The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Awesome book. At the beginning it is all about the excitement and energy and ambition of young artists, and then through the 400-some pages in the long middle section it morphs into a sad story of talented but aimless people who've screwed up their lives. Well, that is sort of what it's about -- that plus relationships, groups of friends, sex, traveling, poetry.
Also, that description does not quite do it because the protagonists, Ulisses Lima and Arturo Belano, still have a certain mystique or appeal throughout the novel. This is in part because of the brilliant way their story is told indirectly, through the monologues of dozens of people who knew them. There's a double-meaning to the "detectives" in the title because not only do Lima and Belano set out on a search of their own for an obscure poet, the whole novel is structured as a search after Lima and Belano.
I admit I read it in small chunks while reading other books. It is not boring or difficult, but it is not a traditional narrative, either -- more like a hundred mini-stories within a loose larger narrative. And as with any great book that has this sort of structure, the tangents and digressions can be some of the best parts of the work.
Everybody loves this book and everybody is right. I assume credit has to go to the translator, too, because the sentence-level language is unfailingly incredible. There are lines -- especially the last lines at the end of sections; Bolano has a talent for last lines -- that are just crisp and juicy and perfect.
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