Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives

I'm about halfway through Roberto Bolano's first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, and so far, by my count, he's mentioned food a total of three times. When I say mentioned, I mean mentioned. According to rumors (which Bolano himself vehemently denied but at the same time sort of admitted, at least in fictional contexts) the prolific Chilean author may have been a heroin addict. Maybe that explains why his food descriptions are so strangely flat—maybe his true appetites lay elsewhere. Then again, there is a weirdly cardboard feeling, an almost generic quality to most of Bolano's descriptive passages. This quality really jumps out when he talks about food. Below, for example, are three different narrators from The Savage Detectives all of whom seem to share the same rudimentary palate:

Juan Garcia Madero,  p.73 (of my Picador paperback translation):
Maria was waiting for me under a tree. Before I could say anything, she kissed me on the mouth, sticking her tongue down my throat. She tasted of cigarettes and expensive food. I tasted of cigarettes and cheap food. Both kinds of food were good. All the fear and sadness that I felt instantly melted away.

Heimito Kunst, p.318:
I watched from the rocks, sunburned, until I was so hungry and thirsty I coldn't stand it and then I dragged myself to the desert cafe and ordered a Coca-Cola and a hamburger made of ground beef, although hamburgers made of only beef are no good, I know that and so does everybody else in the world.

And Maria Font, on p.336
Requena opened the refrigerator and took out a small pot that he put on the stove. It was rice soup. He asked me whether I wanted any. What I really wanted was not to go back to my lonely room, so I said I'd have a  little. We spoke in lowered vices so as not to wake up little Franz. . . . The rice soup was very spicy. I asked him whether Xochitl always cooked like that. Always, he said. . . 

[trans. Natasha Wimmer]

(in a later post, contributor Samuel A. wrote in with some very interesting thoughts linking Bolano's last novel, 2666, to the food-based paintings of Archimboldo).

1 comment:

  1. I like this post, your introduction makes me appreciate something that I probably would have never noticed had I read it. I like that.


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