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No moral, Marge, just a bunch of stuff that happened

11 Jan 10 | Re: Worthwhile but maddening book

I recently read the novel 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. There are already plenty of reviews available, but I do have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

For the most part, the reviews available online are on the money. The book is long, often pretty grim, and very hard to get a handle on. It doesn’t have a coherent plot, and even what seem like key plot developments are often forgotten or dropped without further comment. When I got to the end of it, I found myself wondering (a) why I’d bothered to read it and (b) why I wanted to go back and read it again.

How to describe it? Well, most novels are like watching a film, starting at the beginning and following events through to the end. This one is more like looking at a painting by Hieronimus Bosch, with grotesque sights and events going on everywhere and no semblance of order. Maybe there’s a story there, maybe there are several, but you’d have to look for it.

I think the key passage comes very near the end, when it’s said of one of the characters, a writer, that:

the way the stories followed one another didn’t lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbours, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely.

I think it’s safe to say that Bolaño has his own novel in mind here - one of countless rather precariously bold strokes. In my opinion, if this is what he’s going for he’s pretty much hit the nail on the head, especially the boiling cauldron bit.

Then again, in Mostly Harmless I remember Arthur Dent settling on a planet whose inhabitants are utterly infuriating because they just accept everything life gives them. Their novels are particularly unreadable, having no point whatsoever - they just report some events for a set number of pages and then end. Sometimes this book feels a bit like that.

Sound interesting? Well, it is. But you’d better be 900 gruelling pages worth of interested before you read it yourself.

Posted by BERTHA JORKINS at 18:56

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