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Benno von Archimboldi!
Has this group read anything together?
This group has not, yet.
I differ from many reviewers of this book in that I think it is coherent and consistent throughout. The novel is huge and covers an enormous amount of time and space, but the center remains violence, particularly the violence in Santa Theresa.
The second volume is very difficult to read all the way through, but I think it is important to do so, if you want to really get into this novel.
The first volume of this epic novel is very good As a hopeless bibliophile, I am drawn to fiction that is literary in both subject and style. I love novels that talk about and obsess over books. Like the rest of Bolaño's work, there is a lot of that here, and it is wonderful. I hope I am not the only person who dreams of von Archiboldi being real.
But books and literature are not the focus of this novel. Violence is the focus of this novel. The center of gravity is Santa Teresa (Ciudad Juárez), and the center of gravity in Santa Teresa is a pattern of rape, torture, abduction, and murder of hundreds of women. The city name is changed, but the murders are very real and still happening. Bolaño paints them in a terrifying light, though they remain just out of focus. In the subsequent volumes of the novel, they will be thrust forward, forcing us to stare into the inhuman, if only on the safety of the page.
(Some complain that this novel is fragmented and sloppy, but I disagree, so far.)
The second volume of 2666 might be the most intensely disturbing book ever penned. It chronicles the rape and murder of countless women in Santa Theresa (Ciudad Juárez), one after the other, in the dry, detached style of a newspaper article or police report. Each murder is investigated or not investigated by the police. Evidence is lost. Men are arrested, interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned. The murders continue.
Between these deaths we follow the lives of policeman, a Mexican politician who friend disappears, the first man charged and imprisoned for the murders, local reporters, and others. It becomes clear that the state and the narcos are responsible for the murders (or at least responsible for covering up whoever is responsible), but the violence against women is so generalized it is hard to pin down any single culprit.
This is the oasis of horror in a desert of boredom. Bolaño's prose is masterful, and the novel continues to hold together, despite its length and scope and brutality.
Holy shit. The final volume of this novel moves from amazing to astonishing. We return to von Archiboldi and follow him through WW2, Nazism, and post-war Germany. We go through the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist purges. And it all comes back to Mexico and the killings in Santa Theresa.
The scope of this novel is ridiculously large, but it never breaks apart or becomes incoherent. It bridges the 20th and 21st centuries. It marks out a radicalism devoid of hope or false solutions and sets the bar really fucking high for every other writer this century.
With only slight hesitation, I can say that this is the best work of fiction I have ever read.
1) The suggestion is that Archimboldi killed her, or at least may have killed her, right?
2) Other than providing an unnecessary link between Archimboldi and Hans, what purpose does that suggestion serve? It felt like Bolano was sort of mistreating that character (the wife, that is. I can't remember her name) by providing that information so suddenly and second-hand at that.
Yes, it does imply the possibility that Archimboldi murdered his wife, which does not make a lot of sense. Still, it's complicated. Archimboldi's wife has lots of health problems and is dying, so perhaps it makes more sense to think of it as an assisted suicide?
The way the information is revealed (suddenly) was in keeping with how a lot of death was described. Remember the execution of the Soviet sci-fi writer?
Ok. If it's an assisted suicide, though, I don't think that was set up well enough. Her walk out into the mountains didn't strike me as a cry for that kind of help. She never struck me as suicidal. Did she strike you that way?
And as for the sudden reveal, I guess I agree that it was in keeping with the way a lot of death was described in the book. That's not enough to quell my concern here, though. The execution of the sci-fi writer was sudden, I guess, but the sudden, *domestic murder* of Archimboldi's wife reminded me a lot more of the periodic accounts of domestic murders in Part 4. You know, the kind of murders that got a lot less attention because they were "normal" compared to what else was going on in Santa Teresa (which is an important concern of the book, I think). I haven't been able to figure out a way to link the two episodes in a satisfying way. Thoughts?
When I read it the first time, I didn't really think too much of it (after Part 4, I was sort of numb to death and dying, and I also felt that she was about to die soon), but now that you ask questions it appears problematic.
Perhaps it is something that would not have survived a final edit. I think the book, as it is, is coherent and brilliant, but this detail does not make sense.
A good answer requires a rereading of the section, but I don't think I will reread any of this book for a while.
Another thought: Archimboldi has killed before. He murdered the Nazi bureaucrat in the POW camp. Strangled him, which is the method by which so many of the women in Santa Theresa died. Most of Archimboldi's adult life is hidden from us, so it's possible he had an undercurrent of violence in his life that was only hinted at. He was a soldier on the Eastern front and then a bouncer at a bar, so he's a rough guy.
One of the funniest parts of the book is how little the academics know about him and how distant he was from their world. The academics aren't even close.
Another thought: His wife drowns, which is the only time that sort of death appears in the novel. Women are shot, strangled, die of heart attacks from shock, are stabbed, pushed off cliffs, and so on, but just the one drowning. Is this supposed to indicate suicide?
Another question: who killed the border guards the night his wife went out into the snow? Would it be possible to read Archimboldi as the killer?
You're right, I had forgotten about the POW camp episode. It seemed like he felt like he was doing something principled there, though. Remember, he didn't kill a single person when he was a soldier, and I figured that had to do with the big-picture morality of killing somebody because you have orders to do so is pretty muddy. So, on the one hand, if there is a barely-hinted-at undercurrent of violence in Archimboldi's life, I think Bolano should have let us see just a little bit more of it. And on the other hand, this undercurrent would interfere with the picture of Archimboldi's morality that I, at least, developed.
Agreed, re: the academics. It's absurd how much value they place on imagined intimate details of Archimboldi's life. And, in light of Part 5, it's pretty funny to imagine how little Archimboldi would have possibly cared about these academics and their concerns.
The uniqueness of her...Ingeborg! that's her name. Just came to me. Anyway, the uniqueness of Ingeborg's death just isn't enough to make the leap to suicide for me. Especially given Archimboldi's connection to water and diving.
And yeah, those dead border guards were kind of surreal. I think at the time, I assumed that they had frozen to death or something. Although, in retrospect, I sort of stuck that scene in a box because it didn't link up thematically to any other part of the book that I could see. Of course, that's true to some extent with a lot of the digressions in the book, but most of those seem to be in the service of fashioning a picture of the world that exists according to Bolano's aesthetic vision: stuff like boredom, horror, helplessness, etc. It reminded me of Infinite Jest in that way. It's composed of tons of little parts, many of which aren't really connected, but when you want to convincingly draw a world that is just completely *saturated* with some quality or another (eg for Wallace, addiction and all its scary implications, or the above suggestions for Bolano), you need to show the reader a lot of angles on the problem to really communicate its depth and breadth. But yeah, even given my patience with (even delight at, really) all the "unrelated" details, those border guards felt odd to me.
As for the dead border guards... there is a fire going in the border guard cabin, so they certainly didn't freeze to death. Not only are they dead, Archimboldi and Ingeborg go out of their way to avoid being questioned about it. I really cannot imagine Ingeborg killing them, especially since the killing would have been followed by that beautiful monologue about stars being the light of past. She is an amazing character who demands closer inspection and study!
Also, does the Mexican professor's daughter ever reappear in Europe later on? Even in a glimpse? I kept expecting her to, but she never showed up.
The latest from Santa Theresa: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8490366.stm
And you may know about this already, but there's an online group read of 2666 going on right now and there are forums and all.
The more I think about the first section ('the Part About the Critics'), the more it seems so satirical and insignificant compared to the rest of the novel. I enjoyed it, but next to everything else, the critics are such useless morons. Hilariously useless and clueless. Well, at least Pelletier and Espinoza.
I was happy that Liz Norton got away from them and ended up with Morini, who was the most human of the bunch.
Maybe I should read the first section again.
This book will not let me out of its orbit.
Then there is this: http://solipsismexperiment.blogspot.com/2010/02/libertad.html
Yeah, that was a really interesting interview. There's a lot of compelling stuff going on in contemporary Spanish-language lit.
Incidental question, for anyone who's read 2666: Take a look at the first little section of The Part About Fate. What is going on there? This section seems like it takes place after everything else in that part. What happened to Fate?
After the initial rapturous reception Bolaño received in the English-reading world, perhaps inevitably, a backlash seems to have picked up steam. This backlash seems to me misguided. The more I read of his work the more the adulation seems justified.
Possible example here
Here we read: The backlash has already started: in a Guardian review of Nazi Literature..., Alberto Manguel dismissed the majority of Bolaño's oeuvre as “light, playful experiments, not very successful, with little intelligence and less ambition”. This kind of peevish resentment is the rock to the hard place of a Western literary public famously unable to handle more than one popular foreign writer at a time; with Bolaño safely and romantically dead, it becomes, between the hyperbole of the two, difficult to assess his real achievement.
Here we read: One can see instantly in these poems both why Bolaño has become such a phenomenon since his death in 2003 & why also there has been a growing backlash against the work in the past year or so.
That the words "backlash" and "Bolano" appear next to each other at these links isn't definitive evidence. It suggests, though, people are considering it. Personally, I agree with the following excerpt from the thorough essay from last year over at The Millions titled The Bolano Myth and the Backlash Cycle:
This is the nature of the hype cycle: if the Bolaño backlash augured by The New Yorker’s “Book Bench” materializes, it will not be because readers have revolted against the novel (though there are readers whom the book leaves cold) but because they have revolted against a particular narrative being told about it.
No one likes to think they've fallen for a slick marketing campaign - even when the author is deserving of the hype.
On a non-backlash related note: A review article of recently translated Bolano in last week's Times.