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2666 on the page and in my ear

May 3, 2012 by Reader's Connection

2666Roberto Bolaño´s novel 2666 takes off from five different airstrips and touches down in more locations than a Jason Bourne movie. Bolaño, in fact, when he realized he was dying (d. 2003), left instructions that the book be published as five different books, for the financial benefit of his heirs. But those heirs, God bless them, out of “respect for the literary value of the work,” went against his wishes, and the paperback I just finished reading is nearly 900 pages long, with its action running from the close of World War I to the close of twentieth century–though this isn’t a strictly chronological journey.


The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the BorderI have just emerged from a state of hypnosis. What am I to do? What can I read next? It would be misleading to say that 2666 is “all about” any particular thing, but Bolaño writes of a series of unsolved (and to some extent uninvestigated) crimes against women in the Mexican city of Santa Teresa, and these rapes and mutilations and murders are based on real-life unsolved crimes in Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

With that in mind, I have begun to read The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Univision journalist Teresa Rodriguez, with Diana Montané and Lisa Pulitzer.


Of all the remarkable facts about the book, the fact that I never thought about setting it aside might be the most remarkable. I tend to give up on on movies or books when I feel I’m being clobbered over the head with their importance, their relevance. But Bolaño, while mercilessly telling of the crimes and of the evidence forever being “accidentally” lost, weaves his narratives about various characters so skillfully that I was drawn along . . . as I say, hypnotically.

2666 on CDTo deal with my hypnosis problem, I have checked out the book on 31 CDs. It is appropriate that each of the book’s five sections has a different reader. (The same five narrators perform on the downloadable audiobook.)

Once again I am immersed in the “The Part about the Critics,” which tells of four scholars who become obsessed with an elusive German novelist named (strangely) Benno von Archimboldi. John Lee narrates this opening section, and he seizes on the possibilities for humor. I had laughed while reading the book, but Lee’s accented delivery heightens the oddity of the foursome’s quest. (Bolaño never tires of noting how a passion for literature walks a razor’s edge between catastrophic irrelevance and sublime calling. As the four [scholars] become sexually and emotionally entangled, the puzzle of their devotion to a writer who declines their interest — declines, in fact, ever to appear — inches like a great Lovecraftian shadow over their lives. — Jonathan Lethem, New York Times)

And I’m trying to spot patterns and connections that I missed the first time around. The fifth section of the novel is called “The Part about Archimboldi,” and although the parts never “come together” in a conventional way, I want to see how the events of Archimboldi’s life correspond with what, if anything, the scholars can unearth about him, or what they guess or feel about him.

Hey! I had completely forgotten about the German woman’s visit to Buenos Aires, decades earlier, and the horse races and the angry “little sixteen-year-old gaucho” . . . With a novel as monumental as 2666, there are scenes that have already slipped from memory, are a joy to recapture, and that feed into other portions of the book–in this case, into “The Part about the Crimes.”
2666Grateful as I am for the audiobook, I’m glad I read the book first. Starting out with Jon Lee’s reading, as I motored through Indianapolis, might have been challenging.

However you want to go about it, I agree with the “masterpiece” raves on my paperback’s cover. Make some time to get yourself hypnotized.



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