Roberto Bolaño – "2666"

According to Mrs. Bubis, wife of publisher Mr. Bubis, one of the only people alive that knew Benno von Archimboldi, “how well anyone could really know of another person’s work?”

Reading “2666” by Roberto Bolaño, I feel the same way. It has been quite a journey for the English reader with a talent of his kind. From “By Night in Chile” to the chilling “Romantic Dogs,” (which I finished a week before this novel) to “2666,” one of Bolaño’s “longer” works, preceded by the fantastic “Savage Detectives.”

Much has been written (and will be) concerning this novel (see the great reviews, beginning with the one in the New York Times). In short, and without giving too much away, the story revolves around five intervals, which Bolano wanted to be released separately (in 5 year increments), involving a cast of characters as thick as the book itself. Part 1 (About the Critics) concerns four critics: Jean-Claude Pelletier from France, Manuel Espinoza from Spain, Piero Morini of Italy, and Liz Norton who, through their love of Archimboldi, come together and discuss and revel in the mysterious nature of the man. Part 2 (About Amalfitano) and Part 3 (About Fate) concerns a Chilean college professor, Amalfitano, and his dealings with his daughter and a strange geometry books; and an African-American, Quincy Williams aka Fate, who takes a assignment in Mexico covering a boxing match, which soon gets derailed due to his interest in the murders of the women detailed in the next chapter. Part 4 (About the Crimes) concerns the cornerstone of the novel, the parts tying all these people together: the murders of women, detailed by Bolaño, in the city of Santa Teresa (Cuidad Juárez) in the Sonora Desert in Northern Mexico on the US border. Part 5 (About Archimboldi) gives the final insights into our characters and ends the novel much as we began.

With Bolaño, it is the manner of his story-telling that wins him fans as well as enemies. In “2666,” he pushes the boundaries that he may have placed on himself before his death in 2003. My favorite passage, in which Liz Norton realizes the genius of Archimboldi, gives you a sense of his style, if you have not read him before. This could also sum up how some readers felt reading Bolaño their first time they tried to pay attention:

It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like a grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their comprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

His style is attractive and inviting and the story itself is long, but superb. Despite it’s unfinished aesthetic, it is still complete in all the ways that matter and is a contribution par excellence to the world of letters.


~ by Daniel on November 12, 2008.

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