Book Review: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (2004)

Release: 2004 (Spanish) 2008 (English)

I wasn’t sure how to classify 2666 in this years list. Roberto Bolaño is Chilean, but the book was published in Spain and the story takes place largely in Mexico. Ultimately I sided with Chile for the origins as that was likely the most influential culture to Roberto Bolaño’s development as a writer. It also leaves me more room to read additional Spanish books in this reading challenge. This book seems to be largely raved about, and I was hesitant to pick it up due to its size. Finding it at an English bookshop for 400 yen was a good enough deal that I decided to give it a shot. 2666 became a project unto itself taking me roughly five months of on and off reading to get through it. Now that I’ve finished I will admit that novel is an impressive and strange journey, but I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it.

The novel is split into 5 separate parts, each focusing on a different set of characters (with some shared characters), and each relating in some way to the murders of 300 women in Santa Teresa, Mexico. For much of the novel, the murders seem like an unseen piece of news. Much like they would be for any of us seeing them on the news. They never seem to connect or get to close to our characters, but exist rather as a senseless act going in the background, with no real impact on our protagonists’ lives. But with each story the murders get closer. The seem more dangerous and more looming. Each story puts us with people less removed from the crimes, and with it they seem to become more and more ominous. More and more real. The one thing that never changes is that they always seem horrible and completely without reason. I read through the novel hoping to find reason, but much like real life it never came.

I think one theme that becomes apparent when reading part 4 is the shear number of deaths. Part four reads like a snippet of each woman killed, of each and every crimes, but there are so many that soon blur together and lose their impact. This is important to the story as it shows that travesties far removed from us have this effect. They become background noise, of shamefully little importance. It is like the old saying that one death is a tragedy, but a thousand deaths is a statistic. This book hammers that saying down hard. Reading a few hundred pages of nothing but details about rapes and murders, without rhyme or reason, is difficult. One must become a little numb to the tragedy just to work through it.

The last section focuses on the author Archimboldi’s life. It again ties to murders loosely at the end, but seems to be a closer examination of the senseless killing found in war. This appears to be a close comparison, showing their shared brutality and lack of sense. The war has a disguise of reason, for some, but is ultimately just as cruel. Bolano uses this portion of the novel to establish another theme, that from horrible suffering comes great art. He seems to suppose that art without struggle isn’t worth your time. While I don’t completely agree with this sentiment, I can appreciate the point he is trying to make.

The book is a masterpiece in its own right. It mixes moments of fascination and excitement with complete boredom. For me the connections were too thin, and the book was too long with too little reward. I would only recommend it for the most hardy of readers. Roberto Bolaño died during the writing process, and many argue that 2666 remains unfinished. I’m not sure I agree, but I hope that they are right. I wanted more from the end, I wanted more closure to the senseless violence, but maybe that was the point. Sometimes violence doesn’t make sense. For it’s length, there wasn’t enough there, so I’d only give it 3 of 5 stars.

35 Novels from 35 Countries

  1. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (United Kingdom)
  2. We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen (Denmark)
  3. The River Between by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Kenya)
  4. The Stranger by Albert Camus (France)
  5. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño (Chile)

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