the voices should have more nuance than they do. But the effect of the narrative is visceral and even highly realistic. This novel is an absolute joy to read. I appreciate that this astute group pointed me to a masterpiece which otherwise I may have missed.


s.penkevich David wrote: "I am impressed by the innovation in the narrative style by which characters in individual chapters paint on their own canvasses their experiences with other characters in order to build full pointi..."

Wow, that is a brilliantly succinct and thought provoking review right there in it's own right!
I agree about the voices needing a bit more nuance, I went into that a bit in my review but I felt it was being nit-picky. There were a few that were really diverse, but the form and the grammer could have switched up a bit more.

This interlocking narrative of perspectives is the way in which life and heaven actually work. Well said.


message 15: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus David, the discussion group is exploring views about the identity of the Interviewer(s), following on from Mike's thread. It would be good to get your views.

Re the nuance, I wonder how differently we [i.e., ordinary people] actually speak, either generally or in response to interview questions.

Part II struck me as very conversational.


message 16: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Is this a literary novel? Your status updates aren't clear on that point.


David Lentz The title suggests that it was written by Mike Hammer as a hardcore, graphic novel but its literary quality is extraordinary and innovates generously in its narrative style. I almost passed on this masterpiece because initially I didn't take the title seriously.


s.penkevich Incredible review. I agree with your thoughts on the title. Far to often while reading this I felt super pretentious when someone would ask how my book was and jump into a conversation about loving murder books and I'd have to respond 'well this is about spanish poets actually... who write and discuss life...' ha


David Lentz Dear S.,
Inevitably, you understand. You earn high praise for that capability: it's a rare gift, my friend.


s.penkevich Why thank you. The high praise goes to your review however!
The statement of Paz, as them rejecting his material wealth, that's a good point that I hadn't considered. The economic and political collapse this novel slowly moves towards was done so well and subtlely that much of it didn't sink in until later, but that is a really good way of looking at the Paz situation. Do you think it is that they hate him simply for being famous (like many young people hate bands just for getting radio play, considering that 'selling out') or because he promotes a type of writing that goes hand in hand with wealth and status? I need to read some Paz now.


message 21: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus "Carmen Boullosa was 20 years old in 1974 when she encountered Bolaño and his retinue at Mexico City poetry readings. In “Bolaño in Mexico” she writes, “With my own eyes I saw a group of Infrarealists (mission:sabotage) throw the contents of a glass over [Octavio] Paz (very smartly dressed, in an elegant blazer) who shook out his tie and continued conversation with a smile, as if nothing happened.” Indeed, nothing had. At another event, Bolaño “set out the reasons for his hatred of Paz: ‘his odious crimes in the service of international fascism, the appalling little piles of words that he risibly calls his poems, his abject insults to Latin American intelligence, that dreary excuse for a literary magazine which reeks of vomit and goes by the name of Plural.” Paz not only had Bolaño’s number, but made for a most inappropriate antagonist. They were too much alike in their literary enthusiasms and perceptions of Latin America. Paz was simply an adult. He later wrote in Itinerary, “The rebel is nearly always a solitary; his archetype is Lucifer whose sin was to prefer himself.” Young Bolaño exactly."

www.ronslate.com/romantic_dogs_poems_...

www.thenation.com/article/bolantildeo...


Stephen P one of the wonderful parts of goodreads is not only finding new books to read but discovering a new way to read books already read. having dismissed the savage detectives i am now reawakened by your scholarly, thorough and passionate review. can't wait to reread it with a clearer vision. if you have not already read them, and i can be so bold, i would recommend you try, sergio chejfek, clarice lispector and cortazar. if you would find it helpful and have a moment i posted reviews on each of their books i last read at, stephen p.


David Lentz s.penkevich wrote: "Why thank you. The high praise goes to your review however!
The statement of Paz, as them rejecting his material wealth, that's a good point that I hadn't considered. The economic and political col..."


My sense is that they did not respect the writing of Paz and resented that he achieved so much wealth and acclaim because of it. The visceral realists suffered and sacrificed for their poetry in total obscurity and believed it was superior. This happens all the time among writers many of whom consider commercially successful writers as sellouts pandering to the mainstream. I can't judge the merits of the work of Paz as I haven't read him. But I understand how some writers resent other writers who gain wealth and fame through lesser literary talents.


David Lentz Stephen wrote: "one of the wonderful parts of goodreads is not only finding new books to read but discovering a new way to read books already read. having dismissed the savage detectives i am now reawakened by yo..."

Thank you for your thoughtful recommendations all of which I have added to my reading list. Glad to see you venturing through Proust, one of my top five favorite authors of all time. Please stay in touch.


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