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This review is from: 2666 (Hardcover)
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Well, 2666 is certainly an epic. Nearly 900 pages of very full text, I reckon it took me in the region of 50 hours of reading time. That's a pretty major investment of time.
In return for the time, you will find a loose story that keeps returning to a spate of murdered women in Santa Teresa, Mexico. Alternatively, you'll find five separate stories, depending on how you look at it. There was some idea that the novel might be sold as five separate novels, but in truth, it wouldn't have stood up in that way. The first three parts serve mostly as back-story to the final two parts. In particular, the Part about The Critics (the first 160 pages) is weak, offering little character development of the four literary academics who do little more than enter into various permutations of coupling. Instead, it serves to pique interest in Benno von Archimboldi, a reclusive German writer, and introduces the idea that Archimboldi might be connected with the brutal killings in Mexico. Similarly, the next two, relatively short Parts serve little more purpose than to prime the reader for the catalogue of killings.
And what a catalogue!
The Part about The Crimes is a long list of all the women in Santa Teresa who have met untimely deaths in a period of several years. Some of these are murders committed by the serial killer, and others are simply lovers quarrels gone wrong. Some of the crimes and victims are described in detail - others are recorded simply as unidentified bodies. This feels more like a reference book than a novel. It can be repetitive - perhaps hypnotic, if one were being charitable.
And finally, there is the Part about Archimboldi. Listed on the index page at the front of the book, the reader is left wondering whether this Part will be the key that unlocks the significance of the four previous Parts. Unlike the previous 630 pages, this Part has good, full character development and a strong story line, albeit time can sometimes pass unnoticed. This is a relief; the first third of the novel is not strong and the middle third drags a little. The final third had to be something special, and it was.
In the end notes, it appears that Bolaño intended to spend another few months polishing the novel. We are told that most of the novel was already polished, but some sections had obviously not been. It is interesting to speculate on which sections these might be - perhaps more would have been done to add a little more depth near the beginning.
So, what did Roberto Bolaño do with the space he created? Mostly, he built intrigue and suspense. Using 160 pages simply to create an impression that Archimboldi is a significant and mysterious writer is a huge luxury. To use the Part about Fate to offer some sense of public feeling (or lack of feeling) towards the murders is similarly luxurious. The Part about Amalfitano didn't seem to have a purpose at all. So much of the joy with 2666 lies in the satisfaction of having read it; stuck with it. Some of the actual reading was hard going.
Scoring is tricky. For most of the novel, it felt like a three star affair. But the effect by the end is quite stunning - a clear five stars. It would be easy to split the difference, but that would be the coward's option.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 May 2009 11:46:08 BDT
Good review. I gave up after the first two parts - the book was so dull it made me want to put drawing pins in my skin - but you might just have inspired me to go back to it. Would the ending work for me if I skipped parts three and four, d'you think?
In reply to an earlier post on 11 May 2009 23:28:19 BDT
I am always hesitant to recommend a book because tastes vary so much. My gut instinct is that if you found the first two parts boring, then quit while you are ahead. There is a lot of reading to go and whilst the end result was satisfying for me, there is no guarantee it would be for you. I suspect you could dispense with Part 3 (The Part About Fate) if you had to but I think Parts 4 and 5 are essential. 2666 works by building layers of intrigue and burying plot beneath layers and layers of detail. If you took away the detail, it might make the plot look thin.
Sorry, this probably sounds very cryptic, but if there was nothing at all to hook you in Parts 1 and 2 then I think you would be disappointed by the payoff at the end.
In reply to an earlier post on 12 May 2009 21:24:41 BDT
OK, thanks for that. Part of the reason I instinctively trusted you was that you've loved books that I love before (notably The Island at the End of the World). Anyway, I probably will go back to 2666 at some point. I liked the writing - it was just the inconsequentiality that bugged me.
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