Thursday, 11 February 2010

Book: 2666 by Roberto Bolano

Either there are going to be a lot more posts on this one, or hardly any. It's a GIANT. Now, I like big books, but only big books that I like. If you know what I mean. And speaking from pg 137, where I am, I'm not sure I like this one.

It tells the story of four academics who are all interested in a German writer called Archimboldi. We learn all about his books, their papers on the themes in his books, etc etc, but the bulk of the story (so far anyway) is about these four attempting to uncover more about the writer's personal life. He hasn't been seen in years, and no one knows where he lives, how he looks, or anything about him; at best they hear snippets from people who may have met someone who might have been him. I'm becoming extremely suspicious that Archimboldi is ye-olde-time-honoured-metaphor for human meaning.

All the contradictory stories about him, and the earnestness with which the four search, are I suspect supposed to be amusing, in a sort of high-brow, aren't we post-modern, watch me have fun with your expectations of plot kind of way. I have to say, it's not killing me so far.

There are some truly fantasic parts. Like, early on, "If violition is bound to social imperatives, as William James believed, and it's therefore easier to go to war than it is to quit smoking, one could say that Liz Norton was a woman who found it easier to quit smoking than to go to war" Love it. Very interesting.

Or this. It's from a section where two of the academics are discussing the fact that they seem to have both fallen in love with a third. "The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times. Liz Norton's name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight. The word love was spoken twice, once by each man. The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times. The word solipsism seven times. The word euphemism ten times. The word category, in the singular and in the plurual, nine times. The word structuralism, once (Pelletier). The term American literature three times. The words dinner or eating or breakfast or sandwich nineteen times. The words eyes or hands or hair fourteen times." You get the idea.

There's also a great section about exile being useful because it destroys fate.

But I'm finding it hard to get into, overall. Like, this love triangle: he sort of tells us about it, but at sort of one remove; so for example all the characters are referred to by their last names all the time. It's like reading the outline of a soap opera sometimes: salacious and dull at the same time. There are also LOTS of dream sequences, apparently quite unrelated to anything else. I was very virtuous and read the first five or six, but am now skipping them. I'm persevering because this is one of those books with two pages of quotations from reviews, and not just "I liked it" but "the first novel of the twenty first century" "Bolano has redefined the novel" "a stupendous achievement." Now, I'm always very suspicious any time the novel has been redefined that it's all going to be word games and dream sequences, and we see I was half right - but let's keep trying. Say like page 200, and make a judgement then as to whether to keep going?


I started reading this book in the glorious pre-pandemic days of one week ago when COVID was some Chinese problem.   It begins as a medi...