Monday, March 23, 2009

The Savage Detectives - Impressions (1)

A novel as fragmentary as this, is possibly deserving of the more unsystematic sort of critique.

One finds on Wikipedia the statement from Ignacio Echevarría * (El Pais) that this is "the novel that Borges would have written."

Considering that the essence of Borges is brevity, this is a bit like saying that 'this is the charitable foundation for the handicapped that Hitler would have set up'. But there are worthwhile comparisons to be made between these two writers, and Bolaño came out pretty strongly as a fanboy of the Argentine master.

If the latter's fictions are concise and complete and yet connected like nodes in a network, the manifold testimonies within this novel are perhaps more like satellites orbiting a giant gaseous planet, whose core you can at once sense will remain pretty well concealed.

Borgesian absurdity is somehow neater than Bolaño's. His principal concern was always metaphysics and the majority of his tales are finely polished philosophical gems.

In constrast the interviewees of The Savage Detectives are like ciegos fumbling around the flanks of an elephant, their ambiguity therefore altogether less poised, their accounts that much more impressionistic. What you don't have is quite the same startling condensation of profound meaning that you tend to get with a Borges tale.

It is said that Borges overcame his fictional block in middle age by writing short stories in which it was often presumed that the longer tomes he had in his head had been published by someone else. Imaginary writers and their imaginary (and generally overlooked) works are certainly also part of Bolaño's literary tackle, but they are made more explicit use of in another of his late works — Nazi Literature in the Americas — which I have yet to read.

*In the novel Arturo Belano, the novelist's alter-ego, challenges a Spanish literary critic named Iñaki Echavarne to a sabre duel on a nudist beach located somewhere on the Costa Brava.

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