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The best book I have read in a very long time,
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This review is from: The Savage Detectives (Picador 40th Anniversary Edition) (Picador 40th Anniversary Editn) (Paperback)
I understand that hype can mislead some people to read something that is not for them so let's be clear this is an avant garde novel with an unusual structure and a meandering (to say the least) sense of narrative. A large part of it is made up of anecdotes by a range of people about encounters they had over several decades with the main characters, two avant garde and thoroughly disreputable poets (the savage detectives), one of whom is perhaps less of a poet and barely sane. These anecdotes, some extended, are thoroughly readable and each of the voices is distinctive and alive. Bolano's range here is impressive and he is adept at invoking a very wide variety of characters and situations, cultural and social, in masterful detail. He is a miniaturist of considerable skill. Most of these pieces are set in Mexico and Spain but we also have Israel and a number of African situations.
This long section of voices, anecdotes, is sandwiched between a straight narrative telling the story of a group of wild young radical poets in Mexico City and of the escape of the two main characters with two characters from the first part to search for a lost poet (who may not have written any poetry) from an earlier generation.
It seems only in a very sketchy way that all this - the narrative sections at the start and the end, and the long section of anecdotes in between - come together to tell a wider story but you do get a strong sense of time. And between the apparently disjointed parts you can slowly piece together the lives of the lead characters - as they age and as they go about their sometimes chaotic lives. By the end a wonderful portrait of them has been revealed.
The action includes vivid sex (the first part of the book is a coming of age story), playful discussion and not a little violence. The book is incredibly alive. It's characters are incredibly alive. I can't even begin to describe why it had such a powerful affect on me. Perhaps I feel a little sentimental about my own roughly contemporaneous wild youth? The period is caught marvellously. But it cannot be that alone. I find Bolano's writing enormously satisfying. It is complex and extremely rigorous. Yet it delivers and is extremely readable. I will read this book again soon and have no doubt I will find more in it.