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2666 by Roberto Bolaño
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Jun 24, 09


James Wood, in *How Fiction Works,* asks “Can we reconcile the author’s perceptions and language with the character’s perceptions and language?” In posing this question, Wood is pointing to a significant conundrum for current authors: what he calls the “risky tautology inherent in…contemporary writing.” In *The Savage Detectives,* Bolaño addresses this issue of tautology through two contrasting narrative styles: the sycophantic journal entries of a young poet and the stark, bureaucratic interview transcripts of the so-called detectives, which dominate the bulk of the text and, despite the purposeful coldness of the format, deftly incorporate the sundry voices of the interviewees.

In *2666,* this tautological issue is dealt with in grander, farther-reaching, and more diverse ways. Bolaño writes what are essentially five separate novellas—in fact, there is still conjecture as to whether Bolaño intended for these to published separately. Each novella/part is concerned with disparate characters whose only connections to those that dominate the other parts are their (often merely associative) ties to the murderous events in Santa Teresa—that and the narrative voice. For while the separate sections of *2666* contain shifting narratives—ranging from the academic (“The Part About the Critics”) to the scientific (“The Part About the Murders”; reminiscent of Part II of *The Savage Detectives*) to the astonishingly realist (“The Part About Archimboldi”), a section that, at times, recalls the zany grandeur and beauty of *Gravity’s Rainbow,* in all it’s war-torn fragmentation—the narrative voice, in all its permutations, is singular.

In the “Note to the First Edition,” Ignacio Echevarria references a remark that Bolaño scribbled in one of his drafts claiming that Arturo Belano is the narrator of *2666.* Belano has served as Bolaño’s authorial alter ego in numerous writings dating back to his earliest works, and he is the closest instance we have of being able to inculcate Bolaño within the text of *2666.* The physical evidence, though, of Belano’s presence in the novel itself is confined to a few scattered instances. However, the constancy of the narrative voice, seems the most substantial testament to Bolaño’s note, and, while the narrative voice oscillates in style at times, is overextended in places, and breaks down at others (“What did they live on? Probably, Archimboldi…turned to petty theft” [italics mine:]), this overall constancy is desperately needed in order to grasp such a fractured, enormous tale.

Through all of these characters, geographies, murders, and devastations, and over the course of nearly a thousand pages, Bolaño hammers away at one question: how close can one tread to the abyss—in an act of desperate, imperative confrontation—without going mad, without being swallowed-up? The answer seems to lie in how well one can combat boredom, a point to which Bolaño clues us in right away in the epigraph from Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.” Throughout this massive, masterful text—one that painstakingly explores post-modern ennui and excess—*2666* unravels its five books, in which the dominant characters of each successive Part creep closer to the edge of abyss—some shuffle backwards towards it, blindly; some lose their mind in the face of it; some tumble right down into the depths; some confront and flirt, toeing the precipice again and again. Bolaño even puts the reader to the test in “The Part About the Murders” by describing each murder victim in the cold, scientific detail of a post-mortem report, drawn out over three-hundred pages, with only a few less-grotesque digressions to vary the flow of the “test.” He seems to expect one of two outcomes: either the reader gives-up (either skipping ahead or giving up on the work entirely), or the reader prevails and, by the end of the section, finds these horrifying murders a bit boring, something they just learn to live with—as many of the citizens of Santa Teresa have done. Either outcome seems to reinforce Bolaño’s (and Baudelaire’s) point: the whole of boredom is a horrifying species.

For an enormous discourse on boredom, *2666* is anything but. The accomplishment of this massive, masterful work will serve only to reinforce, if not aggrandize, Bolaño’s reputation—cult as well as literary. Without looking to past generations of writers, it is hard to define Bolaño’s peers, for, presently, no one else seems to be up to the task of mapping the literary and intellectual terrain that he spent his life—literary and otherwise—exploring. It is almost a shame that *The Savage Detectives* garnered so many awards, not because that text was undeserving (quite the contrary), but rather Bolaño’s final effort is even more deserving of the accolades. *2666* is nothing if not a testament to the mad, unique voice of Bolaño—a worthy legacy. A visionary’s last great vision.
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