Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reading 2666 by Robert Bolaño – Week 3

The assignment for this coming week was to read to page 159 which brought us to the end of “The Part About the Critics”. Thank god. I was getting really tired of the critics.

Guess what? Liz Norton ditched Pelletier and Espinoza and ended up with …. Morini. What a surprise. Not. He was the only one who treated her like a person. Why wouldn’t she prefer him even if he was wheelchair bound?

We did end up in Mexico finally. Searching for the elusive Archimboldi. We didn’t find him. Well, of course we didn’t find him. If we had found him the novel would be over.

Morini didn’t go to Mexico, he said his health wouldn’t permit it. Liz didn’t really want to go to Mexico and she left first. Pelletier and Espinoza were determined to go and after Liz left them they stayed on for a while.

In Mexico City they get a lead on Archimboldi having visited a northern Mexico city named Santa Teresa which is near the United States border. The closest American city with an airport is Tucson. (I have no idea if it is a real place, I suppose I should look that up, but I assume it is.) [ UPDATE: According to Matt at the official read site:" Even though we know that Santa Teresa is a fictionalized version of Ciudad Juárez, Bolaño has relocated the city from the state of Chihuahua (just across the border from El Paso, Texas) to Sonora." I wonder why he felt it necessary to create a fake Mexican location when all the other locations are real?]

Then Espinoza remembered that the night before, one of the boys had told them the story of the women who were being killed. All he remembered was that the boy had said there were more than two hundred of them and he’d had to repeat it two or three times because neither Espinoza nor Pelletier could believe his ears. … But not over a short period of time, thought Espinoza. From 1993 or 1994 to the present day … And many more women might have been killed. Maybe two hundred and fifty or three hundred. No one will ever know, the boy had said in French …

“So who’s guilty?” asked Pelletier.

“There are people who’ve been in prison a long time, but women keep dying,” said one of the boys.

The specter of these dead women does hang over the remainder of the time that the characters spend in Mexico. Espinoza especially thinks about it while he becomes somewhat obsessed with a young girl who sells carpets in the market place. (She’s a fairly likeable character and we end up meeting her whole family. Espinoza ends up treating her like a whore – complete with making her dress up in garters etc. I’m really glad to leave these characters behind.)

It is the day after hearing about the dead women that the two men find out by e-mail that Liz Norton, who is already gone, has “chosen” and has chosen Morini. (Interestingly, Liz Norton left before Espinoza and Pelletier found out about the women but in her e-mail she references the ongoing crimes in Santa Teresa.)

Norton found Santa Teresa unbearable and couldn’t wait to leave. Once Espinoza and Pelletier get this e-mail they can’t bring themselves to leave for quite a while. Bolaño intersperses descriptions of their days between excerpts of Norton’s letter.

The only part of this that I really found interesting was what caused Liz Norton to decide to choose Morini.

When Liz Norton returned to London from Mexico she happened upon an art retrospective of the painter Johns. At the retrospective she learned that Johns was dead. Norton found this very upsetting and she called Morini. Morini was not surprised because he already knew about Johns’ death. Morini told her that Johns died by falling into a Swiss ravine. The way Morini told the story it isn’t clear whether it was a terrible accident or suicide.

By the way, I intentionally wrote the above paragraph in a way that replicates how I “hear” Bolaño’s style. Obviously it isn’t exact but it’s how I hear it when I read. That’s why I say that his style is easy to read. But not that interesting. At least not from my perspective. it’s very much narrative interspersed with only occasional dialog and a lot of the dialog isn’t really dialog it is a character expounding on a subject. Real people don’t talk the way Bolaño has characters talk in this novel and I don’t know if that’s because it is a translation or if that is just the way he writes.

Anyway, the painter Johns came back into the story and became the turning point for Norton and Morini so I was glad I paid attention to him last week. And what dd Morini and Norton do when she arrived in Italy unexpectedly and announced she was staying with him? They talked. No sex; lots of talk. Of course she ended up with him.

You may have noticed that I don’t have a whole heck of a lot to say about this section other than about plot elements. There were a lot of dreams in this section. I find I don’t really care if they meant anything. They were pictures into the state of mind of the characters at the time so in that way they were effective. But, like real dreams, they are essentially unexplainable.

The search for Archimboldi wasn’t really very interesting and I always knew they wouldn’t find him. And Bolaño’s style and structure wasn’t really interesting except how he dragged out the contents of Liz’s email so that it seemed to last several days in the lives of Pelletier and Espinoza.

The next part we are to read will take us through the complete second part of the novel which is called “The Part About Amalfitano”. I’m looking forward to it. Amalfitano was introduced this week. He is also an academic, teaching at the university in Santa Teresa although he is a refugee from Chile. The three academics look down on him and are very smug around him. It is clear, however, that Bolaño means for us to take him seriously. He talks about serious things in his own world. He also seems very sad. He also doesn’t put Archimboldi up on a pedestal.

So far Amalfitano is the only really interesting character that has been introduced, in my opinion. I’m giving this novel through the second part before I judge it though. I feel that’s fair with a novel this long. But I admit that I keep thinking that I must be missing something about this novel. So far nothing that has been posted at the official read site had made a light go on for me. Adam Roberts over at The Valve has just announced that he is going to read it and blog about it. Maybe that will give me more insight.

I’m beginning to suspect that Bolaño’s point might be that there doesn’t need to be a point to a novel. Just read and enjoy. As he said about Liz Norton very early on “For her, reading was directly linked to pleasure, not to knowledge or enigmas or constructions or verbal labyrinths, as Morini, Espinoza and Pelletier believed it to be.” I never found Norton to be a very sympathetic character but that was because we were constantly seeing her through the eyes of Pelletier and Espinoza who seemed determined to impose on her a depth of character. They wanted to interpret her in the way that they interpreted the novels they read. They could not simply enjoy being with her; they had to understand her. And yet their quest for understanding led them no closer to understanding her.

In much the same way as their search for Archimboldi came to nothing. Pelletier tells Espinoza at the end “We aren’t going to find Archimboldi” but then says he “And yet … I’m sure that Archimboldi is here, in Santa Teresa.” It was, he thought, the closest they were ever going to come to him. And in the same way, they didn’t discover Liz in Mexico although they could have. It was the closest they were going to come to that.