The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

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This novel is about two Latin American writers traveling the world in the late seventies and eighties. They’re the supposed founders of a movement in Mexican poetry that never really got off the ground, visceral realism, and they’ve disappeared. Much of the book is about the mystery of where they’ve gone and why.

The novel begins with young Garcia Madero narrating as he discovers the visceral realist poets and has his sexual awakening. After about a hundred pages with him, the narration splinters as many different characters give their accounts of their dealings with Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano. Each character’s story reads like an interview or monologue, which gives the reader the effect of feeling like she’s the detective herself, tracking Lima and Belano through Spain, Paris, and Africa, but constantly returning to where it all began in Mexico City. Then at the end, Garcia Madero finishes his narrative and the mystery of the first visceral realist poet Cesarea Tinajero, and the cause of Lima and Belano’s flight is revealed.

I didn’t really like the character of Garcia Madero, and I especially didn’t like reading about his raunchy sexual exploits, but since the book’s long middle section had so many female characters giving their own perspectives on sex and literature, I won’t call the book sexist. The most interesting aspects for me were the different characters’ opinions of Lima and Belano, and the various ideas about literature, Hispanic culture, and relationships that were expressed. The effect that Bolano achieve through his formal innovation was also quite impressive. I’m not sure that it needed to be this long, though.

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