Sunday, February 15, 2009

Roberto Bolaño: 2666

Stephen Abell reviews Roberto Bolaño's 2666

The first temptation might be to dismiss this wondrous novel as no more than cult fiction. It certainly has plenty of those qualities associated with cult status: it is posthumous, unfinished, written in a foreign language, postmodern, ultra-violent, dauntingly long, mysteriously (perhaps even meaninglessly) titled. And Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean author who died in 2003, is a suitably romantic figurehead, having turned to the "dangerous calling" of writing fiction late in life in order to support his family (and avoid penury from his poetry).

But 2666 is a major literary event. It is a supernovel comprising five sections, each capable of standing alone (as was Bolaño's original idea, with one eye on the increased sales that would accrue). The first is the tale of four literary critics, who join together in search of a mysterious German writer called Benno von Archimboldi. Their search leads them to Santa Teresa, a city in northern Mexico, where they are entertained by the local intelligentsia (including a strange professor called Amalfitano, who hangs a geometry book outside his home so the wind could "see whether there was anything in it that might be of use") and learn that hundreds of women have been murdered in the region over the last few years. The second part is an odd account of Amalfitano and his apparent nervous breakdown. The third focuses on an African-American writer called Quincy Williams, known to everyone as "Fate", who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match.

The fourth section focuses in disturbing detail on the rapes and murders of the women (the effect, a combination of what might be called shock and bore). In pulpish paragraphs, it describes the remains of each victim ("the blows she'd received had destroyed her spleen") and the police's desultory attempts to find the person responsible. One suspect is a giant German named Klaus Haas, who could be, but probably is not, Archimboldi.. In the final part, we learn of Archimboldi's life as a German soldier in the Second World War and then as a writer wandering around the Mediterranean.

Read More

1 comment: