The novel is wildly enjoyable (as well as, finally, full of lament), in part because Bolaño, despite all the game-playing, has a worldly, literal sensibility. His atmospheres are solidly imagined, but the tone is breezy and colloquial and amazingly unliterary ... 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 ... Again, it should be stressed that this is not just a postmodern game about the fictionality of novelistic characters (though it is that, too). Movingly, no one seems quite able to get the two young poets in focus ... 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. Bolaño beautifully manages to keep his comedy and his pathos in the same family.
This flat and lurid story is like an account that anyone might give of an acquaintance’s fate ... It’s something close to a miracle that Bolaño can produce such intense narrative interest in a book made up of centrifugal monologues spinning away from two absentee main characters, and the diary entries of its most peripheral figure. And yet, in spite of the book’s apparent (and often real) formlessness, a large part of its distinction is its virtually unprecedented achievement in multiply-voiced narration ... True, the reader is liable to protest, somewhere before page 200, that this book isn’t about anything. Later on, it’s possible to recognize, with admiration, that Bolaño has found a way to keep the novel alive and freshly growing in the Sonora of modern skepticism—our skepticism, that is, as to what can finally be known or said of any life, and whose life is worth being represented, or considered representative, in the first place.
Not since Gabriel García Márquez...has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolaño does with The Savage Detectives ... [he has] such a flamboyant, stylistically distinctive, counter-establishment voice that it's no exaggeration to call him a genius ... The Savage Detectives alone should grant him immortality. It's an outstanding meditation on art, truth and the search for roots and the self ... The classics are often imperfect, and The Savage Detectives, though inexhaustible, is messy and perhaps overly ambitious. Only one thing matters: Bolaño had the courage to look at the world anew.
The novel is sprawling and fractured and Bolaño has a tremendous talent for creating authentic voice in his characters ... It feels unedited like Kerouacian stream of consciousness and then, at times, concise, poetic and crafted ... To complicate this categorization even further, his realism has a meta-fictional aspect: he is, after all, writing in a new-realist style about the attempt of two poets (who he makes very little effort to cover up as being modeled after himself and his friend) to form a new-realist literary movement. Artifice, may you be layeth’d bare ... At its heart, Bolaño’s work is a beautiful mediation on how we process the past—how we choose (if we do indeed choose) what stories to tell ourselves about our lives and, from these stories, forge some sort of self ... The beauty of Bolaño’s work is not in its style or purported innovation in relation to his predecessors... but in the way it tells us stories about the world that feel true and real, and make us think about living.
...brilliantly translated ... It is also easy to become exasperated with the poets depicted in Bolano's work, who are of a particular type that treads dangerously close to cliche ... And because Bolano identifies himself so clearly with them, one's exasperation extends sometimes to the author ... All of this is redeemed, however, by the fact that Bolano writes with such elegance, verve and style and is so immensely readable ... He also undercuts the obvious accusation of literary solipsism with sly humor, self-mockery and a wicked eye for pomposity ... The most important test that Bolano triumphantly sails through as a writer is that he makes you feel changed for having read him; he adjusts your angle of view on the world.
The novel, which has been given a bracingly idiomatic translation by Natasha Wimmer, is a teeming, Manhattan Transfer-like collage ... Not since Rimbaud has the world of verse seemed so criminally seductive ... Bolaño captures the outlaw spirit that pervades every avant-garde movement ... Bolaño called The Savage Detectives a 'love letter' to his generation, but it feels more like a lament, a chronicle of dissipated potential. The novel’s fetishization of lost youth verges on romanticism ... It’s a style worthy of its own name: visceral modernism.
To be honest, I never would’ve persevered to the end of the late Roberto Bolaño’s sometimes wonderful, often maddening 577-page novel, The Savage Detectives, if I were not paid to do so ... Taking it all in requires stamina, but the novel bursts with marvelous stories, rude energy, and eccentric voices that ultimately reward your effort.
Bolaño has a perfect ear for the Mexicans, Argentines, French and Spaniards who tell us about their brief encounters with the two poets. It's as if he has tape-recorded them. The translator heroically follows. We do not enter their minds; all is hearsay ... This novel is an elegy for a generation of Latin American would-be poets fed on extremists like Rimbaud and Marx ... Bolaño can be savagely comic as he mocks his generation, yet equally tender in his piecing together of broken lives.
The narrative becomes secondary to the voices of the people who meet these poets as this long novel told through the personal stories—some humorous, some inscrutable, some tragic—of the eclectic assortment of characters they encounter on the way becomes less about the search and more about literature and language. For readers interested in a straight narrative, this book will disappoint, but those who enjoy voice and character will find much to satisfy them.
...a truly great writer ... There are copious, and acidly hilarious, references to the Latin American literary scene, and one needn't be an insider to get the jokes: they're all in Bolaño's masterful shifts in tone, captured with precision by Wimmer ... Bolaño fashions an engrossing lost world of youth and utopian ambition, as particular and vivid as it is sad and uncontainable.
...[a] blazingly original...masterpiece ... One of the most entertaining books about writers and their discontents since Boswell’s Life of Johnson. A brilliant novel, fully deserving of its high international reputation.