By this standard, there is no doubt that Roberto Bolaño is a great writer. 2666,
the enormous novel he had almost completed when he died at 50 in 2003,
has the confident strangeness of a masterpiece: In almost every
particular, it fails, or refuses, to conform to our expectations of
what a novel should be. For one thing, though it is being published as
a single work (in a Bible-sized single-volume edition and as a
three-paperback set), 2666 is made up of five sections that
are so independent Bolaño originally planned to release them as
separate books. These parts relate to one another, not as installments
or sequels but, rather, as five planets orbiting the same sun. With
their very different stories and settings, they seem to describe a
single plummeting arc—the trajectory of a universe on the verge of
I don’t want to say too much about my evaluation of the book since I’ll be publishing my own review in The Quarterly Conversation in December, but I do find it interesting that Kirsch claims these 5 sections are so independent of one another. They’re not really. Yes, each has its own plot, and maybe even something of its own logic, but these section are no more independent of one another than, say, the various sections of Underworld were independent of each other.
Kirsch does have this exactly right, though:
Imagine reading case reports like these, one after another, for almost
300 pages, and you will get a sense of the bludgeoning effect of "The
Part About the Crimes." The violence becomes simultaneously banal and
unbearable in its sheer reiteration; at times, it requires a real
effort to keep turning the pages. Yet in this way, Bolaño succeeds in
restoring to physical violence something of its genuine evil, in a time
when readers in the First World are used to experiencing it only as CSI-style entertainment.
It looks like Slate didn’t allot this review a single word more than what’s normal, and that’s a shame. It’ll be a surprise if any reviewer manages to discuss 2666 without invoking its unusual heft and quasi-legendary status (already), but I doubt that this will translate into much more space than is usually given to books. This isn’t a matter of Bolano-Bolano-Bolano-fever . . . any book of this size and being granted this kind of pre-publication esteem deserves space. You just can’t adequately address such a book in less than a couple thousand words.
In any event, those of you who want to try it out for yourselves can do so next Tuesday. If you do choose to take on 2666, I recommend going in with some context. Here’s our previous coverage of Bolano, for those who want a little primer material:
- Amulet by Roberto Bolaño
- Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño
- Roberto Bolaño: A naïve introduction to the geometry of his fictions–this is a great overview of most of Bolano’s fiction. 2666 is discussed and situated.
- Educating Bolaño’s Orphans–my take on the (literary) father/son theme that passes through all of Bolano’s fiction.
- The Natasha Wimmer Interview–interview with 2666’s translator.
- The Chris Andrews Interview