I think it's fair to say that the gushing reviews of 2666 in the press have glossed over its obvious shortcomings. In dwelling on them here, I don't mean to diminish the status of Roberto Bolaño's achievement in this posthumously published work. 2666 is a serious and important novel that will be studied in academia for many years. But I think it's important that ordinary readers know what they're buying.
2666 is a first draft. Tragically, Bolaño died before the usual editing and redrafting process could take place. He left behind manuscripts for a series of five books, which his estate decided to publish in a single volume. All five parts involve the fictional Mexican city of Santa Teresa, but the links between them are pretty tenuous and the book reads more like an anthology than a novel. No one knows what the title means.
For many readers these facts may set off a few alarm bells. 2666 is unmistakably first draft material. It's immensely long, disjointed, erratic and unwieldy. Everything is done to excess. Book 4, for example, is 300 pages long, and consists of nothing but hundreds of descriptions of the murders of women. It is the closest thing to a genuinely unreadable book I have ever come across. Not because it wallows in horrific violence, but because the endless repetition is numbingly tedious.
I'm sure that was Bolaño's intention, and academics will hold conferences about how Bolaño confronts the reader and defies the conventions of fiction. But as an ordinary reader, I'd prefer to read something readable. 2666 is like a Turner prizewinning artwork. Totally original, massively acclaimed... but almost impossible to actually enjoy.