1001 Book Review: 2666 Roberto Bolano
I accidentally posted this review a few months ago when it was half finished. It took me a long time to finish writing up my section because it’s hard to review such a monster of a book (monster in length and heaviness of content). I finally got around to finishing my review. Book Worm and I reviewed it together and she was much better and wrapping up her review in a timely manner. Here’s what we thought about the book:
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
First published: 2008
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Find it here: 2666
Amazon synopsis: Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman—these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundreds of women have disappeared.
In the words of The Washington Post, “With 2666, Roberto Bolaño joins the ambitious overachievers of the twentieth-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes, and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand, if sometimes idiosyncratic, summation of their culture and the novelist’s place in it. Bolaño has joined the immortals.”
Book Worm’s review: ★★★
This novel is split into 5 distinct sections that were originally due to be published as separate books. I think the family made the right call after Bolano’s death of publishing it as one large novel as after reading the 1st section, my motivation to buy another book would have been low. As a whole book it was natural to keep reading.
While the 5 sections are distinct they are also interlinked and the issues raised in one section carry over to the next, although sometimes the links are hard to spot. This is not a book you can just pick up and breeze through without thinking. It’s the sort of book you need to concentrate on to appreciate both the writing and the author’s message.
This is a complicated novel and it promises so much which is why the ending (after nearly 900 pages of reading) was for me a let down. I wanted a big bang to end on, to tie things up, to explain, to make you go, “ahh that’s what it all meant.” Instead I got a fizzle, an ok so that was that link but what did the rest mean.
I enjoyed the book but for the amount of time invested I would have liked a bigger reward,
Roberto Bolaño is one of those authors who I consider to have been a true genius (Savage Detectives is one of my all time favorite books). While I didn’t always enjoy 2666, no one can deny the amazing talent required to produce this work. It won the National Book Critics award, was listed as the New York Times Book Review, Time Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, New York Magazine, and San Francisco Chronicle’s lists of best books of 2008.
As both Book Worm and the synopsis mention, the novel is comprised of 5 sections and each of these sections is distinct in tone, content, and style. It is no wonder that the original intent was for these 5 sections to be published as separate novels since they are essentially autonomous. I very much enjoyed the parts that were more “traditional” in terms of prose and style and enjoyed reading about the academics. In contrast, I did not enjoy reading the section about the series of rape-murders in Santa Teresa. This section was different stylistically, mimicking a series of newspaper articles but what was particularly challenging is that it read like a laundry list of crimes replete with all the sordid details. The last section brings us back to the academics we met in section one. The novel is frustrating in that it was unfinished and thus I understand BW saying that it “fizzled out for her.”
There is no question in my mind that 2666 is a work of true genius but it is challenging and certainly not a book everyone will enjoy. It’s raw and gritty at times and beautifully poetic at other times. I still much prefer the Savage Detectives to this book but I appreciated the intelligence and ability that shine through in this work. If you can, read it in Spanish. Language matters in this book. Names of characters mean things in Spanish. For example one police recruit is named “Lalo Cura.” “Cura” means priest in spanish and when you say both names together quickly it is the Spanish word “crazy.” These terms have meaning for the progression of the story and who that character is supposed to be.
Want to try to for yourself? You can find a copy here: 2666