A rumour that the enigmatic Prussian might be in line for the Nobel prize puts his books on the bestseller lists in France and Italy. One region, however, continues to ignore him: "In the British Isles, it must be said, Archimboldi remained a decidedly marginal writer. His work was praised by Susan Sontag not long before her death, but no one expected it to notch up large American sales. Towards the end of his life, by contrast, he was routinely described as the leading Latin American writer of his generation.
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Very impressed. From the Reviews: "You could say is the epic novel that Borges never wrote. A masterpiece then? Certainly not nothing. Ce serait inoubliable. He alternates between brisk vignettes and passages of meandering opulence. His prose is short on adjectives and sometimes deliberately infelicitous but it can also beguile. It is studded with aphorisms, many of them calculated to invite passionate disagreement.
It is a heroic achievement, a modern epic -- a masterpiece. It is a novel both prodigious in scope and profound in implication, but a book ablaze with the furious passion of its own composition.
At times, it reads like a race against death. At others, you can only wonder at the reach and raw intelligence of the writing. Much of the writing goes beyond any recognisable literary model and can only be approached on its own terms.
And then make them read it. Five books in one, masterfully interwoven not only by recurrent ideas and characters but by a torrential humour, deep humanity and sheer storytelling bravura, the posthumous masterpiece from the Chilean-turned-Catalan magician splendidly translated by Natasha Wimmer should stand on every self-respecting bookshelf. Among other things, offers an apology for the novel as a vast network that links all things, no matter how trivial or disparate.
It is a marvellous gallimaufry of the funny, fabulist and, at times, oddly beautiful. All human life is contained in these burning pages, and Natasha Wimmer deserves a medal for her fluent translation.
It depends, I think, not only on the literary quality of the hugely ambitious late work, especially , but on how we read it and what we are looking for. Santa Teresa is not just a hell. He wrote in a race against death. His ambitions for were greater: to write a postmortem for the dead of the past, the present and the future. Each of its parts is brilliantly paced, and aside from the first few dozen pages of the third, consistently compelling. All are connected not only by the crimes, but also by a myriad of interwoven motifs.
But the whole thing does not hold together. Just as The Savage Detectives offers a crowd of voices, gives us a virtuosic range of narrative modes: academic satire in I, minimalism in III, reportage in IV, the bildungsroman or fictional biography in V, allegory and surrealism in places throughout. The problem is that there is no single central something about which the novel attempts to speak.
He is a relentlessly digressive author, and the book is packed with subplots, details and disquisitions to the point of neurosis. When the dazzle has faded, what is the pattern that will be left imprinted on your vision? Is it only the omnipresence of death? It reads like a puzzle crafted by a sadistic, sympathetic literary master. There are long stretches when I felt abandoned as a reader.
It should be noted that although many lives are snuffed out in these pages, the writers seem to live on. At many points, one feels about to be able to compare the book to something else. Randomness and consequence competing for control over history, the struggle of the individual to survive with a functioning ethics: the themes carry over into the final section For a while yet, our brain feels rewired for multiplicity.
This is not just a cultural or geographical question, though if contains a lesson it is that people are always from some confluence of factors more bizarre than a country. And it goes deeper than the question of multiple voices. We have eavesdropped on characters and then felt ourselves in the funny, sad, and dangerous process of needing and making meaning.
Since there is no logical endpoint, we close with an image from the novel that is out of time. A world of "endless shipwreck," but met with the most radiant effort. Archimboldi appears, not quite living up to his fanfare. The book tightens its focus, to the extent that a book with a huge population but no real principals can do so.
The Savage Detectives looks positively hermetic beside it. By the end, after close to nine hundred pages, the reader will be impressed by the range and power on display but might wish that the novel cohered, rather than merely concluding.
This is a daunting book, a book to admire more than like. But despite its faults -- the section on the serial murders is, frankly, tedious -- it beguiles a reader as few books do.
No wonder reviewers loved it. Reviewing a novel like this is about the most intense thrill a critic will ever have, short of writing one themselves.
The intoxicating force of also lies in its utter disregard for boundaries. The five discrete sections that make up could stand as novels in their own right, twists on different genres from academic satire to clinical police procedural to bildungsroman. The big cryptic number, like so much in the book, is a riddle without a right answer -- ineffable, yet palpitating with meaning.
Does he have enough subject-matter to sustain his huge fictional design, or is he one of those writers who turn to exhibitions of the extreme to disguise a fundamental poverty of observed human experience?
You will want to experience this one. What is most memorable about is the sheer abundance of its narrative. Bolano mints characters with a spendthrift generosity, though there is nothing preening about this breadth of scope. Bolano is equally unstinting with his subplots, which spring organically from the novel, like the colourful offshoots of a rampant tropical plant. But is a major literary event. It is both notably realistic It is an important development in the novel form and an unforgettable piece of writing that will resonate for years to come.
Not like all those other brisk, taut page novels. This is a dangerous book, and you can get lost in it. That is in fact a cesspool of chance and filth? The result is a wild, ungoverned book, full of surreal inversions and wistful comedy, the source of countless pleasures.
Yet it is also a menacing proposition for readers of average intolerance, exhaustingly playful and tauntingly long, founded on dream sequences and digressions, replete with red herrings and wild geese. At times it is reminiscent of James Ellroy: gritty and scurrilous. There are no defining moments in Mysteries are never resolved.
Anecdotes are all there is. Freak or banal events happen simultaneously, inform each other and poignantly keep the wheel turning. There is no logical end to a Bolano book. Quirky, vibrantly etched characters undergo crises that resonate with the darkness at the heart of the novel.
Doch eine Crux gibt es. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge and remind and warn you that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.
The longest stretch of the novel does zero in, again and again and again, on these acts of brutality, but other parts are far removed from it. Among many other things, includes what amounts to a novel of academia and a story of love among the professors , as well as a fairly traditional sort of author-biography. There is some overlap -- and usually at least one character that moves from the periphery of one part to a more central position in the next -- but the full picture and all the connexions only emerge at the end.
The five sections consist of: I. The Part about the Critics. Little is known about him, almost no one has had any personal contact with him. He remains a shadow-figure, his art evidence of his existence but an infinitely interpretable clue as to who he might really be, the few second-hand reports they obtain from those who have or claim to have met the man hardly providing anything more substantial. The four academics remain if not entirely obsessed at least very curious, and when there are indications that Archimboldi might be in Mexico they decide to go there, though one ultimately remains behind in Europe.
Over the years the one woman, Norton, has been involved with two of the others from this Archimboldi-gang, Pelletier and Espinoza, and it is the fourth, the wheelchair-bound Morini that stays behind. The group dynamics are affected by the intimate relationships, though Pelletier and Espinoza remain good friends; Norton eventually makes a choice, too, in this unusual relationship story that dominates much of this section.
Mexico had already cropped up briefly earlier, seemingly out of nowhere, with Morini: "the first of the four to read an article about the killings in Sonora", the unsolved serial killings of large numbers of women in a part of northern Mexico. The murders of the women, which they learn a little more about, are a troubling but distant fact; their personal relationships sort themselves out, in a way.
As to Archimboldi, there is practically no trace of him. The Part about Amalfitano One of the men the four academics in search of Archimboldi met in Santa Teresa was a local professor, Amalfitano -- with their first impression of him: "mostly negative, perfectly in keeping with the mediocrity of the place". But he is familiar with the work of the German writer and turns out to be a decent guide.
He does not figure much in the first section, but is central in the second while the academics have played their part and now left the scene.
Much of the section looks for an answer, recounting how he wound up there, a fifty-year-old man living with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Rosa, abandoned long ago by his wife. Amalfitano is far from unhinged, but he lives a bit in his own world, reality around him rather a disappointment; the closing words of the chapter find him abandoned even in a dream and with: "no choice but to wake". The reality of Santa Teresa remains inescapable. The fight is in Mexico, and already Santa Teresa had again flickered back into consciousness, a report on an American who had disappeared there appearing on the TV as Fate slept.
Fate does pursue the story a bit; he also gets involved with Rosa Amalfitano, and his visit draws to a close with the terror closing in. The Part about the Crimes The atmosphere already turned more ominous in the third section, but it is the fourth and longest section that finally delves completely into the darkness.
Two thousand six hundred and something". We can at most glimpse it, in those uncanny moments when the world seems wrong. Their search for Archimboldi himself and details of his life causes them to get to know his aging publisher Mrs. Then in a seminary in Toulouse the four academics meet up with Rodolfo Alatorre, a Mexican who says a friend knew him in Mexico City a short while back and that from there the elusive German was said to be going to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa in Sonora. Three of the academics go there in search of him but fail to find him.
'Experience at full speed'