Roberto Bolaño — 2666

Unfortunately, it’s been a while. It’s not that I’ve been lax on updating, but a variety of upheavals in my life have prevented a lot of reading time. Two weeks ago I ended up spending the remainder of my vacation at home for a family crisis, and when I got home it was all I could do to catch up on email, let alone tackle the beast that is 2666. I kept picking it up, putting it down… slowly, gradually making my way through it… and then I hit the fourth part which, if you have read this book, you will know is difficult to get through under normal circumstances, let alone when death is on your mind anyway…

In any event, re-reading it was a rewarding experience, and a good culmination to re-reading him in general–this was the last book of his I had on my shelf, soon it will be on to other things. And as his last, posthumous novel, it is a sort of bizarre culmination of everything he had been trying to say and accomplish in his other novels, as well. Fitting to read it last. The problem with reading Bolaño is that you really have to read all of his books to pick up on themes and tangents throughout, for example, the title word of 2666 is not actually mentioned in the book itself, but in another of his books: a road is referred to as looking like a cemetery from the year 2666. To read something by Bolaño is to some extent be forced to read his entire oeuvre. not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

In one of his last interviews he stated that had he not been a writer, he would have liked to have been a homicide detective. And you can see it—some of his central themes are bizarre mysteries, violence, death. How we process them. What they mean. A critic described the events of 2666 as something terrible, cosmic, and horrible centering around Santa Teresa… the uncanny moments where the world seems wrong.

The book itself is concerned with a series of murders of women in a place that can only have been modeled on the Ciudad Juárez. It also features different sections, in which four literary critics discuss a semi-mythical author whose life and work absorb them; this author himself is part of other leading strands of the novel. In other sections, a professor goes mad, various people try to figure out what is happening in Santa Teresa, and the life of Archimboldi himself is illuminated. It is hard to read: one book is clinical descriptions of the murders of hundreds of young women. The cumulative effect of all of this violence, terror, mystery, is breathtaking. and terrifying. The book is a bit like a punch in the gut. Several punches in the gut.

Re-reading it felt like reading it again for the first time. As I said, I read it slowly, trying to absorb. As with many of his other works, there were passages of lyrical beauty that stuck out considering the clinical language used to describe the violent deaths and sexual assaults in part four. Some paragraphs that really struck me as lovely, for example:

And there’s verbophobia, fear of words. Which must mean that it’s best not to speak, said Juan de Dios Martínez. There’s more to it than that, because words are everywhere, even in silence, which is never complete silence, is it?

There were the usual deaths, yes, those to be expected, people who started off celebrating and ended up killing each other, uncinematic deaths, deaths from the realm of folklore, not modernity: deaths that didn’t scare anybody.

…only the black woods in the middle of a yellow sea, under a bright blue sky, and suddenly, without warning, as if they were in a great theater of wheat and the wood was the stage and proscenium of that theater in the round, the all-devouring, beautiful fire.

To really appreciate it you would need to start reading for yourself. It’s a strange book, an absorbing book. A difficult book. A confusing book. I rarely don’t know exactly what’s going on in a story but this one is full of mysteries that are never quite resolved. But as with Monsieur Pain, it’s the journey that’s important, the people, how their lives are impacted by the senseless violence of the world… Bolaño without a doubt deserves all of the accolades that have been heaped upon him.

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