Roberto Bolano’s 2666

I meant to review Roberto Bolano’s 2666 about two years ago. Then my son borrowed my copy and kept it for a while. That he was in law school explains why he had it for two years. That it’s 893 pages long goes a long way toward explaining why it took me four weeks to finish. It’s not an easy book, either. Each of the five parts is an entity unto itself (Bolano had wanted them published separately); yet together they are one story, and in the end one mystery is solved–why “the critics” felt the author with whom they are obsessed, Benno Von Archimboldi, was closeby in the town of Santa Teresa, Mexico, even though they couldn’t find him. (This is not a spoiler.) The other mysteries are not solved. Some characters move from section to section; others–ones in fact with whom the reader gets involved–disappear or, in a couple of places, die. The 4th section, “The Part About the Crimes,” is astonishing. Women are being murdered at an unusual rate in Santa Teresa, and section four describes body after body until the reader is almost numb to the horror (which is the point, of course). But in the middle of this section is a lyrical piece about a number of women named Maria Espisoto, each the victim of rape, each giving birth to a daughter of that name. Eventually there is a son, who becomes a police officer assigned to some of the murder cases. Why spend five pages on characters who float back into the type after a mention? I go to the epitaph, a line by Charles Baudelaire: “An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom.” Bolano provides rivulets of beauty and grace that make the dessert bloom and mask some of the horror. Other ways 2666 is amazing: each section is written in a slightly different style; the characters are always so well drawn and intense. This isn’t a book for everyone, in fact for most people. It is long. It does not follow a linear narrative path. There are tons of characters, as in a Dickens novel, but Bolano sticks with them longer and makes them less quirky than was Dickens’s habit, so the reader has to keep track. Emotionally this book is brutal. The reader needs a lot of patience and a certain detachment to accept that some of the most involving subplots just end without being resolved. You’ll have questions. For instance, I still have only the vaguest idea about the meaning of the title. But I don’t care much about that. (Clicking on the image will take you to the Barnes & Noble site where you can purchase the book.)