Thursday, March 12, 2009

Roberto Bolaño: 2666

Scott Esposito reviews Roberto Bolaño's 2666

Bolaño's final, posthumously published novel, 2666, is dominated by the void. It most frequently manifests the void in the form of madness, madness that is often masked, as Bolaño puts it near the end, "under a suit of armor." This is a book mad with madness: mad artists, mad writers, mad poets, mad professors, mad murderers, mad cops, mad prisoners. Its characters are not so much fully realized individuals as searchers single-mindedly in pursuit of that one thing that will, momentarily, sate their madness.

Bolaño's novels are almost uniformly short; 2666 is huge, and the form sometimes feels like a clumsy one for the author. Some novelists, Pynchon for example, so revel in abundance that the spillage of words feels like an absolute necessity. For them, the huge novel is their one true form. Other novelists, DeLillo maybe, prove themselves capable of extending their austere, ascetic style to the massive confines of an Underworld. Bolaño, whose books rarely grew to more than 200 pages, whose books, when they did grow larger than that, tended to do so by piecing together smaller, self-contained sections, seems at times unable in 2666 to distinguish the necessary from the ornamental, or worse, the banal. His 2666 was originally conceived as five connected novellas, and those distinctions have been maintained in the final product, but none of the "novellas" of which 2666 is comprised reach the clean perfection of a By Night in Chile. 2666 is a different beast, a purposeful mess whose best section positively revels in carnage and chaos. But over the course of 900 pages, this approach yields mixed results. Considering the circumstances of its publication and its sheer mass, 2666 reaches us as Bolaño's most striking, his most anticipated book, but in the horserace that his works will undoubtedly run in the years and decades to come, my money rests confidently on The Savage Detectives.

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