14 February 2009

The Savage Detectives

I just finished reading this book; my friend Joseph (whom I met via this very blog) picked it out. Sometimes I am a nitwit and don't know certain things; in this case, the fact that Bolaño is one of the most well-respected Latin American writers of his generation.

This seems to be a pretty polarizing book; some people loved it, and some people hated it & stopped reading after a couple hundred pages (it's around 650). I finished and liked it; it was definitely a dense, long, (at times) dragging read... but I came out in the end happy. It covers a million different points of view (which got confusing at times); the thing that amazed me was that each person seemed to have a distinct personality and writing style. So many writing styles! From one writer. Amazing. Toward the end of the book I also kept thinking about Natasha Wimmer, the translator. I can't believe that this book was written in another language, it sounds so perfect in English. I can't imagine how talented a translator like this must be.

I have probably said this once or twice, but I have this unbreakable habit of underlining /writing in my books (which is why I can never check books out of a library). Sometimes when I am bored and have 20 minutes to kill, I pick up an old book and only read the parts I underlined. Here they are for this one (don't worry, I'm not giving anything crucial to the story away):
(every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me) The rest of breakfast was prepared by the servant (whose name I don't know or can't remember, which is inexcusable). I asked. Or whispered, or howled, I can't remember, France, great country of devouring mouths, For a long time I stopped existing. I sat at the table and wrote a poem that I called "15/3." Then I read William Burroughs until dawn. After dark I went back and found Jacinto Requena dying of boredom. when the two of us were in school together at Porvenir. Not for long, really, which goes to show how relative memory is, like a language we think we know but we don't, that can stretch things or shrink them at will. and suddenly I realized that my horizons were expanding imperceptibly and my life was being gradually enriched. Or maybe we were silent for a while, me sitting at the foot of his bed, him stretched out with his book, the two of us sneaking looks at each other, listening to the sound the elevator made, as if we were in a dark room or lost int he country at night, just listening to the sound of horses. I could've sat there like that for the rest of the day, for the rest of my life. jumping around like a monkey with a taco or a piece of pizza in his hand, dreams of transparent questions, Las lenguas del diamante and I got up and reached out my hand and touched his shoulder. It was like touching a statue. one day I noticed that he went into the bathroom with a dry book and when he came out the book was wet. Our group was cheerful but after so many hours on the road the main thing we wanted was a bath and a hot meal and nine or ten hours of solid sleep. a pink Barcelona sunset got on a very small bicycle and led us down ghostly streets, around ten o'clock everyone would start to come out, saying good morning, Juliette, good morning, Pierrot, hear them talking about the sea, the brightness of the sea, and then a noise like the clanking of pans, and of course there was always some idiot talking about the weather. I don't like strangers to touch me before I've washed my face. That morning we had coffee and croissants for breakfast we lit cigarettes. It was a cold morning, there was a light fog, a eucalyptus forest Cemetery by the Sea I heard the spoon, which Claudia's fingers were holding, clicking and stirring in the glass, mixing the liquid and the layer of honey, I heard the last coin fall into the bowels of the public phone, the sound of leaves, the wind whipping dead leaves, a sound like cables tangling and untangling and then slipping apart in the void. Poetic misery. I'd get tears in my eyes thinking of Mexico City, thinking about breakfast in Mexico City. There was always some charitable soul who would venture down to the bilge with a piece of bread, a bottle of wine, a little bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. it occurred to me that I was going crazy, which struck me as so funny that I had to sit down on the bed and cover my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. having coffee at sidewalk cafés and wine and little dishes of squid at bars, The secret of those streets is the way they can be dazzling and somehow familiar, homey, all at once. when the sky in Barcelona is an almost purplish blue, almost violet, a sky that makes you want to sing and cry just to look at it, Like all crazy loves, don't you think? If you add infinity to infinity, you get infinity. If you mix the sublime and the creepy, what you end up with is creepy. Right? in other words a Spain where chasms weren't barricaded and children were still careless and fell into them, where people smoked and fainted in a rather excessive way, and where the Guardia Civil never showed up when it was needed. The fourth cup brings madness, Amor tussique non caelatur: neither love nor a cough can be concealed. Amantes, amentes. Lovers, lunatics, it makes me want to laugh and cry all at once. Memories that glisten like a drunkard in the rain or a sick man in the rain. Then the young poets would understand and nod, even if they didn't entirely follow what I was saying, even if they didn't comprehend every jot and tittle of the terrible, timeless lesson I'd meant to drum into their silly little heads. I wrote about lofty things. Gardens, lost castles, that kind of thing. I settle for thinking about the hugeness of the Universe. Discipline: writing every morning for at least six hours. Writing every morning and revising in the afternoons and reading like a fiend at night. and I would've liked to go to Africa too that night while we were watching the sea and the lights in the distance, The sky in Indonesia was almost green, the sky in Sicily almost white. bitter laugh, and a house and books. He mentioned streets, metro stops, telephone numbers. By then I could make out their silhouettes where they sat leaning against the wall. Both of them were smoking and both looked tired, but I might have gotten that impression because I was tired myself. It was a gorgeous morning, or an airy blueness that gave you goosebumps. And then I looked at the walls of my front room, my books, my photographs, the stains on my ceiling, their faces had turned pale, as if they were at the North Pole, if the answer was yes, I was determined to make them coffee right away, Then I got up (all my bones creaked) and went to the window by the dining room table and opened it, and then I went to what was, strictly speaking, the front room window, and opened it, and then I shuffled over to the switch and turned out the light. I found Belano sitting at a long wooden table, stained dark by the passage of time, a notebook that looked like a prayer book and in which her friend's tiny handwriting flowed like a stampede of insects.
Maybe my squishing them all together like that annoyed the hell out of you, or you got bored and stopped reading. (Or reading the underlines isn't interesting to anybody but me, which would be fine and understandable). But with The Savage Detectives, I realized that squishing them together makes it sound like T.S. Eliot on steroids. Which to me is just perfect.

Most of the characters in the book are poets or writers of some sort (maybe you could tell). I could see people with a low tolerance for artsy rambling lose their eyes in the back of their heads before throwing the book out the window. My friend Jared told me (when I wasn't that far into it yet) that if it's read with the fact that there might not always be a clear plot (or even point, sometimes) in mind, it would be better to read. And it was. I actually hugged the book when I finished it.
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