Diego Trelles Paz in n+1 (Ttranslated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis):
The first time I read Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives I was 22 years old. I lived in Lima on a miserable salary and the only thing I was doing with my life, other than getting drunk to the point of senselessness, was reading and writing, imitating and attempting, as well as throwing myself against the door each time my literary style proved to be nothing more than a pale and clumsy echo of the voices of writers who’d influenced me: a kind of polyphonic collage of Vargas Llosa with Ribeyro, Onetti with Puig.
Anagrama’s gray edition cost exactly 78 soles. I remember this clearly as it was the period in which I’d go to Quilca Avenue in Downtown Lima and literally submerge myself in a pile of Populibros and Comida Peruana manuals to salvage books by classical authors that cost no more than 8 soles. Thanks to Oveja Negra and Seix Barral, an underpaid and curious young man such as myself could, in Lima, read Céline and Faulkner and Carson McCullers and García Márquez for 40 soles.
So the mere idea of spending 78 soles on this anonymous Chilean’s fat novel not only seemed idiotic and insane, but also, in terms of physical health, would deprive me for a week of the inexpensive fare at the restaurant where I regularly ate. On the other hand, there were two powerful factors that complicated my decision. The first was the absolute devotion that The Savage Detectives had generated in a friend of mine, the only person in the world who introduced me to books and authors that seemed essential to my future as a writer. The second, without a doubt, was the fantastic title, so appealing and precise, so Welles and so Godard, which I immediately associated with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, translated into Spanish as La pandilla salvaje, which uses cowboys to speak of solidarity and codes of honor and friendship among delinquent friends.
In summary: I decided to buy it and devoured those 78 soles in a single day, and that didn’t matter one bit: I read it again and again, and talked about it and recommended it to others. I wrote a masters thesis about the novel and, in addition, went to Mexico in search of the diffuse shadow of a promiscuous female poet who resembled María Font.
What did I like about Bolaño’s novel?
In formal terms, it was clear to me that his prose, while apparently simple, has a restrained and suggestive lyricism and a powerful musicality that are very different than what the authors of the “Boom” produced.