Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Lately I've been reading 'The Savage Detectives' by Mexican author Roberto Bolano. It's a long, meandering, fluid story built around diary entries, faux interviews and personal reminicences. Dozens of people tell of an episode in their lives - sometimes significant, sometimes trivial - that all weave together to tell an amorphous tale about a clique of Mexican poets and their movements around the world, from the mid-70s to the mid-90s.

Nothing much happens, but Bolano creates some engaging vignettes that can draw the reader right in. Once the reader is there, of course, he doesn't seem sure what to do with the reader, and the reader ends up wandering away again.

Part of the problem is that he has too many characters, such that you can't keep track of whether Abel Romero is the ex-lover of Xochitl Garcia, or where Amadeo Salvatierra fits into the wider scheme of things, or where in the hell this Jaume Planells guy suddenly came from. The number of narrators also taxes Bolano's skills in creating different voices, and it's only the most outrageous characters, like the quixotic, Latin-quoting lawyer or the crazy and violent German backpacker who feel real, because they're the only one's who are distinctive.

It doesn't help that there's little in the way of an actual plot. It's all very postmodern, but it's hard to maintain interest in a postmodern book that's 574 pages long. The blurb on the back, whick hunts for a plot point like a bloodhound chasing an escaped convict, concentrates on an incident which isn't even mentioned until page 527.

Still, it has its charms. I've kept reading it for the little stories within the wider narrative that sparkle with life, evading questions of what and why and who and simply existing for their own sake. I suppose that's the essence of postmodernism.


Anonymous ultrabert said...

I thought the essence of postmodernism ran something akin to "there is no spoon"... or was that essence of Wachowski (sounds like a Polish folk remedy for boils and dropsy).

9:31 AM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

The essence of postmodernism is "all definition is subjective", which unfortunately means that postmodernists can't actually give you a definition of postmodernism with resorting to non-postmodernist means.

They have a hard time of it.

10:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home