Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and to fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.
– Roberto Bolaño, Last Evenings on Earth
Roberto Bolaño is like a drug. He fucks with your head (and I don’t mean fuck in a sexual way, I mean fuck in a fuck way), and it’s addictive (again: not in a sexual way). Not even Don DeLillo or Henry Miller, in my limited but intimate experience of literature, have come close: you feel it in every corner of your mind, but also in your body. It changes the way you breathe, the way you see and perceive things. There’s something about it, some quality to it, that makes you squint at the real world when you look up from your book, shrouding every tangible thing in a veil of doubt, because the prose is so much more vivid, the sand of the Sonora desert in your mouth, on your tongue, and you get lost in it, immersed and consumed, that you end up so deep inside your head you’re no longer sure how to find your way out when the book finally ends. Fucked. This is how it feels.
I read The Savage Detectives late last year, partly as a birthday present to myself, but mostly to get some Mexican literature flowing in my veins before a business trip to Mexico City from late November to mid-December. It was one of only two “Books that Changed my Life” in 2012. Of course it was only later on, as I bragged about my literary exploits, that the former Mexican ambassador informed me that Roberto Bolaño was, in fact, Chilean. But anyway the book was an inebriated love letter to Mexico if there ever was one. And the ambassador, who is a bona fide Mexican, was a nice guy.
It took me over a month to finish the 577 pages, in a deft English translation by Natasha Wimmer, told in three parts, spanning two decades, with over 40 different narrators, each with such a distinct voice I learned to play favorites among them.
They say The Savage Detectives is only just foreplay for Bolaño’s magnum opus, 2666. I had told myself I wouldn’t go back to Bolaño until I was fluent in Spanish and could read him in the original. It’s not so much that I enjoy reading his prose in any traditional sense of enjoyment; Bolaño is not a chocolate bar. I want to return to Bolaño because I am addicted to the intensity of it. Like an out-of-body experience, standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing straight down, arms spread out. Like a drug.