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feb 27, 2012, 10:55pm

This is the discussion thread for Part 1: The Part About The Critics - pages 1 to 160

mar 4, 2012, 9:07pm

I just finished this section and I am mixed. On the one hand, I am riveted and want to read on but on the other, there is way too much detail and I find that my mind wanders. And, while I am not exactly a prude, the cavalier attitude about sex takes some getting used to. I am not sure yet if it is integral to the story but we will see.

mar 10, 2012, 5:13pm

I finished part 1 this morning. I can see where you are having mixed thoughts about the story. I really love Bolaño's writing style - fluid, intellectual prose presented in a reflective narration that I think works well with the story he is telling. I don't think it would have worked as well as it does if he had chosen one of the literary critics as our narrator. The story - or at least Part 1 - really does need the omnipotent, nameless narrator that gets inside everyone's heads and provides the story through a 'seen from above' lens.

I did find the detailed focus on the various conferences, seminars, etc a little annoying at first until I realized that it helped set the stage in understanding the personalities of the four literary critics and their obsession, because I really cannot call their focus on Archimboldi as anything other than an obsession.

You mentioned the rather cavalier attitude towards sex portrayed in the book. I agree with you there and wondered about it a bit myself as well as the sudden uncontrollable urge to attack the taxi driver. Both work for me when I view it from the perspective that the critics really don't have what I would call a normal take on reality. I mean, come on, their obsession with a reclusive German author is such that three of them can just take off at a moments notice from their respective University positions and other commitments to chase a single and somewhat questionable clue as to the whereabouts of Archimboldi?

Are the critics searching for Archimboldi or are they really trying to find themselves? I think that the search for Archimboldi is forcing, at least some of them, to find themselves.... not a fun prospect if you don't like what you see.

Bolaño's stories within stories style makes for an interesting and at times philosophical game of connect the dots. Some of the literary allusions have left me confused and I am still grappling with the story of the artist that cut off his own hand and Morini, the one critic that struck me as being more grounded in reality than the others.

I will have further thoughts on this as the discussion develops.

mar 10, 2012, 9:12pm

After reading some of the other reviews about the book, I am really starting to understand it better. I was thinking that this was one novel instead of a series of separate stories. One of the things I was finding frustrating was the lack of cohesive thread tying things together but now that I know that each part isn't supposed to connect to the others (although there are overlaps in plot and characters), the whole thing makes more sense. You are right, he is a great writer and that is what is keeping me going. I am just about to start the last section so I will post again once finished.

mar 20, 2012, 9:35am

I finished the first section the other night. I'm really enjoying the writing style. Lori, I think you're right, they are obsessed and not particularly well grounded in reality.

I was disturbed by the taxi driver incident, for me it came out of nowhere and was forgotten just as quickly by the critics. I still haven't really got my head around that.

And even though they profess to love Norton, I wish both Espinoza and Pelletier weren't such push overs. Their lack of reaction to Norton's treatment of them didn't really ring true for if they loved her, to me it seemed like just sex for all of three of them. I found Norton callous and maybe even a bit cold in her attitude toward them. I'm intrigued by the relationships between the critics but they're not particularly likeable characters, except Morini.

mar 21, 2012, 4:56am

The writing style and the intrigue of where Bolaño takes the story next - for me that will be Part 2 in April - is really driving me forward with the story.

I agree Alana, the story takes some disturbing tangents that have underlying themes/currents. The more I think about what I have read so far, the more I lean towards an emotionally detached story with some shock value and a general message I am still searching for and hope to discover as I continue through the remaining four parts.

mar 22, 2012, 9:03pm

I finished Part 1 last night.

First of all, despite finding it difficult, I'm loving the writing style. I'm really sorry that my Spanish is not anywhere near good enough that I could read the book in Spanish. Although it seems to me that the translator is doing a pretty good job, I can imagine that the flow and rhythm of the Spanish would be even more amazing.

Re the narrator: he isn't totally omniscient, is he? There's a curious mix: he knows what all the characters are doing, and he knows about thoughts and dreams, sometimes even when the character doesn't remember a dream; but then sometimes he presents alternative possible motivations for a character's actions, as if he doesn't know; and sometimes he just describes the actions from a point of observation and leaves the rest to the reader's imagination (for instance, the final scene with Norton and Morini). In fact, now that I think about it, do we ever have anything other than observation of Morini?

Re Norton: Her story about Jimmy Crawford sort of brought her into focus for me. Another version of Salinger's "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut" where "I was a nice girl," she pleaded, "wasn't I?".

Lori, your "connect the dots" analogy is right on. I get the feeling that every word, every incident, every dream, every diversionary story has significance -- and I also know that I'm missing a whole lot of it. There are so many layers to this story...

And I'm also missing many of the allusions. Except for Archimboldi, are all the literary allusions to actual authors? I'm not very knowledgable about German literature, and I've never heard of some of the writers he mentions. Actually, it took me a while to realize that Archimboldi is fictional. And it isn't just German writers either: I was amused by the allusion to Psycho -- and it made me wonder how many other popular culture allusions I was missing.

Is Santa Teresa a fictional name for Nogales? As far as I can recall, all the other locations are identified by their real names. Is the name Santa Teresa significant? I don't know the story of St Teresa -- guess I should look it up.

Is there any significance to each of the 4 "critics" being of different nationalities? And now Amalfitano, who apparently is the focus of Part 2, is yet another -- and, oh, dear, how can I have forgotten already? -- is he Mexican or is he the one who was exiled from Chile to Argentina?

I agree that reality and shadow are important. I don't really understand though. And I don't understand the artist's hand, either, or Morini's fascination with it. All I can come up with is someone becoming his work, without an identity separate from his work, which seems to be more or less true of all the critics (especially Pelletier).

There's more plot to this than I had expected. I'm eager to get to the next Part, but it's difficult enough that I think I'll wait a week or 2 and continue with the one part per month that I've planned.

mar 24, 2012, 3:14pm

Good points about the narrator knowing a lot of what is going on but not everything. I haven't read Part 2 yet but if my memory serves me correctly, I believe Amalfintano is not Mexican. Isn't he a political refugee of sorts...... is in Mexico because he cannot return to his own country?
You questions have me wanting to go back and re-read Part 1!

I am looking forward to reading Part 2 in April.

Redigerat: mar 27, 2012, 5:36am

Ivy, I'm in the same situation as you. I'm missing so many of the literary allusions, I haven't read Psycho so have obviously missed something there too. I've just finished Part II today, and am feeling even more lost, there are yet more allusions I don't understand (a couple of names I recognise, but no idea of their significance) and I have no idea where there story is going - but I'll keep reading to find out.

Amalfitano is not Mexican, I think he was Chilean unable to return to Chile?

I'm looking forward to Part III, I want to see where this is all going, but I'm going to take a quick break and slip in a book that's a much easier read!

Redigerat: mar 26, 2012, 9:29am

Just finished part 1 (part 2 next month) and I whilst I enjoyed it I am not enamoured. The style, with so many asides, "or this or that instead of and and so much detail I found hugely irritating until the story and characters kicked in. Then I admit it started work and I got sucked in.. I guess I would of preferred a little easing ;-)

The overall actual story was ok but again but if that was all I wouldn't satisfied, I think its that reason alone I am looking forward to reading the rest as I think the whole together will make or break the book. Actually for some reason I was pretty convinced that Archimboldi was the serial killer and Norton was going to buy in at the end of the book. Ahem :)

So much to discuss!

Allusions: I think I missed loads too, which is a shame as I think the story needed them. One literary mention I did notice was the comparison to Chesterton and London.. now I am familiar with both but I just don't understand it. Are they saying that London is a magical, chaotic place or that we are in the dark ages?

Narrator: I quite liked the narrator, who as you say knew a lot but not everything. His (it must be a him right?) slightly wry tone occasionally jarred but otherwise it brought warmth and a sense of storytelling to the tale as well as opening all the possibly of what might have happened i.e. what if they had told them their dreams.

Misogyny: Did anyone else feel this was a very male book? I currently think its intentional and not the authors bias but the few female characters tend the be the love/sex interests, there are a couple disturbing homophobic comments by characters and there reactions i.e. the taxi driver are very OTT and egotistic. Maybe I am just sensitive :)

Artists hand: not sure about this one either, I like your interpretation. To throw into the mix I thought the money thing was interesting aspect. To give so much of oneself and imbue it with so much meaning to others when you, the artist it had a very commercial meaning. I guess too it might be a riff on all UK modern art i.e. the Damien Hirst's half a cow or Tracy Emins tent with her lovers name in it etc... The deeply personal to make money.

Ok I am done :) Great book to discuss!

apr 2, 2012, 9:28pm

I'm a little late finishing part 1 since I didn't start reading until Saturday. I found part 1 oddly fascinating. Like others have already expressed, I'm sure I've missed a lot of the symbolism.

One of the scenes that struck me as particularly significant is the meeting of the 3 male critics with the artist in the Swiss asylum. A lot of the story up to that point seems to have been a string of coincidences, and then in their conversation the artist expounds on his belief that "the whole world is a coincidence."

I too thought that Morini is the only likeable character among the critics. He also seemed to be the "glue" of the group. The others would confide in him, but he held his cards close to his chest.

I thought the critics' first impression of Amalfitano was telling. They didn't seem to recognize themselves in their assessment of Amalfitano.

Does the search for Archimboldi remind anyone else of The Shadow of the Wind?

apr 2, 2012, 1:13am

It did! I read The Shadow of the Wind last year and I found it eeriely reminiscent at times. Very different but somewhat similar if that makes sense.

I know I missed a lot and would like to have the time to go back and re-read it with encyclopedia in hand (or channel the author somehow!). The whole 'coincidence' thing plays a big part in the rest of the stories as well.