by Roberto Bolano
The last novel written by Roberto Bolano (The Savage Detectives) before his death in 2004, 2666 (recommended to me by a very astute colleague) is arguably the most ambitious, moving and compelling novel I've read since James Joyce's Ulysses. Like Joyce's work, 2666 is rife with underlying themes and hidden symbolism. (One critic has already suggested that the title, which is never referred to or mentioned in the book, is a reference to the biblical exodus from Egypt, which took place 2,666 years after the Creation, and is seen as a period of spiritual redemption.) 2666 is divided into five "books", titled "parts". Throughout the novel, there is a sense of mounting violence and terror, with the recurrent subplot of a series of murders of young women in the fictional Mexican town of Santa Teresa (possibly the real-life Ciudad Juarez), always present in the background (and coming to a head in Book Four). Here are brief summaries of the five books: The Part About The Critics focuses on four literary critics searching for the reclusive German novelist Benno von Archimboldi, which leads them to Santa Teresa. Along the way, the Critics begin to discover some troubling facts about themselves and each other. The Part About Amalfitano details the emotional and mental decline of a professor at the University of Santa Teresa (whom the Critics met in the previous book) and his concern over his daughter during the murder spree. The Part About Fate concerns an American journalist (nicknamed "Oscar Fate") sent to cover a boxing match who winds up getting involved in the murders and meeting Amalfitano's daughter. The Part About The Crimes is the most heartbreaking and, despite the flat, journalistic prose (which recounts an amazingly large number of murders in an omniscient point-of-view), emotionally stirring section of the novel. The reader feels an increasing sense of despair and hopelessness as we follow the detectives (and assorted interested parties) investigating the seemingly never-ending series of murders The Part About Archimboldi returns to the subplot of the first book, here recounting the life and experiences of Hans Reiter, a Prussian born in 1920, and his connection to both Archimboldi and the murders. In this final section, a tone of redemption begins to manifest itself, but just barely. To say anymore about Bolano's novel would ruin the experience that awaits the reader. 2666 is a stunning and powerful work that, despite a seemingly downbeat tone, ultimately rewards the reader with one of the richest literary experiences they'll ever have.
by Roberto Bolano