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2666 (Final Parts)

In the last two hundred pages of 2666, we finally meet Archimboldi, the reclusive writer around whom the entire novel is constructed. For whatever reason, Bolaño makes this as painful as possible. We don’t even know it’s Archimboldi until we’ve endured a hundred pages of pure tripe—one ad hoc digression after another about nothing in particular. It’s grueling, boring stuff. Of course, Bolaño comes through in the end, but only after he’s weeded out the casual reader (who has tossed the novel into the dust bin in sheer disgust). It’s funny, of course. There’s a mad genius at work here. When Robert Bolaño is brilliant, he’s very, very brilliant, and when he’s bad, he’s very, very bad. No editor put her hand to this stuff.

Still, I love it. It’s the most interesting literary novel in years. Bolaño’s style is quintessentially his own, and the translation is first rate. That something so flawed and brilliant could see the light of day and make it to the top of the charts is mind boggling. Maybe they’ll even award him a Nobel posthumously.

Will someone please explain the literary world to me?

March 16, 2009   Comments Off on 2666 (Final Parts)

Emasculation Revisited

A number of readers from the UK (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have accessed the post entitled “Emasculation.” It has more hits than any other. Does anyone know why? I could hazard a few guesses, but, of course, it would be suicidal to do so.

By the way, there is a particularly gruesome example of a ritualized version of this (emasculation) in Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 in “The Part about the Crimes.” It happens in a Mexican prison to a new inmate who raped and killed a wealthy man’s daughter. The guards and prison population watch. Of course, the prisoners who commit the act and the guards have been paid off. Money, Bolaño states, is the only reason anything happens in Santa Teresa.

Know of any really good coffee places that open early in San Francisco?

Yesterday I picked up a copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and have gone from being initially impressed to mostly indifferent. I’ve relegated it to a spot near the toilet to occupy myself while waiting for inspiration to come. I know I’m supposed to stay positive, but I ask myself, is this really worthy of a Pulitzer? Is it all about money and nothing else? Would Faulkner be published today? Would Robert Penn Warren?

February 14, 2009   Comments Off on Emasculation Revisited

2666 (Parts 3 and 4)

I’ve passed the 500-page mark and am deep into “The Part about the Crimes,” which is a chronicle of the murders of women in Santa Teresa from 1993 to 1997 and the inane attempts of the police to solve them. The part that proceeded it, “The Part about Fate,” is essentially a throwaway, which gave me flashbacks to how bad Bolaño can be when he’s out of his groove. Anyway, the crimes are monstrous, there’s no end to them, and Bolaño describes them so prosaically it makes you want to scream. I’m having trouble sleeping, dreaming of the corruption and futility of the Mexican justice system. Roberto Bolaño knows Latin America all too well and makes it much too plain for comfort, using the murders as a metaphor for the horror and degeneration of our age. Uffda, this is not for the faint of heart.

February 7, 2009   Comments Off on 2666 (Parts 3 and 4)



After the experience of reading (or, rather, trying to read) The Savage Detectives, I resisted buying Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666 for months, but the positive reviews, many listing it as the best novel published in 2008 (in Natasha Wimmer’s English-language translation), finally encouraged me to pick up a copy. I’m glad I did.

Focused on the unsolved serial murders of Ciudad Juárez (Santa Teresa in the book), the novel is divided into five parts. Regarding those five parts, the story is that Bolaño called his family around him on his death bed and told them to publish them as five separate novels, that it would secure their financial futures, but after he died, they disobeyed him and had it published as a whole. So far, I’ve read only two parts, “The Part about the Critics,” and “The Part about Amalfitano,” but I couldn’t resist commenting.

As I have grown to expect with Bolaño, the two parts are written in quite dissimilar styles. Of these, the first is vastly more interesting. It’s the story of four critics of Benno von Archimboldi, the German novelist whom no one has ever seen. The critics, a Frenchman, Spaniard, and Italian, all fall in love with their English counterpart, a woman of strange tastes, who makes them crazy with desire for her. The Frenchman, Spaniard, and Englishwoman (who are both her lovers) eventually make their way to Santa Teresa in search of Archimboldi, who, of course, they never find, though they do encounter Amalfitano who has some knowledge of the German. The experience of being in Santa Teresa is so profoundly upsetting for the Englishwoman that she leaves early without the two men, goes to Milan, and chooses the wheelchair-bound Italian, realizing it is him she truly loves.

The Part about Amalfitano concentrates on Oscar Amalfitano, a mentally unstable professor of philosophy at the University of Santa Teresa, who fears his daughter will be one of the killer’s next victims. It’s fun watching him fall apart as he begins to hear voices, but this part is not as interesting or moving as the first.

Unlike The Savage Detectives, there is no hint of dross or puerility in Bolaño’s later style. His language is poetic, complex, layered, and yet easy to understand, like a gospel rendered by a wise saint. I’m absorbed by it—perhaps because it deals with literary matters, but, mostly, I think, because in 2666 Bolaño has reached perfection. He is the magician he set out to become when he left Chile all those years before. All the suffering was worth it. What more could a writer want?

January 19, 2009   Comments Off on 2666