2666 by Roberto Bolano
translated by Natasha Wimmer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008
Finishing the final part of 2666 has me imagining Roberto Bolano standing in the shadows, turning away and closing a door behind him. He is smiling, knowing he managed to get as much as he could into this novel before dying.
The Part About Archimboldi is stuffed with all the final thoughts Bolano wished to express. It is layered with family, friendship, love and human failing. It is a treatise on war and violence. It examines writing and publishing and contains a great love of books. It ends with a journey to Santa Teresa, wrapping the first four parts together and leaving me sad and sorrowful.
Parts of Archimboldi are beautiful. I loved the young Hans Reiter with his copy of Plants and Animals of the European Coastal Region. His delicate drawings of seaweeds and desire to swim under water.
Young Hans Reiter also liked to walk, like a diver, but he didn’t like to sing, for divers never sing. Sometimes he would walk east of town, along a dirt road through the forest, and he would come to the Village of the Red Men, where all they did was sell peat. If he walked farther east, the was the Village of the Blue Women, in the middle of a lake that dried up in summer. Both places looked like ghost towns, inhabited by the dead. Beyond the Village of the Blue Women was the Town of the Fat. It smelled bad there, like blood and rotting meat, a dense, heavy smell very different from the smell of his own town, which smelled of dirty clothes, sweat clinging to the skin, pissed-upon earth, which is a thin smell, a smell like Chorda filum.
I loved Hans’s observations and thoughts. He is like a sponge. Art and physics and music are woven through conversations Hans has with his friends and acquaintances. He leaves home, goes to war, commits a murder, discovers a notebook and carries it with him everywhere. His life is crammed with the history of western Europe during World War II. He seems so alone, even with friends and lovers.
The Part About Archimboldi is where I began to hear Bolano’s poetic voice. Is Reiter a mirror for Bolano, taking in the author whole and then shining him back at us? There are so many huge ideas and concepts in 2666 and what I come away with is a poet’s need to express what he sees, his skill with words, his anger and his rush to write down everything before he meets death.
I know there is so much more in this novel. This is the first time I have read Roberto Bolano. At times I felt overwhelmed. Parts of 2666 were easily accessible, others were daunting and call for a second read. I plan on reading his poetry and The Savage Detectives, and maybe revisiting 2666 agian.
I hold the last book in my hand, its pages are dog-eared and there is a pile of notes in front of me but I find I have nothing more to say. Maybe some distance will help.
It has been a great experience reading Roberto Bolano’s massive final novel along with so many wonderful people. I want to thank Claire and Steph for pulling this together. I do not think I would have finished the book on my own.