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 2666 by Roberto Bolano

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PostSubject: 2666 by Roberto Bolano   Sat Sep 17, 2011 9:03 pm

I have read numerous reviews of this book and each one has something entirely different and fresh to say. It is a novel that never really ends with the closing of its pages. In fact, it only really begins once you put it down.

The novel is in five parts, each one is fairly standalone. The first part concerns four critics and their shared love and obsession with a mysterious Pynchon-like German novelist, Benno von Archimboldi. All they know about him is that he was a soldier during the Second World War and fought in the Eastern Front. By chance they meet someone who had positively identified Archimboldi in the Mexican border city of Santa Teresa. Three of the four critics head out there in search of their hero. Whilst in Santa Teresa they encounter the mentally unstable Philosophy professor, and fellow Archimboldian, Oscar Amalfitano.

The next part then tells the story of Oscar Amalfitano and the events that led to him moving to Santa Teresa and the beginning of his mental illness. It becomes clear from the opening pages of the second part that Amalfitano has a daughter; however she is neither seen nor mentioned in part one. Amalfitano fears for her safety and it is in this fear that we first hear a whisper of things to come. The only mystery that is solved in this part is the geometry book, which is found hanging from a clothes line in part one.

The third part is probably the most accessible and probably the most compulsive reading. It tells the story of Quincy Williams, nicknamed Oscar Fate, for reasons not explained in the novel. Fate is grieving for the loss of his mother and soon discovers that the sports writer for the African-American civil rights magazine he works for has been murdered right before he was due to report on a boxing match in Santa Teresa. Fate has no choice but to report on the match himself, even though he has very little knowledge of boxing and has even less interest in the game. While in Santa Teresa, Fate soon hears about the high number of female murders that have occurred in the city. Fate soon finds himself pulled into the world of violence and crime that Santa Teresa seems only to offer. Fate eventually escapes and we soon learn of the fate of Amalfitano’s daughter.

The fourth part is the most difficult and it is here that the earlier mentioned whisper becomes a full blown scream. It is an often forensic account of the police, political and personal responses to the murders of young factory workers in the city of Santa Teresa. There are no reoccurring characters from previous parts and therefore we are left alone in the grim and cruel heart of Santa Teresa. There are a number of plots and stories that tell the reader of the world these women are living and dying in. It is the longest and certainly the most difficult to read. There are a number of people who have a desire to solve the crimes, but they’re often railroaded by red tape or political brick walls. Unlike most serial killer novels 2666 does not offer any explanations nor does it attempt to solve the crimes.

The fifth and final part is about the mysterious writer from part one, Benno von Archimboldi. His real name was Hans Reiter and he was the son of a one-legged Prussian soldier and a one-eyed mother. The final section tells the story of his entire life, from his fighting in the Eastern front in World War Two to his being a contender for the Nobel Prize for literature. Archimboldi is essentially a man who has achieved in spite of terrible odds, and has endured heartbreak and terror his whole life. He is not an easy person to like, but he is very easy to respect and admire. The reason for his decision to leave Europe and travel to the volatile city of Santa Teresa when he was at such an old age becomes clear.

If 2666 is a novel without a hero, then it is quite frightening in that it contains, what in my opinion is, the greatest villain in literature. It isn’t a vampire, or a gangster or a grinning warlord, but is in fact an entire city, which seems to beckon people to its dangerous shores, much like the sirens to Odysseus. It is interesting then that Archimboldi’s story is an odyssey in itself; the journey of, possibly, the only man in the entire novel who has actually achieved something. Archimboldi may be a lost soul ready to be consumed by Santa Teresa or he may in fact be the hero it needs. Having faced the horrors of humanities abyss during World War Two, he seems all too ready to challenge it once more.

2666 is not an easy novel to get into and it is even harder to stick with. At just under nine hundred pages, 2666 is a major investment of anyone’s time, let alone a slow reader such as myself. For me it was worth the time and I look forward to rereading it someday soon.

The number 2666 does not appear anywhere in the novel; but it does appear in Amulet, a short novel by Bolano. In it one of the characters describes an abandoned Mexico City street as;

“A cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.”


It is an apocalyptic novel and yet hopeful. It has a grim menace with hilarity at every other corner. I especially like how Bolano steered away from the beautiful corpse scenario of so many other crime novels and stuck with the hard and very real facts of the case.

Obviously, death is ever present, and no more so than in the last few words of Archimboldi’s great love, Ingeborg as she gazed up at the stars;

All this light is dead," said Ingeborg. "All this light was emitted thousands and millions of years ago. It's the past, do you see? When these stars cast their light, we didn't exist, life on Earth didn't exist, even Earth didn't exist. This light was cast a long time ago. It's the past, we're surrounded by the past, everything that no longer exists or exists only in memory or guesswork is there now, above us, shining on the mountains and the snow and we can't do anything to stop it."

It is rumoured that Bolano refused a liver transplant just in case anything went wrong and he would die before he could complete the novel. Bolano lived long enough to complete the first draft and handed it to his publisher. In many ways he died to complete this novel. For a man, who once said he’d rather have been a detective than a writer, Bolano certainly left us with the torment of his obsession with the murders in Ciudad Juarez (the real-life counterpart of Santa Teresa) It is clear what Detective Bolano would have deduced from these murders had he have been in charge of the case, which he spent many years researching; he even allows one of his characters to utter the explanation out loud; “No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them” The dying Bolano could see that in Ciudad Juarez there lies the seed of an apocalypse which is being well nourished.
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PostSubject: Re: 2666 by Roberto Bolano   Sun Sep 25, 2011 1:31 pm

Sounds chilling, Ben. I'll have to check this out soon, you've got my interest piqued.
Thank you very much for reviewing!
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PostSubject: Re: 2666 by Roberto Bolano   Mon Sep 26, 2011 10:35 am

Very Happy Bolano's style is a tough one to stick with, but for me it was worth it. I hope you do get a chance to read it one day, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
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