2666 by Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer

26662666 was the last novel written by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño before his untimely death at the age of 50 years due to liver failure, he was near the top of the list for a liver transplant, but sadly didn’t survive long enough to be a recipient.

Knowing of his precarious existence and wishing to be able to support his family for as long as possible, he embarked on the grand oeuvre that would become 2666. He had planned to publish it as five separate volumes, which is no doubt in part responsible for it being such an exceptionally long novel at 900 pages.

Born in Chile, he spent much of his childhood and youth in both Chile and Mexico before moving in 1977 to Spain where he married, settled and eventually would die. His literary success came late in life and with death looming, he appears to have been in somewhat of a rush to pen this last grand tome. It wasn’t until after his death, that his work became known to readers in the English language, though he was widely perceived as the most important Latin-American writer since Gabriel García Márquez.

2666 is structured into five parts, which would have been the five books, though they are meant to be read as a whole. Four of the five parts are reasonable in length and content and intrigue while Part 4. The Part About The Crimes is long, arduous and was for me in parts sickening.  It recounts hundreds of crimes against predominantly young women that occur in Santa Teresa, the one location that connects all 5 parts of the story. It is largely based on the mostly unsolved and still ongoing serial murders that took place in the MExican town of Ciudad Juárez (Santa Teresa in the novel).

In order to try to make sense of the sum of parts, I created the diagram below after reading, in its entirety it depicts the global, interconnected horrors that have infiltrated and usurped parts of 20th century society, while on the surface story level, it shows the connections between characters, locations and subject, with that Mexican town of Santa Teresa taking centre stage, the one place all these characters are at some time drawn to.

Making sense of Roberto Bolaño's 2666

Trying to Make Sense of Roberto Bolaño’s Five Parts of 2666

The five parts briefly are as follows:

Part 1: The Part About the Critics introduces us to 4 critics from 4 European countries who specialise in the literature of a German writer, they travel to conferences around the world, presenting, discussing his work, seeing each other, pursuing reports of the disappeared writer named Archimboldi, until Mexico. They too become more or less interconnected and though supposedly intellectuals and above the debased actions of the lesser educated, we see that they are no better than the rest and perhaps even worse.

Part 2: The Part about Amalfitano, his daughter Rosa, his wandering wife Lola and the poet in the asylum in San Sebastian, his move from Barcelona to Mexico and the beginning of hearing that voice in his head.

Part 3: The Part About Fate, the political/social journalist, his dead mother, her neighbour,writing up Barry Seaman’s speech, the death of a sportswriter, the fight he covers in Santa Teresa, the Mexicans, the gun, Rosa Amalfitano, Guadalupe Roncal and the albino German singing prisoner.

Part 4: The Part About the Crimes mentioned above, this reader begins to suffer fatigue from the pages and pages of repetition, another young woman, raped a certain way, strangled, the long hair, dumped on a highway or in a dump, the lack of police investigation, that lack of interest, as if to be woman is to warrant such a fate. The reader too starts to become as bored as the police seem to this endless, sordid situation. They have a job to do, but for what reason are we succumbed to having to absorb these hundreds of heinous crimes taking place in one city.

I was relieved when this part was behind me, all those murders in Santa Teresa, the inept investigations, the scapegoat, the media, the Congresswoman, the cause/effect of money.

Part 5: The Part About Archimboldi, in wartime Germany with a man named Hans Reiter. And finally we catch up with Bonno von Archimboldi, the writer pursued in Part 1.

orhan-pamuk-the-museum-of-innocenceOverall, it was a marathon read, that fatigued me, in a similar way to Orhan Pamuk’s lengthy novel of obsession The Museum of Innocence, a book that became a kind of effigy, that morphed into an actual museum displaying a collection of items evocative of everyday life and culture of Istanbul during the period in which the novel is set. Bolaño collected murders and experiences, Pamuk everyday objects and obsessions.

It is a novel highly regarded by many, however I would be reluctant to recommend it without the potential reader reading a variety of reviews to discern whether or not it is something that corresponds to their interest.

I chose to read it as my summer chunkster for 2015 and can relate to the following question raised in the Guardian review I’ve linked to below:

But why would you want to encounter “an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” in the leisurely days of summer? Because you’ll have time to immerse yourself, for one thing. There’s never a bad time to read a great book, however dark, however dangerous.

Bravo to the late Roberto Bolaño, I believe he achieved his aim, to continue to support his family long after his own demise.

Further Reading:

Guardian Review

“Very long and very violent, this is a journey into the darkest parts of humanity. It’s hard going, but it is a truly great book”

New York Times Review

By bringing scents of a Latin American culture more fitful, pop-savvy and suspicious of earthy machismo than that which it succeeds, Bolaño has been taken as a kind of reset button on our deplorably sporadic appetite for international writing, standing in relation to the generation of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as, say, David Foster Wallace does to Mailer, Updike and Roth.

 

24 thoughts on “2666 by Roberto Bolaño, tr. Natasha Wimmer

  1. Wow, Claire, this is a great review. I had thought I wanted to read this, now I’m not sure. Maybe at the moment I won’t. I believe my son has a copy and tried to read it, but I don’t know if he ever finished it, I’ll have to ask and see what he thought. Thanks for this post!

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    • I wonder how your son found it Valorie, I did notice that many of the 5 star reviews were by men, but that could just be a coincidence, although as I mention to Vishy in a comment below, on a similar subject, I tend to veer more towrds Jennifer Clement’s treatment of the subject in her excellent novel Prayer’s for the Stolen, than Roberto Bolano’s.

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      • Andrew loved the book, thought it a masterpiece, but he said it is difficult to read and that perhaps for women it would be additionally difficult given the violence against women. He thinks I should try to read it but allows that I probably won’t take to it in the way he did. By the way, occasionally I pass on your book suggestions to him! I will take a look at Vichy’s comments.

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  2. 2666 remains one of the strangest books I have ever read.
    Stendhal said a novel is like a mirror walking along a road..sometimes reflecting the blue skies and sometimes the mud and mire. I found this book just full of mud and mire.
    Difficult book to review and you did a wonderful job!

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    • It started out in an interesting fashion, with the literary critics, introducing the element of mystery to the novel, and this element remained intriguing (if not somewhat far fetched in places) throughout.

      Interesting quote from your latest read, the walking mirror seems not to have encountered humanity, only metaphor.

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  3. Very interesting review, Claire. I think I would find this too gruelling, especially The Part About the Crimes. The Savage Detectives is sitting on my bookshelf, and I wonder how it might compare to 2666. Have you read it by any chance?

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    • I haven’t read The Savage Detectives, but from the reviews I’ve read, there is a connection between the two and some say it should be read before 2666.

      There’s a lot of comment around The Part About the Crimes, justifying its length and effect, but I couldn’t wondering about the real victims in all of this pursuit of the novel, here was a man writing a book to support his living family and using the stories of hundreds if not thousands (when you think of the siblings, parents, relatives connected to the victims) of others to show mans inhumanity and apathy.

      I think Part Four is overdone and is the reason I held back from rating it higher.

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  4. Great review! It’s been a long time since I read this book, but I still remember it vividly. I didn’t really enjoy the reading experience – especially the part about the crimes. But I loved talking about it with others (I read it with a large online group) I actually only came to love it when I reached the end and everything seemed to click into place.

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    • I understand that clicking into place, I did like the element of mystery and ambiguous identity within and throughout it, it’s a pity it became so long-winded and despicable mid-stream. I see those who read it in a read-along together seem to have got more from it for reading it together.

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  5. I was very much looking forward to reading your review of Bolano’s book, Claire🙂 Sorry to know that you didn’t like it as much as you had hoped to. I got ‘2666’ when it first came out, but because it is so big and because of the violence in it, I haven’t read it yet. I am not sure I will read it now, after reading your review. I loved his book ‘The Savage Detectives’ which is supposed to be autobiographical. I found his style very unsettling in that book – a lot of monologues by different people in the big middle part of the book. Does he follow the same style in ‘2666’? I have a collection of his short stories (a reasonably sized book) which I hope to read sometime. But, ‘2666’ – I am not sure. Thanks for this wonderful review.

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    • I think I may have liked it more, or been able to digest it better, if it hadn’t been so stuffed full of all those crimes, which I think overly laboured a point and which I had difficulty detaching from the kowmedge that these were real people who had died and families that would have been affected. A kind of literary abuse. I say this remembering another book which also was based partly on real experiences in Mexico by Jennifer Clement, Prayers for the Stolen, which was actually my favourite read of 2014. So, it’s not tat I shy aay from the subject, it’s more a question of the author’s treatment of it and my reading heart aligns more with the Jennifer Clement’s of this world.

      I hate to put people off reading it, I merely offer my honest response to my own reading experience and afterthoughts.

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  6. Well this one went around Booktube at one point but don’t think too many attempted it because it was 900 pages. I personally don’t see myself reading it because of part 4. I’m so over reading about women being murdered and raped. I wonder if that part was so in your face because he was a South American writer? Marquez wrote about women in a sexist fashion as well. It’s something I have a lot of trouble accepting. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and loved it. However Love in the Time of Cholera exasperated me and Memories of My Melancholy Whores just made me mad. I do commend you for hanging in there on this one. Finishing it was quite a feat 900 pages! I’m sure you must have been proud. I always congratulate myself when I dive into giant books like that and actually finish them. Boy was I proud when I finished Les Misérables. lol!🙂

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    • I think I came across this one when I participated in a literary bloghop and asked people to share their favourite book in translation. I decided to make it my #OneSummerChunkster and a challenge it was indeed. I think it’s probably a good one to do in a read along. It seems to be more perceived as a masterpiece 5 star read by men, which I would say does have a lot to do with Part 4. I am defintiely happy that I finished it and understood it somewhat and could actually talk about it, but defintiely lacking in the things I look for and need in a book. I’ve never really been a fan of Marquez and prefer to read contemporary women writers from the region.

      I still have to read Les Mis, maybe next summer!

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      • I’ve been loving the books I’ve read by women like Jamaica Kincaid, Marysé Conde, Edwidge Danticat and now Cristina Garcia and also feeling a kind of connection between them. I’m also reading Condé’s Segu at the moment, which is excellent.

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  7. I have read many positive and many negative reviews on this book, but the sheer size has alway been a detriment. As a fan of concise literature, 900+ pages of contemporary literature is bound to be overly verbose. Your review though has convinced me that it is a text to steer away from, so thanks😉

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