2666 by Roberto Bolaño

With 2666 Roberto Bolaño proves to be the ultimate writer’s writer.  He effortlessly weaves stories within stories within stories about characters that change and disappear by the page in locations across the globe.  He can give a person’s entire life history in a three page sidebar that has nothing to do with the central plot.  Despite at least half of the book being devoted to war, crime and murder, literature remains his central obsession.  Critics, scholars, journalists, plagiarists, geniuses and hacks all have equal place here. 

The first three sections of the book are engaging and almost fun in a way that is unique to Bolaño, filled with talk of travel, food, wine and books.  The fourth section with its endless, procedural recounting of the grisly murders in Santa Theresa made it difficult to get through but when looking back remains the most vivid.  This section also explored similar territory as David Fincher’s Zodiac and Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder two films that were included in my Top 50 of the Decade list.  The last section was my least favorite, delving too far into fantasy and taking away from some of the earlier sections well-painted precision but overall each section serves a purpose and adds something unique to the greater sum.      

Perhaps because of the efficiency of his writing Bolaño remains deceptively simple. His plotlines move themselves forward, despite his many distractions, and within them he is able to explore ideas of exile, identity and anonymity, travel, crime and murder.

“Exile must be a terrible thing,” said Norton sympathetically.
“Actually,” said Amalfitano, “now I see it as a natural movement, something that, in its way, helps to abolish fate, or what is generally thought of as fate.”
“But exile,” said Pelletier, “is full of inconveniences, of skips and breaks that essentially keep recurring and interfere with anything you try to do that’s important.”
“That’s just what I mean by abolishing fate,” said Amalfitano. 

He’s unafraid of including the mundane and far more concerned with creating an impression than writing the perfect sentence.  He will never be the most quotable author but I was impressed by the challenge he set forth for himself in this prolific and highly ambitious piece that consumed the last five years of his life and was completed literally from his deathbed.  Keeping that in mind it is easy to find veiled personal messages and double meanings within a book that feels very much like a man recounting all the things that have shaped his life; thoughts and experiences, places visited and meals eaten, the many books and other artistic reference points.  I can’t help but imagine how it might have been different had he lived longer but a post-script from his editor assures that it was almost completely finished at the time of his death.  As with Bolaño’s other work there is a feeling of reward and a pleasant resonance that remains afterward, inviting you to return.  Perhaps the surest sign of a great writer – the ability to inspire your reader to believe that there is always more to find. 

Sometimes, after they’d done the shopping, they would stop, each with his or her cart, in front of a bookstore that carried the paperback edition of his book.  His wife would point to it and say: you’re still there.  Invariably, he would nod and then they would continue browsing the mall stores.  Did he know her or didn’t he?  He knew her, of course he did, it was just that sometimes reality, the same little reality that served to anchor reality, seemed to fade around the edges, as if the passage of time had a porous effect on things, and blurred and made more insubstantial what was itself already, by its very nature, insubstantial and satisfactory and real.

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