This is another entry in “The Mind of Dwayne Hoover”. If you’re wondering what that means, check out the introductory post for a full list of entries in this series. Enjoy!
First of all, this is a bit of an imposing novel. It’s long, it’s convoluted, and, other than the five books it’s comprised of, there aren’t really any stopping points. I started reading this around the new year and due to my focus on other things I didn’t finish it until early March. There was a significant chunk of time where I didn’t read at all, so when I say I had trouble keeping the whole story in my head, that is probably part of the problem. 2666 is the masterpiece of Roberto Bolaño, who died while in the final stages of preparing it for publication. It revolves around the town of Santa Teresa, in northern Mexico, where, for years now, dozens of women have been murdered. Law enforcement has had no successs stopping or solving the crimes. For ong stretches of the book, you wouldn’t know this of course, because the narrative is following some literary scholars on their pursuit of reclusive German author Benno von Achimboldi, or it’s following a New York reporter covering his first boxing match, or Archimboldi himself through World War II. Did I mention this book is imposing with a lot going on?
As I mentioned above, the novel is divided into five separate books. Apparnetly Bolaño wanted to sell each of the five as separate novels, but upon reading them I have to agree with the publishers who combined them into one whole. Even though the parts can be read in nearly any order (which is really cool, I’m actually excited to re-read this at some point in a different order), they intertwine and support each other book to create the entire story. Actually the ability (or inability) to see the entire story is part of the narrative itself. The title supposedly refers to the year 2666, a date which is never mentioned in the novel. Instead it represents the perspective of the reader/narrator who has had time to collect all these stories and assemble them, even though there are unkown things about each of the characters that can never be explained regardless of how much perspective one has.
In contrast to the narrator, the characters struggle through the novel completely unable to know any of the entire story they are part of. The literary scholars fly to Mexico to find Archimboldi based on a rumor of his whereabouts, without really knowing what it is they’re looking for. The reporter spends considerable time researching, interviewing, and gathering information about a Mexican heavyweight challenger who goes down early in the first round. The entire fourth book “The Part About the Crimes” was the most difficult of the books to read, a seemingly endless recounting of the murders without any meaningful breakthroughs for the characters struggling against them.
The story isn’t ever straightforward, and there are digressions galore in all of the books. Fortunately, Bolaño is a fantastic storyteller, and I willingly followed him down each digression. I already mentioned that I plan on rereading this one, and I would certainly read other novels of his. A lament from the novel:
What a paradox, … now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unkown. They want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrrifies us all, that somthing that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.
I feel like this is Bolaño’s pre-emptive strike against criticism of this expansive work, and I’m glad I took this on. I’m not sure that I emerged victorious, but it was certainly an interesting and entertaining struggle.