Friday, February 19, 2010

2666 by Robert Bolaño – What to think; What other People are Thinking

Now that we’ve finished two parts of the novel it seems time to start making some judgments, but I find myself at a loss.  I’m not really liking this novel.  But it isn’t a difficult read and I don’t dislike it.  I may be more tolerant of it than I am of most novels  because I only have to read 50ish pages a week.  That’s a light schedule, so I can read plenty of other things.  I might resent it if I was spending more time on it.  On the other hand, if we didn’t have a schedule, I might also be hundreds of pages further into it and have figured out what it is about

I think the biggest frustration I have is that it doesn’t seem to be about any particular thing.

I checked around at the blogs of other people reading along and was relieved to find that I’m not the only one who can’t decide.

Dan at Bleakonomy also says he is not loving this book yet.   But he says, and I agree:

Thus far, 2666 is neither plot-driven nor character-driven. Where it succeeds most truly is in its creation of atmosphere. The Part About Amalfitano is nothing if not atmospheric. One gets a genuine sense of vague foreboding and barely suppressed frustration, and Bolaño's writing is deeply portentous. An arid menace and desolation pervades the pages. If nothing more, I will concede that a stage has been well set.

I think my concern is that I too feel that the stage is set but I worry that there is no show to go on it.  I also agree with Dan that the negative preoccupation with homosexuality (which I didn’t write about) was hard to take in The Part About Amalfitano.  I tried to dismiss it because Amalfitano himself didn’t seem preoccupied with it, but I wasn’t sure where Bolaño was going with it and I’m still not at all clear why he thought it was necessary.

Over at I Love You Something, there is similar confusion:

Often, I have no idea what he is trying to get at mainly because there is just so much there.  He throws so much at the book (it is 900 pages long) that it seems inevitable to make connections, but are the connections really there?  Or is it just the result of there being so much there?

At Bibliographing, the focus is on the undercurrent of violence that occasionally erupts in the story. 

As he is good at everything else, Bolaño is good at dealing with this violent undercurrent. There is great brutality and control, and it has me both worried and reassured about what I know is coming up further on. The ambiance is already intense, but I trust that it’s part of something, in service to the whole.

I haven’t written about the various violent incidents that have occurred and I’ve been wondering why I haven’t.  I tell myself I have not focused on them because, although they are very striking, they don’t move the story along.  On the other hand nothing really moves the story along.  I really think I am not writing about them because I do know that Bolaño will eventually get to the murders in Mexico and so I’m shying away from writing about violence until I have to.   Plenty of violence to come … no need to focus on it now, seems to be my state of mind.

Darryl at Infinite Zombies thinks The Part About the Critics may be a comedy in the classic Shakespearian sense:

My college Shakespeare professor described comedy in the Elizabethan sense as the sort of literature in which there is some problem in the beginning (e.g. mismatched pairs of lovers, political problems) that can be resolved by a the proper alignment of and marriage of a pair or pairs of lovers. (Tragedy, by contrast, is when there’s a problem that a strategic marriage would solve that goes unsolved when the marriage falls through; Romeo and Juliet, within this set of definitions, is comedy turned tragedy.) All’s Well that Ends Well, which describes the nature of the Shakespearean comedy in its title, is a comedy. As You Like It is another. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is yet another.

Readers here know that I was unsurprised that Norton ended up with Morini.  And by the end of The Part About the Critics the pairing of Norton with Morini seemed the main point, so I thought this is an interesting observation by Darryl.   I wonder if Bolaño is picking a different genre/style for each section?  Not being a lit major I would have to depend on someone else to identify that.  The Part About Amalfitano was definitely different than The Part About the Critics. 

Finally, Sarah at  SarahBBC is at the same loss I am to draw conclusions :

The five books were originally published individually, which suggests that it should be possible to write something resembling a review at this point. Alas. If this were a stand-alone book I think I would be quite disappointed. Not in the quality of the writing, but in my failure to understand anything by it.

I’m not sure they were actually published separately but they were supposed  to be published separately.   Even now that I’ve finished The Part About Amalfitano I don’t see how either of these parts could have stood alone.  I too think most readers would have been disappointed in their failure to understand … the point?   I’m fairly sure that if I’d read The Part About the Critics as a stand-alone novel I’d never have read the other parts.

Well, on to The Part About Fate.