Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Look at Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives

Since reviewing Robert Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives quite harshly about four months ago, I’ve been looking for other opinions. This is not my general practice when I don’t like a book, but I feel my review of The Savage Detectives might not be entirely fair. The book certainly didn’t sit well with me, but, for some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that this is partly (or mostly) my own personal reaction to the book rather than a reaction likely to be shared by others.

I was happy to learn that Francis, one of Literary License’s loyal readers in Ireland, started The Savage Detectives soon after I finished it. Francis has a different view of the book from my negative one, so I asked Francis to share his thoughts on my “rather sniffy dismissal of The Savage Detectives”:

I don’t think you were being fair to the novel. I really liked the book, but does that make me a literary snob? What exactly is a literary snob? I have given this some thought and wonder to what degree I fall into the category. I want books to be entertaining, to be well written, to have interesting characters, to transport me to different places and times that I might not otherwise encounter. With this novel, Bolaño admirably meets each of these requirements, so if I have to answer to claims of snobbery, so be it.

True, some parts of the novel are challenging, and some of the sentences are the longest I’ve encountered this side of Proust (another noted snob, literary and otherwise), but not once does Bolaño lose control of his material; indeed, some of those long sentences are masterful, and I have read several of them many times over just to admire how he (and his translator) keeps them on track. Another appealing aspect of the novel is Bolaño’s playful approach to names and real people.

I realize I’m not going to change your mind about the novel. It’s just that I would like your readers to be aware of the many pleasures that await them if they are not too swayed by your review. They might have a completely different opinion about the chapter with all the obscure poetry terms, which I consider one of the book’s most enjoyable and instructive, a real road movie of a chapter with the various definitions a legitimate way for the characters to pass the time. Prospective readers might enjoy the atmosphere of those small Mexican towns and they might just happen to like the down-and-out poets; after all, isn’t this the way we expect our poets to be? I could go on, but you get the point: there is much to recommend in this novel, and it is definitely worth “bothering” about.
So there you have it: two wildly different opinions about the same book. And thanks to Francis for taking the time to respond so carefully and intelligently to my review.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Very brave - I think it's great that you sought out differing opinions. Sometimes liking or disliking a book is really a personal thing, and we always have to keep in mind that others may see things very differently. Great post!