Posted by: tuulenhaiven | January 31, 2014

2666: ‘Ugh, said the critics…’

But I say ‘Huzzah!’ Of course, this was the easy part – what comes next will be brutal. The title alone gives me the shivers: The Part About the Crimes

The first three sections of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (the parts about the Critics, Amalfitano, and Fate) are almost cheery. At least, they contain all my favorite things when it comes to Bolaño’s story telling – unforgettable characters, mysteries and puzzles, wicked humor, beautiful writing – which is cheering to me. I don’t even care what Bolaño is writing about half the time, I simply love how he writes it.

It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our likeness. …the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling…‘ p. 9

I mean, what?

But he also describes things so well sometimes that it’s like being surprised by a friend in the dark.

…that abysslike hour (with its ineffably nauseating scent) when momentous decisions are made...’ p. 56

I’ve been there… And surely you’ve seen people ‘smiling like squirrels‘ before? (p. 86)

Bolaño is also capable of giving voice to actual things that have crossed my mind.

What kind of a lunatic am I if this is the kind of nonsense that I dream?‘ p. 228

I have read other books by the man, (some more than once) but have edged round this one for several years. Every adventure with Bolaño is intense – beating between discomfort and ecstasy – and this book especially has the reputation of being extra great and extra awful. And it’s extra long… I didn’t want to travel alone, so I am reading 2666 with Richard of Caravana de recuerdos, and others, and we read 349 out of 898 pages this month. We’ll finish it in February.

The first three sections are very nearly stand-alone stories. In The Part About the Critics three academics are trying to track down a mysterious German writer. In The Part About Amalfitano a widowed philosopher is perhaps losing his mind. In The Part About Fate an African-American reporter from New York covers a Mexican boxing match. It’s Bolaño though, so these are puzzle pieces, and the greater picture is one depicting the city of Santa Teresa and the unexplained murders of hundreds of women over the course of a decade. The fourth section, as I mentioned, is ominously called The Part About the Crimes... There – I shivered again.

Nevermind what lies ahead. What I’ve read of this book so far was such fun. Following Bolaño’s trail of breadcrumbs through each section, relishing those brilliant turns of phrase, laughing over the geometry book hanging from the clothesline, or the ridiculousness of the run-on four page sentence that is the Swabian’s story… And Bolaño flings fabulous characters at you with relentless, almost desperate energy (it was his last book, after all, barely finished before he died).

Bolaño gets more than just points for style though – after all… ‘What matters is that it’s well written, he said. No, I told him, you know that isn’t what matters.‘ p. 170

What matters to me, right now – because I can’t pretend to know at the moment where he’ll take the story by the end, or what his overall purpose and point is… What matters to me are things like this:

You have to know how to look even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.‘ p. 251

…man couldn’t live on healthy food alone. You have to read books, he said. … Reading is never a waste of time.’ p. 255

I was doing something useful. Something useful no matter how you look at it. Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people’s ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.‘ p. 256

What I like about Bolaño is that he reminds me that it’s perfectly all right to spend a day reading. It’s perfectly all right to question, to be confused, to love badly as often as you love well, to act on instinct, to drive aimlessly all over a city just looking, to hang geometry books on clotheslines, to be weird, to be frightened, to be beautiful. He always seems to throw open his arms to it all, to embrace the crystallized spiderwebs and the crystallized vomitings…whatever they are.

He reminds me that: ‘Everything is fine… It’s all a question of getting used to it. Without making a fuss. Without sweating and flailing around.’ p. 211

This is said to Amalfitano one night by a voice he hears which might be the spirit of his father…?

And although I don’t think I’ll find the remainder of the book as delightful as the first three parts (The Part About the Crimes is the length of many novels…ack) I am willing to follow Bolaño through the murk. Because:

…everything lets us down, including curiosity and honesty and what we love best. Yes, said the voice, but cheer up, it’s fun in the end.‘ p. 209

For the rest of the story, check back here around the end of February. And do pop round to Richard’s blog to check out more posts about 2666 over the next few days.


Responses

  1. Sarah, so glad to hear you speak of the fun of reading Bolaño. He is fun, and funny, often, although not in a one-dimensional way or to the exclusion of “the horror.” Speaking of which, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think you might find that “The Part About the Crimes” is “delightful” from a writing perspective. That is, it tells a terrible story but in a most impressive way. “The Part About Archimboldi” is impressive in an altogether different way as well. Anyway, super glad that you’ve decided to take 2666 on at last; you are such super company, and I loved the quotes you pulled for this post!

    • Bolaño is always terribly impressive…! I am looking forward to the rest of the book a great deal more than I might have made it sound yesterday – and I am so glad that I got the chance to read it at long last with you and Bellezza and the others!

  2. As I grow in my understanding and appreciation of Bolano’s work, which didn’t come at the first attempt believe you me, it is sentences like these that make me smile, “It’s perfectly all right to question, to be confused, to love badly as often as you love well, to act on instinct, to drive aimlessly all over a city just looking, to hang geometry books on clotheslines, to be weird, to be frightened, to be beautiful. He always seems to throw open his arms to it all, to embrace the crystallized spiderwebs and the crystallized vomitings…whatever they are.” Love that!

    • Well thanks. 🙂 I found the comments on your posts about 2666, and your replies, really interesting to read – it’s so neat to see your appreciation for Bolaño grow by leaps and bounds, and see how truly helpful a group read can be. I’m so pleased that you’re reading this with us!

  3. I love that Richard revived the 2666 book club! I missed it, but I don’t think I could have read this one again. I was in the original book club and then read it again in Spanish for my MA and I think I’m done. Twice is enough.

    • Twice seems necessary! But perhaps that is enough.

  4. “What I like about Bolaño is that he reminds me that it’s perfectly all right to spend a day reading. It’s perfectly all right to question, to be confused, to love badly as often as you love well, to act on instinct, to drive aimlessly all over a city just looking, to hang geometry books on clotheslines, to be weird, to be frightened, to be beautiful.”

    What a freaking wonderful sentence! Just take the rest of the shared read off. I don’t think any of us can touch that gem. Happy to be reading with you again!

    • Goodness, Frances, you’re making me blush…! It is an absolute treat to be reading with you. I couldn’t possibly take the rest of the shared read off – I need you all to help me get through the next bit (which I was disturbed to hear gave you nightmares…?) Deep breathes, and then off we go again!

  5. For a book with such a heinous subject at its core, this certainly is proving to be a rewarding re-read, especially in such great company. I was taken aback at your choice of passages to quote first, since that very passage had really stopped me in my tracks. It seems so flamboyant, so (as you nicely put it) “I mean, what?”, so almost kitsch, and there are a few others in Part 1 similarly over the top. I guess I may need a third reading to go back and pay more attention to how RB is using those.

    I’m with Frances – your comment about what you like about RB is a keeper, one for the books.

  6. […] I’ll save my thoughts on the fifth and final part for another post. I wrote about parts 1-3 here. […]

  7. […] Previously: 2666: ‘The world is a strange and fascinating place.’ and 2666: ‘Ugh, said the critics…’ […]


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