Ademption's Reviews > 2666

2666 by Roberto Bolaño
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's review
May 26, 2008

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bookshelves: novels, spanish-literature
Read in May, 2009

** spoiler alert **

Instructions for reading:

If you want the short version read Part I, then Part V.

If you like what you read and want more, read Part II, then III.

If you are looking for punishment and a reason to quit, head to Part IV.


Part I-III were engaging. I enjoyed the quotidian sketches punctuated by beautiful writing about commonplace tragedies. Bolaño was definitely a David Lynch fan. His characters even reference their favorite Lynch films in Part III.

2666 is a distinctly Mexican Blue Velvet (1986): There is a darkness lurking under the sunny veneer of the desert sand, pulquerias, and taco stands of Santa Teresa. The darkness has something to do with the cannibalizing maquiladoras, eating up the energy of industrious Mexicans. Not only do these sweatshops grind people up in the long-run, serial killers roam outside hoping to rape and kill female factory workers any old time.

Bolaño keeps the darkness at a distance in Part I ( 3 of 5 stars ), as the action centers around a group of European literature professors who have mild relationship quandaries. Their love triangle is only fractionally set in Santa Teresa. These campus-novel characters only hear about the dreadful murders, resolve their silly affairs, and return to Europe, namedropping real and fictional cultural personalities the entire way.

In each subsequent section, we are brought closer to the darkness. In Part II ( 4 of 5 stars ), a disturbed literature professor makes what he thinks is a lateral move to Santa Teresa University. He quickly realizes he has committed career suicide. His despair is fed by the pointless undercurrent of violence he senses in the town. He quietly becomes unhinged. The darkness becomes a malaise instead of a third-hand report.

Part III ( 3 of 5 stars ) concerns a sports journalist who comes to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match, and learns of the murders. He immediately wants to do an exposé that no one is interested in buying. He meets some unsavory characters, and realizes he has stumbled upon a Lynchian orgy of neurotic excess that will end in murder. So, he flees the tangled web of weirdness before it gets weirder.

Part IV ( 1 of 5 stars ) is punishment, as if this portion of the novel is an Andy Kaufman-esque joke on the audience. Since Bolaño cannot impress the full horror of 200+ tortured and murdered Mexican women -murders that no one seems interested in solving- upon his readers, he bludgeons his frivolous, bourgeoisie readers with 200+ police reports. Perhaps Bolaño resolved that he couldn't write horror, so decided to write insufferable.

The female victims are mostly maimed and raped. The only variables that change are their clothing, age, stage of decomposition, and in which part of the desert they were hastily disposed. For 300 pages. Vignettes involving police officers and foreigners flash to the surface, and go nowhere. Gangsters and whores make cameos, but they don't stick either.

There is neither horror nor absurdities, just an arid catalogue of wounds and body metadata; not counting the sleazy 3-page asides that lead only to disappointment. This section reminds me of CSI's lack of plot arcs. Reading Part IV is like watching CSI without Grisom, in the desert with discarded wire and chalk instead of gadgets. Without career expertise and faux-technical wizardry, each episode revels in gore and culminates in a failure to solve this week's murder. The sun sets. The Mexicans sigh.

Part V ( 4.5 of 5 stars ) is great, more measured and calmer than the other novels. It is biography of a German writer and his family. Many of the fragments in Part IV and other strands loop masterfully together. Events come full circle, and the last 40 pages are amazing. The book ends abruptly. I now want to reread a few portions of each novel again for better clarity, knowing how the books and the major characters fit together.

The closest novel to 2666 is Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. Cortázar wrote Hopscotch so that by reading any combination of chapters, the reader can restructure the novel in surprising ways and make new connections. Bolaño took this experiment a step further and wrote 5 stand-alone but intersecting novels that can be read in any order. They are interlinked by Santa Teresa (a fictional cypher for Ciudad Juárez), the city's serial murders, and a large cast of characters. Viewing relationships from different viewpoints reveal more interconnections. Sorry that this last paragraph is vague, but I don't want to spoil Part V. It makes 2666 worth reading, and redeems portions of the interminable Part IV.
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Reading Progress

11/28/2008 page 30
03/18/2009 page 666
74.16% "OMFG: Part IV for will never end."
03/18/2009 page 566
63.03% "Got a bit overzealous there. Not even quite that far." 1 comment
03/22/2009 page 640
71.27% "Part V!"
05/14/2009 page 878
97.77% "Oh damn. It just got good. Maybe redeemably good. All of the diseparate bits are coming together, and making sense in the last 20 pages."
08/02/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, Evan... You really made me glad I put this book aside.

Lisa the struggle of part IV is real. Good to know part V will be more like part I, because I really loved the first part. Thanks for your review!

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