Friday, 3 February 2012

The Savage Daughters

King Pelias just before being hacked apart and killed by his daughters.

Further thoughts on The Savage Detectives

Having completed the group read of The Savage Detectives and my earlier response to the book, reading other blogs from the readalong has led me to think further about it and to consider elements that were not mentioned in my earlier blog post.

One of the themes that I found in The Savage Detectives and which I don't recall seeing in any of the other posts was the relationship between fathers and daughters. I had meant to address this in my earlier post but (like a number of other intended expositions) it fell by the wayside.

The two examples which come to my mind are the relationship between Joacquin Font and his daughters Maria and Angelique and the relationship between lawyer/poet Xosé Lendoiro and his daughters. In a sort of reverse Oedipus, the father is destroyed by the knowledge that his daughter has lover(s). There is an inability to let go of youth, an undercurrent of incest, and both Joacquin and Xosé sexually exploit younger women, while 'helping' them.

I've pulled some quotes to show how the knowledge of their daughters sexual activities torments both men.
Joacquin Font: "María has already lost her virginity," said Pancho, "but Angélica hasn't yet, although she's about to, and the old man knows it and it drives him crazy"... "he spends all day wondering which son of a bitch will deflower his daughter, and it's just too much for one man to bear. Deep down, I understand him; if I were in his shoes I'd feel the same."

Quim is looking at everyone who enters the house wondering who it will be, threatening to get violent but in reality, bewildered by it. He helps with the rescue of Lupe from her pimp but then spends time in her bed (it appears). Lupe is a friend of María.

Xosé Lendoiro is a pompous, sleazy and less likable character. "The noises, I realized then, were coming from the room that used to be mine, a room that also happens to be just as my wife and I left it. I opened the door partway and saw my older daughter in Belano's arms. What he was doing to her struck me as indescribable, at first glance at least. He was dragging her back and forth across the huge expanse of my bed, riding her, rolling her over and over, all in the midst of a hideous series of moans, bellows, brayings, cooings, and obscene noises that gave me goose bumps. Mille  modi Veneris, I recalled with Ovid, but this was too much. Still, I didn't cross the threshold, standing there frozen, silent, spellbound, as if I were suddenly back at the Castroverde campground and the neo-Galician watchman had gone down into the chasm again and the office workers and I were once more at the mouth of hell."

He returns to watch them again on a few occasions, and becomes angry with Belano. "Qui non zelat, non amat, I said or whispered to myself when it occured to me, in a burst of clarity, that my behaviour was more like that of a jealous lover than a strict father. What was it I felt then? Amantes, amantes. Lovers, lunatics, dixit Plato."

Here (lovers, lunatics) Xosé makes a connection between himself and Quim, who makes most of his appearances in the novel from an asylum. And like Quim, we also find him cruising the all night bars.
"Gradually I began to prefer strangers, girls I picked up in bars or all-night clubs and whom I could confuse, at least at first, with the shameless display of my old giant's powers. Some, I'm sorry to say, could have been my daughters." "I hate to imagine the look on my daughter's faces when they find out that they have to share my money with two street lovelies. Venemum in auro bibitur."(Poison is drunk from a golden cup.)

Who is this giant? It seems to represent a force at once destructive and creative. It is almost an embodiment of incest in Xosé's world but elsewhere it is almost a simple sense of threat, and sometimes a protective force.  Cesarea, mother of the original Visceral Realist, also has an aspect of a Titan "She looked like a rock or an elephant. Her rear end was enormous and it moved to the rhythm set by her arms, two oak trunks..."  Maybe these giants are the Titans, from whom all humanity is supposed to be descended, either from the blood shed in their war with the Olympian gods or the smoke from their burning corpses.  Whichever, not an auspicious beginning for mankind.

The more I think of The Savage Detectives the more I feel it to be hardwired into myth and wonder how many more could be squeezed out of it by someone who didn't have to regularly consult Wikipedia to borrow some erudition.

That's all for now...


  1. Very interesting points. Thanks for sharing them. I didn't read the book, but they make me wonder if I should.

  2. None of this occurred to me while reading the novel, none of it.

    What a rich book!

  3. @Charisma - I think you should - I've now read it twice and think it almost certain that I'll read it again in a few years.
    @Tom - There is just so much in the book - you can look at it in so many different ways. I could also, of course, be seeing things that aren't there!

  4. What a perceptive post. Laura Damian - the other disappeared/lost poet specter that haunts TSD - can be said to have destroyed her father too. And the duality of the giant is pretty interesting as there are "giants" or Titans in 2666 too, both presented as threat and savior. The physical stature of Archimboldi seeming to be the mythical source of his literary works.

    1. @Rise - Your post was somehow captured by the spam filter? Can't see anything that would have triggered that in the post.
      Yes, I was very much thinking of 2666 when talking of giants. And as well as Laura there is Xóchitl who's father can't continue to protect her in the end. It is interesting to note that when not under his protection/shade she blossoms.

  5. I second what Tom said, Séamus--very nice to read your post on the topic! Of course, I'm still trying to come to grips with the "Beware the Medusa" comment about Liz Norton in 2666. Bolaño and the classics would make an interesting paper topic and/or series of blog posts, I'm guessing.

    1. Just chasing down all Juan Garcia Madero's references to classical poetry would be a work in itself! I had half thought of listing all the poetic forms he mentions and kind of wish I had. It would have been easy enough while reading but not so to go back and get them.(It's probably online somewhere anyhow!) I think Bolaño is similar to Joyce and Gaddis in terms of his erudition and will have academics sniffing down vistas and blind alleyways for many years to come.