Go ahead, tackle 2666

Over the past 2 months, I’ve been reading Roberto Bolaño’s encyclopedic novel 2666 in the spare minutes before bed. It’s superb. 2666 is comprised of 5 novels, which all intersect around a series of murders in Santa Teresa, Mexico (based on the real-life epidemic of murders in Ciudad Juarez). Two revolve around an elusive author and his literary critics; one deals with a professor; another with a journalist. The largest section is the forbidding Part IV, which confronts the murders directly. But each section contains so much more–strands of philosophy, dozens of ancillary stories, pages-long histories. Mahler said a symphony should contain the world, and this novel seems like an attempt to do just that.

Novels of this size (it approaches 900 pages) contain a lot of details to remember, even when one reads them speedily. But I found this novel easy to navigate. When I had forgotten a character, I could at least remember where to go to refresh my memory. Similarly, the prose remains distinctive despite embracing a whirlwind of genres. Bolaño commits a series of literary impersonations in 2666, yet I feel his signature style comes through–he can burrow to the emotional core of a character in less than a page. He’s got scores of such characters in this novel. The book is divided into five sections, and each section contains several passages, some less than a page, others spanning several.

This is not to say I didn’t feel lost or stranded at points. Part III, “The Part About Fate”, began in America, and it felt like Bolaño needed surer footing.* Part IV proved daunting for another reason. A brutal procedural illustration of the Santa Teresa murders, Part IV conjures a fallen world, with few bright spots. Bolaño renders these deaths compellingly, in an imitation of the cold reason of police reports. They quickly become unbearable–an achievement in itself.

Anyway, go read it! I need to talk it over with someone.

*Of course, it may only seem this way to me since I am an American. Perhaps Germans turn up their noses at Part V.


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June 2009
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