2666 – The Part About The Critics – Roberto Bolano – Chile


2666 by Roberto  Bolano

translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

Thank you to Claire and Steph for initiating this read-a-long.  Bolano’s monster of a book has been sitting on my bookshelf since the holidays, waiting for me to get through the every changing pile of  library books.  It  would have languished there for who knows how long.  Now I have to force myself to put it down, take breaks and pick up another book, for I want to gobble this thing all at once.

First, I have to praise Natasha Wimmer.  What an amazing job of translation.  It is astonishing to me, how she spills Bolano’s words across the page.  Second, I have a confession.  Often, when an author becomes an instant sensation, I avoid reading their books for a while.  I don’t really trust the media or the mainstream critics.  Sometimes I’m right in this, occasionally I am wrong.  This time I was very wrong.  Bolano has taken a great leap, a great step in the evolution of fiction, his words rushing ahead like the sea. It is sad that we lost him so soon.

If The Part About The Critics is any indication, 2666 will be one of  my favorite books of the year and, quite possibly, one of my favorite books of all time.  The writing is clear and direct and yet at times feels like a psychoactive drug trip.  Some passages go on and on and on, rolling like a ball down a hill and yet never becoming too much, too wordy.  It’s an art, like musical composition, and at times I felt like I was listening instead of reading, or dreaming, or falling down a  hole, Alice-like, driven to chase a mysterious white rabbit.  Poetic,  lyrical, dream-filled and yet  mundane and very grim.  How did he pull that off?  Magic, my only explanation.

The first of five sections of this 900 page novel, The Part About the Critics, follow four academics and their obsession with an illusive German author.  The scenes of academia are perfectly rendered and hysterically funny.  How removed from reality these critics are,  flying from conference to conference while the world moves around them, publishing and reading their papers, fighting their internecine battles, walking, taking, eating, making love.  Yet there are hints of darkness everywhere.  An artist’s self mutilation, the beating of a cab driver, those very creepy dreams.

In the end the critics follow their mysterious author to a border town in northern Mexico, Santa Theresa,  (based on the real town Ciudad Juarez) where hundreds of young women have been murdered.  Somehow the horror of the murders skims over consciousness, escapes  notice, in the obsessive quest .  It is in the descriptions of the city itself that I felt the underlying horror.

I have other books to read, have set 2666 aside for a bit but have to make an effort not to pick it up again.  I hope those taking part in this read-a-long are enjoying it as much as I am.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Review

18 responses to “2666 – The Part About The Critics – Roberto Bolano – Chile

  1. I’ve seen word about this read-a-long on Jackie’s website and I have to hand it to all of you. I’ve got enough chunksters hanging around my pile. But I am thoroughly enjoyed the reviews from you all. Excellent review by the way!

    • Sandy – Thanks! I don’t know that I would have started 2666 on my own for quite a while and it is great reading along with others!

  2. Great thoughts on Part One, Gavin! I’m glad you gave some attention to the translator – the prose was so fluid and organic that I completely forgot that I was reading a translation! But it is remarkably well done.

    Like you, I’m interested to see how all of this evolves. I think the novel starts off with a prolonged bang (if that’s possible), and it will be interesting to see how Bolaño keeps the ball rolling. There definitely is something sinister at work, and I can’t wait to see where it all winds up.

    Also, I’ve updated my wrap-up post to include a link to this post.

    • Steph – I am really enjoying the fact that I am reading 2666 along with others. It is so much fun seeing everyone’s ideas about this monster of a book. Thanks for the link.

  3. It’s so satisfying to read another review that mentions the hilarity of this section! I was compulsively reading bits aloud to my partner throughout Parts 1 & 2 of the book. That bizarre part about the mug-manufacturing company??? So. Funny.

    Really good evocation of the rest of the mood, too. I share your aversion to bandwagons in general, but luckily, until recently I’ve been removed enough from the press & media that I’d never heard of this novel until Claire mentioned it! Anyway, great review & I’m glad we both hopped on this particular wagon. :-)

  4. Gavin, so glad to hear you’re enjoying this thus far! There’s certainly an addictive quality to Bolaño’s prose–oddly enough, it sometimes reminds me of certain curry dishes where I can’t quite identify all the spices involved but know there’s *something* in there which keeps me coming back for more. Please pardon the unfortunate food parallel, by the way!

  5. Thanks to all of you, I know want to read a 900 pages book. You’re all terrible influences :P But your favourite of the year! How can I resist, especially knowing how similar your taste and mine tend to be?

    • Nymeth – 2666 is like a wild ride. I want to stay on and I want to get off at the same time. I know I will have to read it again after this first run.

  6. I totally agree with you about not wanting to read a book that’s been hyped in the media. But “2666” is definitely a case where the attention is justified!

    I love your take on The Part About the Critics. You picked up on a few things I hadn’t considered, such as the critics’ isolation in their own little tower of academia, and how violence and madness are still able to seep in. Great post – I just finished the second book and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  7. Gavin, I just linked to you. :) I’m so glad to see a lot of us really loving Bolaño’s writing, but your statement about his writing being magic: my sentiments exactly. I really feel, too, it’s going to be an all-time favourite, which is why I’m too scared to be let down by the next remaining parts.

    I’m glad you mentioned Natasha Wimmer, too. She truly deserves praise, too, as she did such an amazing job.

    And thank you for the Ciudad Juarez link. I have been so ignorant that I didn’t know about that. This has certainly cast a more positive light to me about the violence in this book. Thanks sooo much! Excellent post! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Part 2!

  8. In rereading your post, Gavin, I just realized that we both used the term “hysterically funny” to describe certain aspects of Bolaño’s writing. I hope you don’t have a copyright on those two words because you definitely beat me to the punch!

    On Santa Teresa/Ciudad Juárez, there’s at least one great (non-fiction) book out on the killings: Sergio González Rodríguez’ “Huesos en el desierto” (“Bones in the Desert”). This guy is/was a reporter who investigated the real-life crimes several years back, and Bolaño was impressed enough with his work to make him a character in a later part of “2666.” Don’t know if that book is available in English yet, but it might be worth looking into for any of your readers interested in the background to some of the horrors that Bolaño approaches through fiction.

    • Richard – Bolano’s writing is “hysterical”, from my dictionary – behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess – I find it astounding and, no, I don’t have a copyright, the word just fits.

      I just finished Part Two, it felt like a roller coaster, I wanted to stay on and get off at the same time. I can’t find “Huesos en el desierto” in English. Damn. I guess I need to get serious about learning to read Spanish. Thanks for your comments!

  9. Lu

    I agree! I wanted to gobble it up too, it was so hard not moving on to the next section. I’m glad to know you’re loving it – I am too!

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