The last few weeks I’ve been dutifully reading Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives. This is the first translated novel I’ve read since Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk, which is unusual for me actually. I used to read a ton of translated fiction, but last year I decided I would make more of an effort to read Americans writing English. This has paid huge style dividends in my own writing – there’s no better place to learn a language than at the feet of the masters, and the language spoken, and prose written, in America is different than that spoken and written in England and throughout the international world.
Swimming in Faulkner, Hemmingway, Steinbeck (oh, Steinbeck!) has been a joy, and excellent for my writing, but it’s fascinating to return to worlds where the main characters do not speak English at home, and where a different set of giants tower over the literary landscape. This is especially the case in The Savage Detectives, where Bolano has created an entire literary world populated with authors renowned and forgotten, real and imaginary. The novel’s pace is slow, stentorian at times, but I get the sense all these threads will weave a tapestry by the end. Then again, maybe not.
One should judge no man lucky before he is dead, and no book as good until it’s over. In one respect, though, I’m grateful to Savage Detectives: it’s been a huge help in building the setting for my new novel. Bolano’s Mexico City has crept into my fantasy Los Angeles (the massive, scabrous metropolis of Dresediel Lex), as has a bit of his vision of life on the edge of reason. I’m excited to see what will come of this cross-pollination. Maybe nothing, but it’s hard to say.