Published on Sat 23 Jun The latter begins in the s in Mexico City, where two poets - Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima - are leading a literary movement called visceral realism. The first part of the novel is told in diary form by one of their young disciples - a puzzling figure not remembered by others in the movement - who interrupts observations on Belano and Lima to recount his early sexual encounters. This section ends abruptly with the poets, in the company of a whore fleeing her pimp, commandeering a car and heading for the desert.

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Those without Spanish have had to rely on the loyal intermittence of translation, beginning with "By Night in Chile" , two more short novels — "Distant Star" and "Amulet" — and a book of stories, "Last Evenings on Earth" , all translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions.

The best way to offer a sense of this writer might be to take a scene, and a sentence, from "By Night in Chile," still his greatest work. In one episode, Father Urrutia is sent to Europe, by Opus Dei agents, to report on the preservation of the churches there. Father Urrutia discovers that the chief threat to the churches comes from pigeon excrement, and that all over Europe churches have been using falcons to kill the pests. New Directions Much of the most successfully daring postwar fiction has been by writers committed to the long dramatic sentence Bohumil Hrabal, Thomas Bernhard, W.

In Spain, amusingly, the falcons are too old or docile for killing, and the priests have none of the dangerous elegance of their French or Italian counterparts. It is comically plausible, and concretely evoked; the surrealism lies in the systematic elaboration of the image.

The Catholic Church is likened to a bird of prey, murderous and blood-red in its second capital, Avignon, and we are free to link this, without coercion, to the Chilean situation and the ethical somnolence of Father Urrutia. That long sentence is a poem, really, proceeding by foliation; in fact the entire novella is a poem of a kind.

Even in a long novel like "The Savage Detectives," his favorite unit is the discrete, Browning-like monologue, not the extended scene. He was born in Chile in , but came of age in Mexico City, where his family had moved in Returning to Chile in to help with the socialist revolution as he saw it, he was caught in the Pinochet coup and briefly arrested. He went back to Mexico, where he published two books of verse, and then began a long period of displacement and travel and drug-taking and odd jobs in France and Spain.

He knew time was short: the fiction that is currently being translated — there are more novellas to come, and a huge novel, "," will appear in English next year — was written in a spasm of activity in his last years. Like much of his work, the novel is craftily autobiographical. A novel all about poetry and poets, one of whose heroes is a lightly disguised version of the author himself: how easily this could be nothing more than a precious lattice of ludic narcissism and unbearably "literary" adventures!

He places us there, in Mexico City, and reminds us of the excitement and boredom, the literary pretentiousness and ignorance, the erotic ambition and anxiety of being a young writer or reader in the company of like-minded friends.

The juvenile diarist who is our guide can write things that made this reader, at least, wince in painful recognition: "Depressed all day, but writing and reading like a steam engine. The visceral realists conduct "purges," steal books I particularly liked the sound of the Rebbeca Nodier Bookstore, whose owner is conveniently blind , write and read and have sex and attitudinize.

Her work is revered by other writers from that period, but is nowhere to be found. She herself seems to have disappeared into the Sonoran Desert. Image Credit Tamara Shopsin We are pages in, and suddenly the book alters its form. The next pages feature first-person interviews with scores of witnesses, friends, lovers, acquaintances and enemies of Lima and Belano.

These are all people whose lives intersected, however briefly, with the two visceral realists, from to It is as if the novelist has taken a tape recorder and journeyed around the world, from Mexico City to San Diego to Barcelona to Tel Aviv, desperate to find out what became of the young, optimistic, but perhaps now doomed poets. Where did they go after the Sonoran Desert? What jobs did they have? What did they write? What became of all that ambition? Page by page, the novel begins to darken.

Again, it should be stressed that this is not just a postmodern game about the fictionality of novelistic characters though it is that, too. They are dealing in drugs, they are often high, they drift from job to job. Lima is living in Paris for a while, desperately poor. He once found a 5,franc note on the sidewalk and now always walks with his head down. Belano is spotted near Perpignan, looking for a "friend" who has disappeared and who is about to commit suicide.

Lima goes to Nicaragua, and disappears there; two years later he has returned to Mexico City, and is glimpsed by the secretary of Octavio Paz. In a wonderfully sad scene, Lima approaches Paz, and the two sit on a bench, talking.

He meekly shakes the hand of the Nobel laureate — who has never heard of him, of course — and disappears. Curiously, "The Savage Detectives" is both melancholy and fortifying; and it is both narrowly about poetry and broadly about the difficulty of sustaining the hopes of youth. We know their careers were not hoaxes some of the witnesses speak of reading poems by the young men ; but were they dreams?

What kind of actual poetic talent inflated the ballooning ambition of these young writers? When, decades later, Soviet troops storm the hill, all they find is a crypt containing the skeleton of the shoemaker, who gave up his life to the grand insanity of his dream. Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, whose work we never see, drove off in in search of a poet whose own work was never published!

In the first, a square that looks a bit like a boat on a horizon, sits on a calm, straight line. In the second drawing, the line is wavy, undulating like a choppy sea, but the little boatlike square is gamely floating in the wave.

In the third sketch, the line is stormily jagged, like a terrible EKG, and the little boat is barely clinging to the vertiginous wave. This "poem" might mean lots of things, but in the context of the novel, it surely evokes the difficult passage from the bathwater of youth and gladness to more treacherous adult waters.

Minutes after delivering this wisdom this same man dies in a car accident. A Mexican academic, interviewed late in the novel, says that hardly anyone remembers the visceral realists anymore. Many are dead. Lima, he says, is living in Mexico City.


The Savage Detectives Quotes



The Visceral Realist



The Savage Detectives: A Novel



Poets, pimps and prostitutes


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