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Roberto Bolano


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#1 Christian

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 12:45 PM

Building off a comment I made over here, I picked up the audiobook of Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives yesterday and, listening to the first disc this morning, went from ambivalent to very excited about this novel.

Why? Sometimes you start a book -- whether in print, or in audio -- and you just know that you've entered into something, some project, that's going to pay dividends.

That said, you'll have to check back with me to see if I follow through. The audiobook has more than 20 CDs. It's "double-bound" -- two cases stuck together to accommodate all the discs. That makes it a major undertaking. Will my early enthusiasm waver? Will my intended level of commitment subside? Maybe. But I'm glad I saw the audiobook on the shelf and grabbed it.

Audiobooks make clear the power of prose in ways that printed pages sometimes do not for me. Maybe I'm a poor reader of the printed word. But hearing the words read aloud, I can quickly pick up on the quality of the prose. It often has a certain rhythm, not to mention obvious polish and structure, that comes out when a good reader gives it voice. I just finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in audio form, and while it's not a bad book (I wasn't a huge fan, but didn't think the writing was poor), popping in The Savage Detectives right after finishing the Rowling book makes the differences in the quality of prose obvious, even given the brilliant reader of the Potter book.

A post in the linked thread addresses my only other experience with Bolano: I read about one-third of the author's 2666 for a book club -- that represents a few hundred pages, if memory serves -- and liked it quite a bit. I intended to press ahead with it after the club meeting, but that reading project never continued. In reading about 2666, however, I kept seeing references to The Savage Detectives.

That novel wasn't on my list yesterday at the library. No, I've just added a number of audiobooks, several of which were on EW's year-end "best of 2010" list, to my "holds" queue, but I wanted a "quick read" in the meantime. When I saw Bolano's book on the shelf, and contemplated it's width on the shelf, I continued past it, scanning the shelves for other options. But then I returned to the title. "Maybe I have more time than I think I do before I get my hands on those other books," I thought, followed by "If I don't like it, I can always bail," and then the inevitable, "If I like it but another book comes through that I want to read more than The Savage Detectives, I'll just renew this one or check it out again later" (the latter option never happens; other books push it off the list).

So now I have a 20-plus-CD audiobook that I'm about 30 minutes into, and I'm excited enough to post here about it! That, in itself, is unusual and makes me happy, whatever comes.

Has anyone here read The Savage Detectives? Does anyone want to encourage me, or warn me, about continuing with the book?

Edited by Christian, 11 January 2011 - 02:28 PM.


#2 Ryan H.

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 01:03 PM

I have only read 2666, and came away enormously impressed. But 2666 was such a grueling, difficult read in places (purposefully so) that it has scared me off of reading any more Bolano. Of course, his other works may be very little like 2666, but I'm going to stay away, regardless.

Edited by Ryan H., 11 January 2011 - 01:30 PM.


#3 Tyler

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 01:43 PM

My brother, who lived in Chile for a year, has been telling me I should read Bolano for a while. I haven't found time for him yet, though.

FWIW, his first name is Roberto, not Robert. And if we really want to be sticklers, his last name is Bolaño, with the wavy line thing over the "n".

#4 Christian

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 02:27 PM

My brother, who lived in Chile for a year, has been telling me I should read Bolano for a while. I haven't found time for him yet, though.

FWIW, his first name is Roberto, not Robert. And if we really want to be sticklers, his last name is Bolaño, with the wavy line thing over the "n".

Ha! I was careful to comb through my post and make sure I spelled his last name "BOlAnO," rather than, ummm, other versions of the name I had carefully input while composing. I don't know how to make the symbol over the "n," and am happy not to have to do that every time I write his name.

But an "o" on the end of his first name? Essential. I'll go adjust my first post and thread title.

Edited by Christian, 11 January 2011 - 02:27 PM.


#5 Tyler

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Posted 11 January 2011 - 03:10 PM


My brother, who lived in Chile for a year, has been telling me I should read Bolano for a while. I haven't found time for him yet, though.

FWIW, his first name is Roberto, not Robert. And if we really want to be sticklers, his last name is Bolaño, with the wavy line thing over the "n".

Ha! I was careful to comb through my post and make sure I spelled his last name "BOlAnO," rather than, ummm, other versions of the name I had carefully input while composing. I don't know how to make the symbol over the "n," and am happy not to have to do that every time I write his name.

But an "o" on the end of his first name? Essential. I'll go adjust my first post and thread title.


I copied the accented name from Wikipedia. For searching purposes, it's probably better to leave the name as it is.

#6 Christian

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 04:00 PM

A quick, and necessary, follow-up, after my 30-minutes-into-it rave about The Savage Detectives. It didn't take long beyond the 30-minute point for me to be reminded that Bolano writes often about sex, and, ummm, sex organs. He's quite blunt. I feel like I should get that on the table in case someone out there, reading my recommendation, decided to pick up The Savage Detectives or something else by the writer. I think I remember this to some degree from 2066, although I stopped that book just before (as a review informed me) there would be a series of grisly murders depicted. That idea -- that the author might write vividly about violence -- has stuck with me for a few years, and had, in my mind, overshadowed the sexual aspect of Bolano's stories.

Edited by Christian, 12 January 2011 - 04:00 PM.


#7 J. Henry Waugh

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Posted 12 January 2011 - 11:07 PM

I am late to the party, but enjoying Bolano. I think I read every short story he's had published in English while working up the stamina to traverse the novels.

I finished the first section of 2666 before Christmas. I have a dozen or so new releases that I am way to anxious to finish before I pick up where I left off, but I will get back to it this year for sure.

I think it warrants mentioning that Bolano is very funny. I've read enough novels about academics and failed writers to consider them my third favorite genre, but Bolano tackles the subject in a way that references the stories we've all read before while stretching them at the same time.

#8 Ryan H.

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Posted 13 January 2011 - 10:08 PM

That idea -- that the author might write vividly about violence -- has stuck with me for a few years, and had, in my mind, overshadowed the sexual aspect of Bolano's stories.

Each section of 2666 has a different tone than the next. But The Part About The Crimes is some of the most grueling, brutal literature I've had to work through, partially just because of the content, but more because of the purposefully numbing repetition of it all. Bolano doesn't render it vividly or intimately; instead, he approaches it more clinically, with distance. But as the accounts of murder and rape accumulate over a hundred pages, it becomes overwhelming. Reading The Part About The Crimes made reading BLOOD MERIDIAN seem easy.

#9 Christian

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 02:35 PM

After Bolano's death, an additional section of 2066 was "discovered" among his belonging and will probably be published at some point. Having never completed the novel, I'm not sure if it cries out for even more pages.

I'm halfway through The Savage Detectives, and, assuming I can renew the title (it's due Monday), plan to keep going. Like many large audiobooks, The Savage Detectives has lost me at several points. After four discs told from the perspective of one character, given voice by one narrator, the book shifts to the viewpoints of several different characters, and the audiobook changes narrators several different times. All of the narrators have been males, even when they're giving voice to a female character's perspective. That wouldn't be much of a problem if I knew that the same narrator was doing the same person over the course of several chapters (the viewpoints shift back to earlier characters, male and female), but I haven't been able to keep all that straight.

I suppose it's testament to the book's quality that I have no plans to stop listening at the halfway point. The sexual exploits grew tiresome fairly early, but I'm hoping they'll prove to be part of a rewarding narrative in its entirety.

#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 12:29 PM

After Bolano's death, an additional section of 2066 was "discovered" among his belonging and will probably be published at some point.

Yeah, I recall hearing that. Though, from what I understand, Bolano's instructions about the 2666 manuscript were fairly clear and annotated, so this must have been a section he abandoned and tucked away. I'd be interested to see what it contains, though.

#11 Christian

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Posted 12 February 2011 - 09:36 AM

Building off a comment I made over here, I picked up the audiobook of Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives yesterday and, listening to the first disc this morning, went from ambivalent to very excited about this novel.

That said, you'll have to check back with me to see if I follow through.


Finished! It's an amazing book in many ways, but I'm not sure what the takeaway is. I'm not sure there is any takeaway, or needs to be. The audiobook is a tour de force, that's for sure.

Edited by Christian, 12 February 2011 - 09:36 AM.


#12 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 12:47 PM

Why Roberto Bolaño Haunts Latin Literature

Asked once what he might have been if he hadn’t taken up writing, Roberto Bolaño didn’t hesitate. “A homicide detective,” he said. “I would have been the sort of person who comes back alone to the scene of a crime by night, unafraid of ghosts.” That was his last interview, granted in 2003, weeks before he died of liver failure at age 50. No one knows what the Chilean author’s ghost has been up to since, but he’s certainly still haunting Latin American literature ...

Bolaño was a rare and luminous talent in an uneven and often dull literary landscape. A frustrated poet, he turned to prose in his 30s to pay his bills—and shone. Many of his novels may seem facile, packed with talky introspection and postpubescent brooding, but in fact are densely layered tales, with scores of narrators, soaked in erudition and mordant social comment. A ferocious reader, Bolaño wrote with Cervantes, Dante, and Homer looking over his shoulder. The poet protagonists of The Savage Detectives, who launch a grail-like quest across the Mexican desert, are named Ulises and Arturo. And yet Bolaño’s writing is always direct and wry, uncluttered by ornament or cliché—a blessing in a region taken with rococo flourishes ...

Bolaño was no political pamphleteer. And yet his characters’ angst and desires play out against the canvas of history. With his raw, barely controlled emotions, and a talent for mining the pathos, beauty, and even humor amid the horror of ordinary life, his fiction soared. “Bolaño is a kind of medicine against the trite and commonplace in this mass-market-driven world of literature,” says Stavans. That alone has won Bolaño an honored place in the afterlife.


Edited by Persiflage, 19 April 2012 - 12:47 PM.


#13 Ryan H.

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Posted 19 April 2012 - 01:19 PM

That article reminds me that I need to pick up THE THIRD REICH.

#14 NBooth

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 10:00 AM

New book on Bolano coming.

 

Publishers Weekly has a review:

 

As expected from a translator, Andrews displays an intimate familiarity with the novels and stories, and includes many close readings, lengthy quotations, and side-by-side comparisons to illustrate the ways Bolano expanded his plots and characters. He even includes an appendix that maps the fictional murders in 2666 onto the real femicides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to show that Bolano did not exaggerate the scale of this atrocity. An indispensable guide to navigating the rich world of Bolano's fiction. 

 

 

 

via Conversational Reading

 

I need to pick up The Savage Detectives again. And I probably need to read 2666.

 

EDIT: There also seems to be a biography on the way


Edited by NBooth, 17 July 2014 - 10:03 AM.


#15 Ryan H.

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 10:54 AM

I've actually been hankering to re-read 2666. It really stuck with me.

#16 Christian

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:12 PM

Was there, or was there not, an expanded version of 2066 published in recent years?



#17 Ryan H.

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Posted 17 July 2014 - 12:19 PM

Was there, or was there not, an expanded version of 2066 published in recent years?

There was not. Materials possibly related to or from prior versions of the text were discovered, but Bolzano's instructions for the novel's publication did not mention them, so, if published, they will likely be published separately.

Edited by Ryan H., 17 July 2014 - 12:20 PM.


#18 NBooth

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Posted 27 July 2014 - 10:20 AM

Chris Andrews claims that "The best Bolano book is Distant Star":

 

 To judge by Worldcat’s listing of library holdings, Distant Star is one of Bolaño’s least widely read titles in English. This is a pity, because it is a sampler of the author’s various talents, and an excellent point of entry into the oeuvre as a whole. But a book’s fate is deeply contingent, as Bolaño himself knew very well. That, I believe, is the lesson of Auxilio Lacouture’s crazy prophecies in Amulet: “For Marcel Proust, a desperate and prolonged period of oblivion shall begin in the year 2033. Ezra Pound shall disappear from certain libraries in the year 2089,” and so on. And the greater part of a book’s life in the world is bound to remain private, even as blogs and social media swell the public sphere. One need not be excessively optimistic to find a certain encouragement in the thought that there is no knowing what a book may come to mean to readers scattered far away in space and time.

 



#19 NBooth

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Posted 17 September 2014 - 08:11 PM

A review of A Little Lumpen Novelita

 

Writing is garbage, expression is repulsive, and writers are pigs—with an author as clearly and explicitly engaged with literary practice as Bolaño, and in a novel composed largely of one character’s attempt to give form to her own thoughts and feelings, this sentiment feels jarring. But perhaps it need not. If, as many observers have noted, literature is understood as a serious, almost sacred endeavor throughout Bolaño’s remarkably cohesive oeuvre, it is also—quite often—the object of obscene profanation. Literature, Bolaño writes in one of the essays collected in Between Parentheses, “has everything to do with a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears.” Like the world itself, writing has four elements, and this time they are all bodily fluids. Literature is made of such secretions, Bolaño suggests, which flow like garbage in ostentatious excess. It is an important, elevated undertaking, precisely because of the fact—not despite it—that it’s made of such base stuff.

 


Edited by NBooth, 18 September 2014 - 07:52 AM.