Confused? Exhilarated? A little of both? Welcome to the world of Roberto Bolaño, the late, great Chilean novelist whose popularity continues to rise despite his untimely death in 2003 at the age of 50.
For many Bolaño fans, especially in this country, all the excitement started here with The Savage Detectives, a sprawling, sexy, melancholy, kinetic, kaleidoscopic frenzy that clocks in at over 27 hours. First off, this is not a detective book. So if you're looking for a straightforward whodunit, look elsewhere. The only detective here is the listener, who must carefully follow along as Bolaño's novel takes one unlikely twist and turn after another.
Fans of Haruki Murakami and Thomas Pynchon will love Bolaño's literary acrobatics. On a literal level, The Savage Detectives is simply a series of first-person monologues delivered by dozens of different people. At first, the novel's focus seems unclear. But gradually, the plot begins to revolve around two "poets" (although some characters say they're nothing more than glorified drug dealers) who revive a branch of poetry called Visceral Realism: Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, who may (or may not) be the author's adventurous alter ego. Some characters know both men well. Others have brief encounters with them that last only days or hours. Some characters love or revere them. Others dismiss them as crackpots or lunatics. This multi-faceted narrative paints a vivid portrait of both men. And yet, the more we learn about them, the more mysterious they become.
The audiobook (with text translated from Spanish into English) features two readers. Eddie Lopez performs the part of a precocious college student who initially appears to be the novel's sole narrator. But roughly a quarter of the way into the book, Armando Durán brings to life a choir of voices spanning several decades and continents. Durán deserves a gold medal for this amazing feat, making each monologue sound distinct and believable, no matter the accent, age, gender, or mood of the speaker.
Getting into the chaotic rhythm of The Savage Detectives may take some time to adjust to for some listeners. But once you're tuned in, you'll experience one of the most thrilling, satisfying literary rides of your life. Ken Ross
The Savage Detectives is a hilarious and sexy, meandering and melancholy, companionable and complicated road trip through Mexico City, Barcelona, Israel, Liberia, and finally the desert of northern Mexico. It is the first of Bolaño's two giant works, with 2666, to be translated into English and is already being hailed as a masterpiece.
©2007 Translation by Natasha Wimmer; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Wildly enjoyable . . . Bolano beautifully manages to keep his comedy and his pathos in the same family." (The New York Times Book Review)
"The Savage Detectives is deeply satisfying. . . . Bolano's book throws down a great, clunking, formal gauntlet to his readers' conventional expectations. . . . A very good novel." (Thomas McGonigle, Los Angeles Times)
"An instant cult hit among readers and practically a fetish object to critics." (Time)
I really did NOT like this book for the first 90 minutes or so - Part I. But then the narrator changed from the sex-crazed, 17 year-old, wanna-be Visceral Realist poet to an older man and the stories of people who knew Arturo and Ulisses, Visceral Realists. This was much better than the first part and drew me in regularly. The third part goes back to the 17 year-old again, but he and Aruturo and Ulisses are seeking Cesarea Tinajero, the original Visceral Realist. The book just grew and grew on me and in the end I really didn't want it to end.
I didn't notice any pronunciation errors - I thought the narration was excellent.
The story is told by large cast of characters who seem to be responding verbally to questions about two poets, a Mexican and a Chilean. But somehow, these two end up seeming mythical and insubstantial while the supporting characters become full blown companions through their unique voices telling stories combining the mundane and bizarre. A latticework of detail is provided (You always know the date and place of a narration.), but motivation almost always remains mysterious. By some inexplicable means, the narrative tension is sustained through many adventures in Mexico City and Europe.
The readers are absolutely great. I'm sure that their good pronunciation of Spanish words (as well as German and even Latin) and the excellent definition of the characters through their voices and accents made this novel a much greater pleasure to listen to than it would have been to read in print.
I've read Bolano, but I think his novels work even better read out loud. The long lists of esoteric knowledge, the rambling thoughts and literary analysis, and the internal observations flow beautifully when read.
Daily Dog Walker and LONG Silicon Valley commutes, so I gulp through and love lotsa books, especially literary fiction and Mystery.
Some books are better read than listened to....and after listening to this extremely long book not once but twice, I have to say this is one of them. "The Savage Detectives" is a high-end tour-de-force, includes the testimony of so many characters and the thread of enough lives and stories that it warrants a careful reading vs. a thorough listening to or two, as in my case. After my first listening, much escaped me and 2/3 of the way through I had put so much time into the book I was determined to finish it but felt it was a slog. However, the book ends so beautifully, I was replenished and decided that now that I had half the threads, I would listen to it again. And that was worth doing too as I was then able to distinguish characters/voices and weave together the books threads all the better.
The book is exactly that -- very "writerly" so having the actors read what is supposed to be written testimony at times comes across as contrived, and the first narrator initially irritated me to no end because, despite the actor's surname (Lopez) he sounded like a WASP. Didn't bother me as much the second time around as I was used to it. The second narrator covers so many voices it's incredible, and his voice is much more authentic but again having the same actor cover gosh...at least 15 voices that are written in style of testimony is difficult.
Parts of the book are quite beautiful, parts are tedious, the author treats his central poet characters as almost messianic which translates as a bit self-indulgent. There is a very gratuitous stinky vagina scene that's bothersome, but then some wonderful international scenes and the actual detection --there is that as the poets trace a phantom like female poet from a generation before these is extremely well-executed.
If you have time to listen to a very long book twice, give it a shot. Impossible to swallow in one listening. This is worth reading,but best suited for the printed page.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, absolutely impossible to summarize, and simultaneously amazing and frustrating. Bolaño created a novel and a narrative that (IMHO) attempted to capture the energy, the personalities, the youth and the mortar that held together Mexican and Latin American poets during the mid-1970s. It feels like he took every poetic image, idea, stray hair and paper from every Mexican poet during the past forty years and laid them all down on black velvet to be examined. He found poetry in the "visceral realists" excesses and his semi-autobiographical confessions. Bolaño jumps from chapter-to-chapter, from scene-to-scene, from sunset-to-sunset and keeps reinventing his PoMo novel as he writes it.
I have to be fair. It wasn't my favorite novel, but it seems the most likely (of all the novels I've read these last two or three years) to suddenly become animated. If any novel is going to jump off my lap, and wander off into the wilderness -- this is the one. It seems to be written not just in ink, but in blood, tears, seed, and fire.
It someways it reminds me of the beginning of Yeat's poem 'Second Coming':
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
With Roberto Bolaño the center of this gyre is Mexico City and with each page he writes (forward and back in time) Bolaño seems to be adding potential energy to the explosion that will loose his mad, Mexican poets, these thieves and dealers, these visceral realists, around the world. As I chew on this image, I think the idea of vortexes and gyres is equally applicable to ALL poets. It captures the way creativity often explodes, demands to be exposed, and drives before its flood chariots of innocence, creativity and youth.
This is one the best audiobooks I have ever listened to. The performances by the duel narrators worked brilliantly together. The first, Eddie Lopez, captures the youthful story that bookends the sad, romantic journey that comprises the bulk of the novel. This is great literature and great entertainment. This is either the most poetic novel I have ever come across or the best narrative epic poem of the last 100 years.
Too many to count. The sojourns to Israel and Africa were fascinating and disturbing.
It was unconventional, yet worked. His narration was natural and unaffected. He was able to deliver the romance and sadness of youth.
The best book about literature since Ulysses.
I said before that this is one of the best listens I have come across. Until it is knocked from its perch, I will call it the best. Can't wait to listen to Bolano's 2066.
The writing is wonderful and the book is certainly compelling, but this audiobook is very poorly produced. The reader's consistent and glaring mispronunciation of Spanish words -- names in particular -- is extremely distracting. Was there no research? I am very disappointed.
Change the narrator!
The story was great. The narrator was a sledgehammer of sensitivity to the story.
I turned to the print edition, which would be well worth it.
No one in book club finished the book. Despite high reviews (NY Times, Washington Post) every one of the voracious readers in my book club stopped reading it - myself included. You know that guilt you sometimes feel when you don't finish something you started. I didn't feel that guilt. There are too many better books out there to read.
Why didn't I like it?
1) It was a wandering and rambling trail of thought without an apparent plot line in the spirit of "On the Road", "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and to a certain extent "Walden Pond".
2) I didn't care one bit for any of the characters. They could have dropped down the bottom of a well as far as I was concerned. It might even do them some good - teach those fancy, dreamy poets to live in the real world.
3) The book was also complicated by the Spanish words - It was harder for me to connect to the book and get the swing of it with all of the foreign names and words.
On the plus side - our book club's consensus is that the book wasn't 100% bad but we just didn't get it/ connect with it. I actually thought the racy sex scenes were the more intriguing part of the 2 hours that I listened to - the emotions of sexual wonder, desire, and exploration seems more real to me than discussions of young Mexican surrealist poets trying to establish a magazine.
"Discover a whole new world of fiction"
After a relatively accessible and direct opening section, the plot abandons itself to a succession of non-chronological witness statements which eventually interact to produce a gripping, disconcerting novel. For anyone tired of the heavy hand of Anglo-saxon conformity this book will be most welcome, as long as you can see the humour in it - if you don't laugh somewhere early on, give it up. But it's also a 'serious' work of fiction in every sense.
"Ulises' Homeric Epic"
A brilliant introduction or primer for South American literature, infused with Spanish sensitivities and pre-occupations. This book drifts on and on, beautifully written easy to follow but ultimately difficult to fathom, leaving the reader to wonder where they have sailed to and what is the meaning and message of it all....if in fact the purpose of the Visceral Realists is that there is no message and meaning, since there is no poetry. Much as Murakami has done for modern Japanese writing, so too Bolano seems to have taken an important step in bringing the world of Chile, Colombia and Mexico City into the cosmopolitan mainstream literati cosmos. The world so familiar and yet so fresh shouts and whispers out from the page and left me wanting more - forward and back to explore the early works and look forward to picking up 2666 later this summer. As with all new challenges, hard work to work hard through this novel, but new, exciting and very rewarding to get to know Bolano.
"You have to listen to it twice."
You have to. You won't get it the first time round. It will tease you until the final part, at which point you'll realise what was going on earlier. Then you'll want to go back.
Bolano. I don't think I can tell you why. It would give too much away.
Either the cave scene or the scene which references 'The Shining'. Both of these caused me to think, yes Bolano (with a ~), you're a clever bastard, I get what you're doing here.
Yes, but you'd need a day, so that's not wildly practical.
Don't worry about reviews which write the book off as a big long name drop. It's more of a detective story, but one in which you have to do most of the work yourself. And you're not really sure what it is you're supposed to be doing.
Regarding the performance, I've only given four stars because the sound levels in parts 1 and 3 are much higher than part 2, which is irritating. Ideally, you'll need decent listening equipment to enjoy it. I started off using my satnav, which made it sound tinny. Once I switched to an MP3 (Sandisk clip +), plugged into my car stereo's aux socket, things were much better.
"Not for me"
perhaps I should persist but I'm not going to not a book for me, it might be the names (unfamiliar to my western ear) but I found this very difficult to follow
"just like Borges"
An avid reader, Bolaño often expressed his love for Borges and Cortázar's work, and once concluded an overview of contemporary Argentinian literature by saying that "one should read Borges more.
"The Savage Detectives - a journey"
This is very different, very sexual in parts but not gratuitously so. The book slowly becomes addictive and I found no trouble listening to long tracts at a time. It is not written in a form I have come across before: the story evolving from the narratives of the various characters but each character is convincing and it did not occur to me that Bolano obviously created each separate character. The female parts are read by the 'male' narrators, which through me when I first realised it was happening but I got used to it and quite enjoyed this aspect of the narration. The narrators are excellent and, of course, there is not the requirement to figure out the pronunciation of the Spanish, where it occurs. It is a wonderful book, yes it is long but as it progresses one is the more pleased for the length and sad when it reaches its conclusion. Everything is convincing. Read it - it will stay with you.
"Or on the other hand....."
Being Latin American and award winning ought not to be a passport to universal acclaim.
Despite being extremely well narrated, this remains a deeply boring tale about unattractive characters. 'Real' they may be....even 'visceral'...that doesn't make them beings that you want populating your imagination.
Lots of four letter words and strong sexual references make this not the audio to have on in the kitchen while the family has dinner!
My advice? If you want to move out of the Anglo Saxon arena try Carlos Ruiz Zafon. As for me ? I think it?s back to Miss Marple for an hour or two to wash my mind out!
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