on 6 September 2011
I have just finished this epic work and it will certainly linger in my mind. I think it is tough to begin another book after reading this one. Sometimes the writing has that quality of inspiration that is only rarely encountered - I think of Lolita or The Alexandria Quartet. The section which covers the appalling chaos towards the end of World War II - where people seem more like ghosts. The cumulative effect of the vicious murders each one detailed with a forensic clinical precision - a coldness which lets us see this violence without sensationalism or self dramatisation. Bolano seems to have an inexhaustible invention in the imagery he employs in the descriptive writing - a sentence can often take a startling or surreal turn. I was so riveted that I read sometimes throughout the night. The violence is at times almost unbearable - however love does survive and is indicated with delicacy and charm as in the detective inspector's love for the asylum director or Hans's devotion to Ingeborg. A truly memorable work which I urge others to read.
on 8 September 2009
Bolano's 1100 page (Spanish Edition) magnus opus is mesmerizing and hypnotic; full of magical stories, violence, sex, meta-fiction, and lies--a lot of lies and a great deal of misdirection.
When I finished the novel I started again; it was the only thing to do; there was too much to absorb on the first reading; too many themes--writing, violence, detectives, murder, identity, travel, death, books, libraries, biographies, success, failure, race, fascism, Nazis, and war.
The writing in itself is beautiful, a poet's book, written by a poet, and translated beautifully by Natasha Wimmer.
The story, in a nutshell, is the life story of a German soldier by the name of Hans Reiter, who, in mid-life in the bombed-out city of Cologne, after the Second World War, changes his name to Benno von Archimboldi and writes his first novel. This story seems to be a conflation of several writers' biographies--Heinrich Boll, Gunter Grass, and surely Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Pückler-Muskau (I don't think you will see this in any other critique of the book but Bolano gives a brilliant clue at the end of the novel and the parallels between Benno and Prince Herman are quite interesting to trace. Why did he chose him? Because he is better remembered for the ice cream named after him than the books he a wrote and the life he lived.)
From this brief synopsis grows a story of the world in the Twentieth Century. It begins with Reiter's birth in Prussia and ends in the present day. The book contains hundreds of characters and their stories, each told by the same voice, a narrator, who Bolano once said was the fictional poet, Arturo Belano, a character in his brilliant novel--"The Savage Detectives."
So, we have a story told, not shown, which covers eighty years.
The novel contains five parts, which are almost self-contained, but when read together fit perfectly. The five parts are: (1) The Part about the Critics; (2) The Part about Amalfitano; (3) The Part about Fate; (4) The Part about the Crimes; and (5) The Part about Archimboldi.
Part One tells the story of four academics reading, studying, and writing about the reclusive Archimboldi, who is being considered for the Nobel Prize. Their study leads them ultimately to Sonora, to Santa Teresa (a conflation of Jaurez and Heroica Nogales), where a serial killer is operating.
Parts Two, Three, and Four take place in Sonora and involve--a university professor, an American journalist, and many detectives. These three sections all involve the killings in Santa Teresa from one view or another.
Part Five is a chronological telling of the life of Archimboldi, which precedes the action in Part One.
Throughout the telling of the story hundreds of books are mentioned and discussed. Some are real books; some are made up; and others are simply conflated. However, ultimately, it is a writer's book or perhaps just a book for readers, real readers, readers interested in mystery and games, language games, and ghastly murders.
The plot of the novel is driven by mysteries: where is Archimboldi, who is Archimboldi, who is killing the women of Santa Teresa? However, the beauty of the book is in the slow telling of the stories and the minutia of the details.
I cannot do the novel justice; it has to be read closely to appreciate it, but there is a clue to its most fundamental theme: throughout the novel people are buried in mass graves, the graves are hidden because more often than not the murderers are trying to hide their crimes. However, in each instance, the graves are discovered and the bodies uncovered; just as stories are told and the secrets revealed. And herein lies the meaning of the title and I think the fundamental theme of a book full of themes and ideas; it arises or it is hidden in a quote from the "Savage Detectives:" "Guerreo, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else."
In other words, our world is more like an uncovered cemetery of the future, full of violence and death. The science of the Twentieth Century devised ways to systematically kill thousands of people. But even now, after the war, the killing continues in the bizarre nightmare milieus of border towns, the situs of the maguiladoras, in refugee camps in Africa, in race wars all over the war, the Fifth Ward, in Compton, in our back yards.
Santa Teresa is supposedly modeled on Juarez where there are 340 maguiladoras operating. Here is the future, stranger than we can imagine, which makes the book in my mind slipstream.
If you are looking for a novel with a recognisable plot, a beginning, middle and satisfactory ending, then this probably is not for you. This is a literary novel where the characters take centre stage and very little appears to happen. If you have read Haruki Murakami then you will have an idea of what to expect in respect to narrative style. Also an aquaintance with James Joyce would not go amiss, 2666 contains some very long paragraphs and rambling sentences. One paragraph in particular contains one sentence of about 1700 words. Indicative of how thought processes work, of how conversations can meander how for example a conversation can start on one topic and somehow end on something totally unrelated, until someone pulls you back to the point.
I think that I found 2666 less challenging than some readers because I had an idea of what to expect having read The Savage Detective and his short stories Last Evenings on Earth. In fact I would go as far as saying don't start with 2666, build up to it. Also I believe that it is a novel that you cannot read without taking the life of the author into account. In the Introduction to 'Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview' I have read that his ambition for 2666 was 'to write a postmortem for the dead of the past, the present and the future'. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of this novel and the author.
Many reviewers have already tried to explain what the book is about, I couldn't even attempt that, the further I read into the novel my ideas concerning what it was about changed. For instance it brings into focus what a crazy world we are living in, one death merits front page headlines while hundreds fade to insignificance, a boxing match is more newsworthy than the disappearance and violent death of the women. It is also about the importance and value of literature in this crazy world. I am sure that readers could pick up on many themes. 'The Part About the Crimes' is incredibly difficult to read and yet this is the heart of the book. Bolano had become fascinated about the murders in Ciudad Juarez long before they became widely discussed and somehow he managed to obtain insider information. The reason why the descriptions of the murdered girls read like autopsy reports is because they probably are. While writing his other novels this one about the murders was never far from his thoughts.
2666 is the most challenging and satisfying book I have read for years. The narrative is beautiful, compelling and quite addictive.
Since writing this review I have read 'Between Parentheses' a collection of Bolano's writing between 1998 - 2003 and it has definitely shed new light on the man and his body of work.
on 20 September 2011
Back in spring I had 3 weeks with not an awful lot to do and was up for some meaty fiction, so obviously the thickness of this book on my parents' bookshelf attracted me, as did a previous interest in Latin American fiction. It was a while ago that I read it now but when I think of the time I still feel a kind of excitement, a breathlessness and a feeling like I'm staring into the void. The part about the killings IS horrible, but I think Bolano meant this as a way of making us feel the suffering of all those women killed in Cuidad Juarez instead of just statistics, which justifies it. Reading this part noon and night (partly absorbed, partly wishing it would finish) gave me this impression. I can see that if it was your bedtime reading it might get tedious. So follow the example of the characters in the part about the critics, and read every day till the sun comes up (take a few weeks off work!).
This book really inspired in me a new love of life and art, I would go so far as to say it actually changed my life. It makes Garcia Marquez and the magic realism I used to so enjoy look childish!
on 16 October 2013
I won't waste too much time reviewing this novel as it seems to me most of its' fame will forever be the argument between the people who claim to 'get it' and those who claim there is nothing to 'get'...
I read it, i enjoyed it (mostly), but in the final analysis it really just takes too long to say something vaguely, like an old relative telling a story they can't completely remember.
Finishing this book does not make you clever. I'm sending my copy to the charity shop , which is where i would advise you buy yours.
It's maybe a year since i read 2666 and i find i'm still thinking about it from time to time... So i have now bought The Savage Detectives
Five novels, over 900 pages - this certainly isn't a relaxing read. But if you're interested in where literature is today, this is probably an essential one. I'm not going to discuss the plot, partly because that's already been done here and partly because this is not a work that's about plot. Never an easy read, it demands the reader work at the text in the same way that a T.S.Eliot, a Dante or a Baudelaire does.
Replete with images, mythic resonances, historical and cultural allusions, this is ultimately a rich text that builds up layer by layer, and meaning resides as much in what isn't said, in the interstices of the story, as it does in what is said. This is the kind of book that will appear on university syllabuses for courses on modern and post-modern literature; and I would guess it won't be long before theses will start to be written on it.
I'm not sure that I would exactly say that I enjoyed reading it, but even while reading it I felt that it was important. So don't expect a gripping, just-one-more-chapter read, or a linear plotline - this is far more leisurely and diffuse. But its power builds up surely as you become immersed. An undoubtedly authoritative achievement, but unlikely to be a book that people have an emotional love for.
on 18 September 2011
This is an amazing book, very dark, a journey that begins with the superficial and self absorbed lives of university professors and takes us into the horrors of Santa Theresa where horrific misogynistic murders happen every week. There is no escape from the horror, it broods through the book, as an exile drifts into madness, a detective encounters the violence of those he pursues, a mother discovers her son accused of crimes beyond horrendous. There are endless twisted stories in this labyrinth.
The fourth part which is totally focused on the murders does become unreadable, Bolano spares no detail and the sheer brutality of it all becomes mindnumbing. I did consider packing it in at this stage but I am glad I ploughed on. My difficulty with this stage almost made me give the book four stars.
By the final section I was desperate to find out how the threads connect. The last thirty pages bring a lot together, but many questions remain unanswered, maybe they are unanswerable. As I finished the book I wondered if this was a book that had no end as Bolano shows how everything is connected to everything. An endless butterfly effect. The novel is a huge shaggy dog story illustrating how six degrees of seperation is in operation all the time constantly making the world smaller.
Not an easy read but if you like challenging books which may change your life then don't hesitate, this is a very special book.
On a recent trip I passed through Manchester airport and was amazed to see copies of 2666 piled high in the bookstore at the departure lounge. Who did they think the target audience was for this lengthy literary novel?
Part 1, The Part About The Critics, tells a mostly self-contained story about a quartet of academics who specialise in the obscure German author Benno von Archimboldi. Each of the four gets their own back-story, and we follow their quest to find the author, a trail which leads to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (based on Ciudad Juarez). The story has highly stylised sections (do academics ever beat up taxi drivers?) and appears to end inconclusively - perhaps a meditation on the strange paths of love, or the fickle ways of women? Or Santa Teresa's powers of deflection.
At this point of my journey, I'm wondering where this story gets us, noting that not a whole lot has happened, and that I'm only on page 159 of an 893 page novel.
I grit my teeth and continue.
The shorter Part 2, The Part About Amalfitano, takes a minor character from the first part - a Chilean literary academic at the University of Santa Teresa and his daughter Rosa - and fills out their back story, mostly concerning the runaway wife, Lola.
Part 3, The Part About Fate, describes an American reporter, Oscar Fate who is sent to cover a boxing match in Santa Teresa. While there, he gets involved with the local narcos and meets Rosa from part 2. Oscar by some miracle manages to escape Santa Teresa with his life. In this part we begin to circle around the increasing numbers of sexually-violated and murdered young women found in deserted parking lots, isolated ravines, abandoned buildings and the desert: crimes which the police seem unable to solve.
Part 4, The Part About The Crimes, takes us directly into the unending horror of underclass life in Santa Teresa. This is by far the longest novel in the collection. We meet the police: uneducated, casually violent, brutally chauvinistic and content to tiptoe around the atrocities of the powerful. We meet the suspect, a German businessman banged up for years while the crimes continue. And we discover the private lives of the narco lords: drug and sex-fuelled parties in their desert ranches with no inconvenient witnesses afterwards.
Part 5, The Part About Archimboldi, takes us back to the mysterious German author who was the subject of the quest in part 1. We now learn his life story, his wartime exploits and why, in his late life, he finally found himself for the first time in Santa Teresa.
In the Notes to the First Edition at the back of the book, Ignacio Echevarria, Bolano's literary executor, tries to account for the title. He looks to an earlier novel of Bolano, Amulet, where a seedy, downbeat avenue at night in some Mexican town is described as like a cemetery: "not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else."
Santa Teresa may be the physical centre of this interlinked novel-set, as Echevarria observes, but it is also a symbol - a submerged, carnivorous, tentacled thing that draws in the powerless and horribly consumes them. Omnipresent corruption, where the powerful use ordinary people for their money or their bodies, then dispose of them with casual, lethal brutality. The murderous events depicted in 2666 actually occurred in Ciudad Juarez, where more than 400 women have been the victims of sexual homicides.
These five novels are five journeys into the heart of corruption, starting from afar and gradually taking us closer to its centre. If anyone thinks a corrupt society is just about the venal sin of taking bribes, this novel will make them think again.
on 4 January 2014
2666 is a novel in five parts which, although separate from each other, weave themselves together to create a truly dazzling literary experience. That, like some of the blurb on the cover ("Stupefying ambition", "vital, thrilling, life-enhancing", "Stunning originality", an "Electrifying literary event" and "A landmark") doesn't really say anything of the novel itself. Such superlatives, such post-mortal fawning would usually serve as a more than adequate warning sign; a big grandiose monolith in garish neon proclaiming: "here be over worthiness, hand wringing and excessively staid verbosity". In actuality the praise is, if anything, lacking in effusiveness.
The five tales in 2666 reveal themselves like five Russian Babushka dolls, all of the same family but each set with a myriad of exquisite sub sets, each layer exposed adding to the richness of the whole while at the same time being more dazzling than the previous.
The first tale involves four literary critics drawn together through mutual admiration for a reclusive German author, Benno von Archimboldi; how they meet, critique, fall in and out of love and eventually find themselves in the Mexican border town Santa Teresa chasing a lead in the search for their elusive obsession. The second tale is of a Santa Teresan professor as he seems to sink slowly into madness as his daughter becomes further and further estranged, dangerously so. Third is about New York journalist Oscar Fate when he is sent, after unfortunate events, to cover a boxing match in the border town. Fifth and final tale is the story of Archimboldi himself; from fighting in the Third Reich on both West and Eastern fronts to a kind of redemption through writing and his elusive literary career, family and eventual, presumed, journey to Santa Teresa.
The fourth tale, about the crimes, is a litany of corruption: Santa Teresa's dark unspoken secret in unflinching, clinical candour.
That these five tales finally come together like the best whodunit, with requisite twist in the tale, would be enough cause for praise, but in Bolaño's effusive and exhaustive prose the stories within stories are as captivating and compelling as they are feats of gigantic intellectual dexterity. 2666 is a complex, multi-layered, immensely readable and re-readable masterpiece.
on 21 October 2013
What's in a name? While a rose by any other name may well smell as sweet, the title of a book is most frequently inextricably linked to the nature and quality of the story contained within. Not necessary so with 2666. As the final novel written by one time poetic enfant terrible and literary supremo Roberto Bolano, 2666 has received a great deal of commentary, investigation and well-deserved praise but there has been no consensus among readers or critics as to the origin nor the importance of the title. Since the number fails to crop up in the novel itself, the nearest available reference for it from Bolano himself comes from his earlier novel Amulet where a road in Mexico City is said to look like `a cemetery in the year 2666'. That doesn't really clear things up much. An alternative suggestion has it that the origins of 2666 are found in the Biblical exodus of the Jews from Egypt, an event which apparently occurred 2,666 years after the creation. That might be stretching things a bit too. Maybe Bolano just liked to keep people guessing? Nevertheless, whatever the reasoning behind its title, the delightful story that is spread across its 898 pages ensures that 2666 is truly a beautiful behemoth of a book.
2666 is comprised of five parts, Bolano having intended to have them published as five separate novellas although his literary executors took the wise decision to publish a single mammoth novel, that weave together to convey the invisibility of the poor and to emphasise their lack of representation and recognition as well as their enhanced likelihood of experiences violence and victimisation. The stories and voices of a multitude of characters, both living and dead, are drawn together in a vibrant yet brutal fashion to convey the magnitude to the terror that can hold a community in its grip and rip apart any individual unfortunate enough to cross its path. 2666 is not always an easy novel to read.
The opening of 2666, "The Part about the Critics", follows four European literary critics as they travel the globe attending obscure conferences and following up leads in a search for their hero, the elusive German author Benno von Archimboldi. Although the four seem almost more interested in each other than in the mysterious Archimboldi, their search does seem to bear fruit when a supposedly sighting of the ghostly author leads them to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa. While they remain one step behind Archimboldi, the critics are entertained in Santa Teresa by a host of local academics, including the peculiar Professor Amalfitano, and learn than hundreds of women have been murdered in the town during recent years. Bolano's Santa Teresa is based on the real Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez which has experienced a similarly shocking level of homicide that the authorities seem unable or even unwilling to tackle properly.
"The Part about Amalfitano", the second section of 2666, leaves the critics behind to concentrate on Professor Amalfitano as he seemingly experiences a nervous breakdown. This is the shortest section of the novel and occasionally feels rather disjointed although it does flesh out the character of Amalfitano, his relationship with his daughter and the specter of his runaway wife.
"The Part about Fate" continues to involve Amalfitano but predominantly depicts African-American journalist and former Black Panther Oscar Fate who is in Santa Teresa to report on a boxing bout. As Fate becomes mixed up with the local gangs and drug dealers and meets with Amalfitano's daughter, Rosa, the horrific shadow of the ever increasing numbers of women who have been raped and murdered then dumped in the ravines, junkyards and abandoned buildings of Santa Teresa begins to intrude more and more into the tone of 2666.
The fourth and longest section of 2666, "The Part about the Crime", is the toughest by far as Bolano masterfully succeeds in bludgeoning the horror of the death of each woman home to the reader. Almost like CSI on crack, Bolano offers a forensic report on the death of every single victim, detailing their suffering and the ultimate condition of the corpse. There are a lot of reports to read. This section truly brings out the desolation and brutality of life in Santa Teresa, chronicling the investigations of the uneducated, violent and corrupt police department, the drug and sex fuelled parties of local crime lords, and the imprisonment of the only suspect in the case, a German businessman who has remained in jail as the killings continue.
"The Part about Archimboldi" returns neatly to the beginning of 2666 as Bolano finally introduced the German author long sought by the critics. Archimboldi's life story is told, his wartime exploits uncovered and the reason why, late in life, he found himself in Santa Teresa is discovered.
2666 is the best book I've read this year. The sense of menace on its pages is palpable and chilling while the novel as a whole brilliantly evokes the corruption of society and the individual and eloquently questions just what being human really means. While the scale of 2666 is truly immense, Bolano still manages to capture the creeping darkness that walks the streets of Santa Teresa and observes the ticks and almost trivial details that make each character compelling. 2666 is also something of a literary experiment as Bolano eschews standard plot development and grammar in the telling of his elephantine tale. One sentence found early in the first section lasts for four and a half pages. It's a darkly, distressingly delightful and thrilling read and I really can't recommend 2666 enough.