National Book Critics Circle, Fiction, 2009
Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño’s life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of Santa Teresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.
©2004 the heirs of Roberto Bolaño; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
This winner of the 2008 National Book Critics' Circle Award for Fiction is the master work from "one of the greatest and most influential modern writers" (James Wood, New York Times Book Review)
"...think of David Lynch, Marcel Duchamp (both explicitly invoked here) and the Bob Dylan of Highway 61 Revisited, all at the peak of their lucid yet hallucinatory powers." (Janet Maslin, New York Times)
"It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one." (Publishers Weekly, starred review)
Bola?o's ambition in this book is matched only by the breadth and depth of his achievement: he makes us think as seriously as a human being can about how much, and which, details of our experience matter to us, and ought to matter. (The figure of the detective appears in many guises throughout the book, as does the question of what's worth looking for, and how.) If what *you* look for in a novel is a relentlessly forward-moving plot, then you are likely to find 2666 frustrating and boring. But if you are willing to follow Bola?o blindly (and the question of what it is to have and use eyes is also a motif throughout the narrative), you may find your sense of the world, in both its vertiginous vastness and its banality, transformed.
Each narrator handles one of the five "parts" of the book, and each has a singular reading style. All but the one who does Part III -- a man who seems not to have figured out how to convey the tone of Bola?o's writing -- are wonderful.
This is the best book I read or listened to in 2009. The readers are very good, John Lee especially. Please don't be discouraged by the several negative reviews below. Most of these people gave up pretty early on, and the book is actually divided into five parts, each a short novel of its own.
To be fair to all those people who wrote negative reviews below (or by the time you read this, above) this one: Reading is like running, and there are all kinds of readers--sprinters, joggers, middle- and long-distance types...this book is definitely not a sprint, and it's not a casual jog, either, and you should be told that before you start. But I hope you go this distance anyway.
As the title suggests, 2666 is abstract and mysterious. The narrative is dark and unapologetically weird, but each character is crafted with such care that what could be a very intimidating story becomes addictive within just the first few chapters. It's definitively a great book - just look at the reviews - but it's even better in audio. The story is told by several fantastic narrators, each of whom read aloud a specific part that highlights their skill and personality. If you’re still not convinced, the book is 39 hours and at just one credit it's perfect for a road trip!
Best audiobook I have read so far on Audible, but probably not for everyone. If you look for a straight story with straight answers avoid this meditation on death, artist-ship, cruelty and beauty. Not so much a story as a complex pattern of stories it spans so many characters, periods and places one would easily lose bearing had it not been for Bolanos clear and distinct prose.
Someone, I don't know who it was, said that the difference between a piece of genre fiction and a literary novel is that, in literary novels, the author gives you far more detail than you need as a reader. What you make of that excess of detail then determines whether you are a literary reader or not.
There are truly great things about this book. Although the meta-narrative voice stays true, its five parts each offer a very different narrative style. I'm not going to bother with a synopsis, because other reviewers have done this, but it moves from quirky, cosy satire to grim documentary realism to modern historical fiction.
For me, it was mostly a story about death and the humorous, tragic, poignant or obsessive strategies we use to put it off. We're all treading water. Whether one distracts oneself focused on the ludicrously esoteric (the part about the critics), or by living through one's child (The Part about Amalfitano), or by allowing oneself to be carried up on the chaos of events (The Part about Fate), or by hovering close to the edge of death itself and living within its shadow (The Part about the Crimes), or by ccupying oneself with the act of narration (The Part about Archimboldi), I think Bolaño wrote a book about the ways people put off death. Which makes sense, since he was dying while he wrote it. "Thanatos," says Bolaño in the last part of the book, "is the greatest tourist on earth."
There are a lot of sparkling moments of truth in this novel. The one I feel I will carry away with me most durably is that, in our relationship with our societies, there is a strange tipping point - a moment triggered by a collision of dire circumstances - at which, individually, alterity stops being a delight, an adventure, a richness of life's tapestry, and seems to become a mortal threat to the existence of the self. Whether it is the other as Foreigner, or as a member of another class, or race, or gender, the human psyche can flip from appreciation to blind terror in a very short space of time. And beyond that point, we are a murderous, inhuman bunch.
Perhaps one of the greatest disappointments in the novel comes about because, by the end of his life, it is clear that Bolaño acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom, and yet he leaves no real place for love. I think he had taken the measure of most things, but not that. Perhaps because, despite his honest and insightful grasp of many things, he chose, like so many modern literary writers, to let that subject embarrass him into silence. In this way, it has the same, familiar asymmetry, you see in a lot of contemporary literature. Bolaño went to his grave successfully innocent of sentimentality, which, in my view, makes the novel a little less courageous than it could have been.
I'm not a literary reader. And the single star I did not give this book probably reflects my insufficiency as reader more than it does Bolaño's ability as a writer. I found his meta narrative style of over-elaboration grating and unfruitful. And I found his rejection of sentimentality predictably post-modern.
That being said, I don't regret the time I spent reading this book at all. It is a rich, harrowing journey, well worth the effort.
Regarding the narration, it was very good overall. However, I found the choice of Scott Brick as narrator for "The part about the Crimes" was a poor one. This part focuses on the hundreds of murders of young women in Santa Teresa (a thinly veiled docu-drama narrative of the serial killings in Ciudad Juarez). He really loads emotion into his voice, and I felt this was particularly antithetical to the purpose of the almost list-like account of the murders. I'm pretty convinced the dryness of the style of this portion of the novel was meant to explore the phenomenon of the 'normalization' of violence. I found Brick's reading really betrayed the author's efforts to do this.
Not for people expecting an easy read - the book is uncompromising and covers its subject matter in its own unique way. There are digressions - stories within stories, intellectual investigations and much that is magical, beautiful, as well as horrific and banal.
If you're a humanities grad or are a bit of an intellectual - you're going to love this book. If not - keep an open mind - you might be surprised.
Being able to listen to this work is an extra bonus - thank you Audible for making it available!
Advice for listening to 2666: Go with Bolano's drift, surrender to the dream you’ve woken up into here and take in all the sights and sensations the way you would somewhat sleepily from your window’s perch on a guided tour bus through hell. One thing a novel like this lets us do is to live the many lives Rimbaud suggested were due to each of us. All these people’s living rooms, hotel lobbies, bars, ranches, churches, streets and landscapes you would never have access to on your own, Bolano has given you a passport to. Don't listen to this book the way you would a conventional novel that pulls you onwards towards an inevitable conclusion. There is no light at the end of the tunnel you're in here, the book does not gravitate towards a conclusion but rather around and around an abyss at the center, a black hole surrounded by a kaleidoscope of intuitively related experiences and details. Drink the Kool-Aid, buy the ticket, take the ride!
Bolano's writing is quite hypnotic, his ability to keep the reader / listener engaged and waiting in anticipation of the next word is truly magical. His goal of writing a "work" of substance and girth was certainly achieved, however it was disrupted by untimely circumstance. The book is incomplete, thus the 3 star rating.
Alright, I finally made it through the whole thing. There were many times that I seriously considered throwing my ipod out. Having finished it I can't decide now whether it's a masterpiece or just awful. There are equal parts of both. Part one and three were excrutiating to listen to. At the same time I really enjoyed parts two and five. I'm going to need some time to mull this over. Anyone who attempts this will have to be more than patient. The style is very different and the book(s) roam all over, both in geographic terms and styles of narration. Good luck.
If it weren't for Audible I'd never get any reading done.
It took me six weeks to get through this novel! I listened in the car, read a copy from the library at lunch and in bed, listened while jogging, etc. I had to renew the library copy twice.
If he'd lived longer Bola??o might have spent a year editing 2666 down by a couple of hundred pages. More likely, however, he would have added a couple hundred more pages, because his nature is to spin out stories, not to look back. The resulting novel is flawed, incomplete, but very rich, summoning up Borges, Garcia Marquez's sardonic humor, Pynchon's overabundance. During the very long section about the missing women of Juarez, I contemplated giving up, but recalled the Audible reviews urging us to press on. I am now glad I did.
There are five different narrators, including John Lee and Scott Brick, who do their usual professional job; the others aren't quite as good but the overall effect is a little disjointed. Clearly the producers hoped to get the massive book on the market quickly after 2666 was included on a number of "best of" lists. I don't blame them, but be prepared for a little jolt at the beginning of each new section.
"peaks and troughs"
The narrators do a good job of recounting the story. Their delivery was professional and easy on the ear, though I can't stand the way Scott Brick delivers his narratives (Frank Herbert's Helstrom's Hive put me off him for life) but in the recounting of part 4 - the crimes - he is probably well suited to evoking a sense of Bolano's Schadenfreude at the rapes and murders that he describes ad nauseum. Listening to the relentless drone I wondered if Bolano's purpose in this section of the book wasn't his own perverse pleasure but was designed to evoke a feeling of loathing for humanity from his readers - total immersion in the sense of futility of any thought of redemption for human kind. Like saying humanity has certain self-images (intelligent, sophisticated and civilised) that 'it' is constantly reinforcing to make us feel that we are not the base animals that we evolved from but that we still carry within us such instincts; and here is the evidence, and here and here and here, etc. We are either the deer or we are the tiger and either way we die eventually and usually with pain and suffering. In any case I thought section 4 laboured the point. Part 5 wasn't exactly a tea party either taking place as it does during the brutality of Europe in WWII.
Its a long haul book but worth the journey if you don't mind getting dirty and roughing it a bit along the way.
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