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.