Today’s best read of 2104 probably makes me have to explain my criteria for making this list. Obviously I couldn’t only write about works written in 2014, as the vast majority of the works translated and read were written many years ago. Yasushi Inoue’s “Bullfight” being written in 1949 but released this year, another example being “The Mussel Feast” by Brigit Vanderbeke released in 1990, has not been out of print since then, won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, one of Germany’s most prestigious literary awards, and makes its way into English twenty three years later.
What about published in 2014? Well that won’t work either, with the bulk of my reading coming from the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and Best Translated Book Award lists from 2014 it means a substantial part of my reading was published in 2013. Take into account I have a massive “to be read” pile from this year it would them mean my 2015 listings would also be very restricted. “The Mussel Feast” example is a good one here too, it was released on 1 February 2013.
So basically I settled on “read in 2014”, that poses its own problems, for example as part of Spanish Literature Month I re-read “Don Quixote” by Cervantes, the Edith Grossman translation. Widely accepted throughout the planet as a work that consistently makes “best of” lists, how could I not include it as number one on my works read this year? I still may, you’ll have to follow me throughout this twelve day journey to find out!!!
So onto Bolano’s “The Savage Detectives”, another work you will find it “xxx books you must read before you die” listings, “Top 100 works in translation of all time” listings, first published in 1998, and first appearing in English in 2007, it took me seven years to get around to reading it.
Why not higher on my listing? I have taken into account here the fact that I “missed the Bolano boat”, and took a while to even buy my ticket on that voyage, therefore it drops down the listings a few pegs, but to completely leave it off of the top reads for the year would possibly be considered heresy.
A monster of a work (my edition running to 577 pages) it contains that much style, substance, references and thought provoking moments that you possibly use it as a reference for all of your lifetime reading. Have a quick look at the diary entry early in the book:
Libreria Orozco, on Reforma, between Oxford and Praga: Nueve novisimos, the Spanish anthology; Corps et biens, by Robert Desnos; and Dr. Brodie’s Report, by Borges. Libreria Milton, at Milton and Darwin: Vladimir Holan’s A Night with Hamlet and Other Poems, a Max Jacob anthology, and a Gunnar Ekelof anthology. Libreria El Mundo, on Rio Nazas: selected poems by Byron, Shelley, and Keats; Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (which I’ve already read); and Lichtenberg’s Aphorisms, translated by Alfonso Reyes. This afternoon, as I arranged my books in the room I thought about Reyes. Reyes could be my little refuge. A person could be immensely happy reading only him or the writers he loved. But that would be too easy.
Multi layered is a term I used when I reviewed this back in July and it still rings true, events are slowly peeled back, the coherent whole not coming into focus until late in the work, the connection between events, characters, their make-up their motivations slowly revealing themselves. Like all deep human interactions, you slowly learn more and more about the other person and your earlier judgements are generally proven to be false, this novel is a similar revelation.
In a nutshell, “The Savage Detectives” is a tale about Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, two “visceral Realist” poets. Their adventures are told, initially, via a diary of Juan Garcia Madero, which takes in the period 2 November 1975 until New Year’s Eve of the same year, when he is driven away in Quim Font’s Impala with Arturo, Ulises and a prostitute Lupe. We then switch to a documentary style interview of hundreds (well it could be less) of characters and their experiences, knowledge and memories of Ulises and Arturo between the years 1976-1996. And of course more
A study of literature, a study of poetry, a study of Latin American writing, of South American writing, of a blending of Mexican, Chilean cultures of European influences, of Spain….
Now I have “discovered” Bolano, there have been quite a few more purchases of works to add to my “to be read” pile, including the 912 pages book “2666” – wonder when I’ll make time to read that???
“The Savage Detectives” is currently selling for AUD$5.47 (brand new and free postage) at the link below – you could do a lot worse with your small change….