Friday, October 25, 2013

#619. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse October 2013

The cephalopod of the title to this blogging book club is the Armchair Squid, our beloved and very soggy founder.  Please visit him first (er, after me) and give thanks, preferably with whatever squid love to eat.  Unless it turns out to be books.  Because that would just be wrong.

This month I read far fewer books than has been represented in my past participation in the Coffeehouse, which is actually settling back into a more normal routine, now that I'm settling back in with Maine.  That being said, what's been passing for official as far as I've been doing it:


  • The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
I'm currently reading Between Parentheses, which is a collection of Bolano's miscellany, mostly stuff he wrote about literature, which helps inform what I'm going to write about this month in regards to my favorite writer (since of course I also wrote about him last month).

The story of Savage Detectives is this: a pair of zealous poets, so extreme in their devotion to their craft that they would disrupt the readings of those they considered their inferiors by shouting their own works, embark on a sacred quest to track down their mysterious predecessor in a minor circle known as the Visceral Realists.  What they discover informs the whole shape of the book, which is this:

The book is in three acts.  The first recounts how a would-be member of Arturo Belano (a stand-in for Bolano himself) and Ulises Lima's  (Bolano's good friend Mario Santiago) inner circle ends up joining them on their quest after he inadvertently liberates a prostitute from her very angry pimp (whose subsequent pursuit is the alternating dramatic backbone of the plot in the third act).  The second act is all about various perspectives and lives recounted, all somehow relating to Belano and Lima's later, separate travels.  What led to these lives of apparent desperation?

The clever thing about the book is that the second act points the reader in the direction of the answer as one of the frequent voices in the fugue finally gives the reader details on the figure who so entrances our wayward pair, a woman who lived a lifetime ago and seems to have all but fallen through the cracks of history.  And more clever still is the reveal at the end of this act where Lima and Bolano have all but assumed the same fate (and the main character from the first and third acts has succeeded even better).

For large portions of the book it may be easy to assume that Bolano is writing as close to a biography as he ever managed, although to think so is about as depressing a thought as you can get.  It's true that he didn't achieve any real success or recognition until Savage Detectives itself was published, so that he very well could have been the anonymous, charismatic, but somehow always suspect drifter he paints Belano to be.  

And yet truth is not always to be found in fiction.  Or at least there are always more shades to a story than it can sometimes seem (which is perhaps another reason why Bolano has so many voices speak in the second act).  In Between Parentheses a different voice entirely emerges, although very much a zealot, not as pathetic as Belano can sometimes seem.  Bolano pursued literature the way other people breathe.  He absorbed it.  He had opinions, strong ones, about everyone, scores of writers I'd never heard of, whole traditions that have eluded me.  And there's a strong case to be made that much of what I know of as his he borrowed from others.  Which is only natural.  I assume he made it very much his own, because there's got to be a reason why I know his name and not so many of the ones he knew and treasured (or tolerated).

Was it such a good idea to read his nonfiction after reading another book that so brilliantly encased his fiction?  Sometimes it's not wise to peek behind the curtain.  Sometimes the bubble can be burst, when you see how the sausage is made.  And yet even when he exhausts me Bolano fascinates me.  The whole reason I started to devote so much energy into reading as much of Bolano as I can get my hands on is because of something he wrote in 2666.  It only figures.

The way Savage Detectives reconciles itself affirmed that he deserved the acclaim, and deserves my devotion.  Belano and Lima went in search of a myth and ended up disillusioned shells of themselves.  Is that something Bolano experienced?  Is that something he felt, before the acclaim of this book?  If so, he doesn't seem to have confessed that anywhere else.  Do I want to know?

Either way, I'll keep reading Bolano.

9 comments:

Wikes! said...

Bolano is one of my favorites. Between Parentheses made me feel like I needed to read a lot more Spanish authors and got me to read Enrique Vila-Matas. He's different than Bolano but still just as compelling.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I've never read Bolano, but I think I found a new favorite author. Thanks Tony!

Pat Dilloway said...

Maybe if Amazon ever put it on sale for Kindle I'd read it.

Stephanie said...

Bola├▒o has been on my to-read list for years. Your beautiful review has nudged it up the list!

The Armchair Squid said...

"And yet even when he exhausts me Bolano fascinates me."

I love that - a great statement of devotion.

According to Internet resources, squid will eat just about anything they can catch. In the beginning, the Armchair Squid thrived mostly upon televised images but over time, printed material has helped to round out his diet.

Suze said...

'The whole reason I started to devote so much energy into reading as much of Bolano as I can get my hands on is because of something he wrote in 2666.'

I remember reading about 2666 in an anthology and being intrigued. This statement intrigues me further.

Tony Laplume said...

Wikes!, there are certainly some key selling points for Vila-Matas in Between Parentheses. I was also pleased to see a number of endorsements for Javier Marias, whom I had already discovered independently. Marias will likely be the object of my next book buying obsession.

Maurice, I'm happy to have pointed you in his direction!

Pat, I'll record myself reading him and send it your way. Don't worry, I'm good with voices. People tell me I can do a mean Kermit the Frog (without even intending to do so).

Stephanie, glad I could help!

Squid, that's really the key. Sometimes exhaustion in reading can be a bad thing. The only other author who successfully tests my patience is Thomas Pynchon.

Suze, I'm pleased to hear that 2666 has made it into anthologies. As far as I'm concerned it was instantly required reading.

The Armchair Squid said...

Pynchon - another of Wikes's favorites. The two of you should be sharing a lot more book ideas!

Tony Laplume said...

I loves me Thomas Pynchon.

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