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Customer Review

132 of 151 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bolaño's Masterpiece - "a steaming cup of peyote.", November 11, 2008
This review is from: 2666: A Novel (Hardcover)
According to Mrs. Bubis, wife of publisher Mr. Bubis, one of the only people alive that knew Benno von Archimboldi, "how well anyone could really know of another person's work?"

Reading "2666" by Roberto Bolaño, I feel the same way. It has been quite a journey for the English reader with a talent of his kind. From "By Night in Chile" to the chilling "Romantic Dogs," (which I finished a week before this novel) to "2666," one of Bolaño's "longer" works, preceded by the fantastic "Savage Detectives."

Much has been written (and will be) concerning this novel (see the great reviews, beginning with the one in the New York Times). In short, and without giving too much away, the story revolves around five intervals, which Bolano wanted to be released separately (in 5 year increments), involving a cast of characters as thick as the book itself. Part 1 (About the Critics) concerns four critics: Jean-Claude Pelletier from France, Manuel Espinoza from Spain, Piero Morini of Italy, and Liz Norton who, through their love of Archimboldi, come together and discuss and revel in the mysterious nature of the man. Part 2 (About Amalfitano) and Part 3 (About Fate) concerns a Chilean college professor, Amalfitano, and his dealings with his daughter and a strange geometry books; and an African-American, Quincy Williams aka Fate, who takes a assignment in Mexico covering a boxing match, which soon gets derailed due to his interest in the murders of the women detailed in the next chapter. Part 4 (About the Crimes) concerns the cornerstone of the novel, the parts tying all these people together: the murders of women, detailed by Bolaño, in the city of Santa Teresa (Cuidad Juárez) in the Sonora Desert in Northern Mexico on the US border. Part 5 (About Archimboldi) gives the final insights into our characters and ends the novel much as we began.

With Bolaño, it is the manner of his story-telling that wins him fans as well as enemies. In "2666," he pushes the boundaries that he may have placed on himself before his death in 2003. My favorite passage, in which Liz Norton realizes the genius of Archimboldi, gives you a sense of his style, if you have not read him before. This could also sum up how some readers felt reading Bolaño their first time they tried to pay attention:

"It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like a grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their comprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote."

His style is attractive and inviting (although for some the large blocks of text and absence of quotations is a turn off) and the story itself is superb. If this was unfinished. If this novel was not how Bolaño envisioned or felt represented him, help us all what a complete "2666" would look like. Nevertheless, this is Bolaño's masterpiece. The hype is for real.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 30, 2008 5:10:28 AM PST
Thank you for this. I especially appreciate the fact that you went on to discuss (and demonstrate) the style and layout of the book, which are indeed things that might normally put me off, had not your opening paragraphs been so inviting. Forewarned is forearmed!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2008 5:05:58 PM PST
M. Jantz says:
The passage you reference was quite moving for me as well (particularly the bit about the droplets sliding up, rather than down). I also find Amilfitano's description of the academic literary system in Mexico (toward the end of Part 1) equally amazing.

Posted on Jan 5, 2009 2:16:26 PM PST
Erstwhile says:
Yes, 2666 is a masterpiece. Its existence is proof that fine writing is alive and well. I wish Bolano had lived - for selfish reasons: so he could write more and more books. What a loss.

Set aside some time when you get 2666. Call in sick. Send your kid to day care. Lay in food and drink and turn off the phone. This is the real thing and you won't put it down.

Posted on Feb 16, 2009 7:36:24 PM PST
very interesting

Posted on Mar 24, 2009 6:38:07 AM PDT
Partly because of your recommendation, I have now read the book (and reviewed the three-volume edition). Your quotation that so amazed me still does, but I now realize that the majority of Bolaño's style is a lot more straightforward. Unlike Joyce (whom he sometimes resembles), he doesn't need to be clever ALL the time!

Posted on May 18, 2009 5:09:03 PM PDT
Sasha in SF says:
Have you tried Peyote? Perhaps you should. My experience was a lot more interesting and enlightening than reading this novel.

Posted on Jun 10, 2009 12:54:23 PM PDT
D. E Hart says:
Daniel, you spent half of your review retelling what happens in the book. I liked this book a lot, I cansee how someone wuld say it is a writers book. I enjoyed it thuroughly. Many stories within stories, and mnay cross references.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 14, 2010 7:49:40 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 14, 2010 7:51:09 PM PDT
I am inclined to agree with Sasha. I did not find the book to be interesting or enlightening. I found the book's lack of redeeming characters, connecting story line, meaningful insights, and theme to be extremely disappointing. There were hundreds of mini-stories and, yes, a handful were interesting, but this smattering cannot make up for this over indulgent behemoth of a "novel" -- if it can be called that in light of its lack of structure or plot. As for the value of the prose itself, I suppose that truly is in the eye of the reader. The passage quoted by Daniel (above) is, from my point of view, exactly the type of obtuse prose with no point or beauty that makes the book so clumsy and inartful.

Tellingly, despite the hype about this book (which was largely the result of the publisher trying to cash in on the death of the author), its sales dropped off precipitously. Even hype cannot rescue a novel with no story or point or worthwhile characters . . . .

Posted on Jul 30, 2010 2:24:03 PM PDT
B. Brunton says:
I am very much enjoying this book. But the excerpt that Daniel has chosen is not at all emblematic of Bolaño's style. His prose rarely makes use of that level of description and poetry. It was important that he did so at that point in the novel in order to show Norton's motivation. I wish he focused his magnifying glass more often in that manner. His brush strokes are rarely as detailed.

I honestly believe Bolaño to be more of a poet and short story writer than a novelist. Just beware, the book strays far from the traditional structures of a novel.
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