Bolaño’s Big Book Makes Landfall

October 29, 2008 | 3 books mentioned 5

coverToday in my mailbox, I found a hardcover edition of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I’ve become something of a Bolañophile in the last year… in fact, I already read the English translation of 2666, the late Chilean author’s magnum opus, this summer, in galley form. And so the arrival of the finished book was a pleasant surprise.

Superficially, I can report that the dustjacket is a little disappointing; its reproduction of Gustave Moreau’sJupiter and Semele” appears mildly washed-out to me, and the author’s name gets a bit lost. In all other particulars, though – the wonderful, sea-sponge endpapers, the sturdy cloth binding, the great typefaces2666 has the look of a masterpiece. (The three-paperback edition is handsome, too.)

That said, looking like a masterpiece is pretty meaningless. How the book reads is what matters. While I plan to write at greater length in the next month about the contents of 2666, I noted with some interest an early review from Kirkus, excerpted in the press materials: “Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century – and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.” This is heady stuff, but once you’ve read the novel, it doesn’t seem hyperbolic; rather, it’s an indicator of the high stakes for which Bolaño was playing in this, his last book.

Back in May, I wondered if critics were going to recognize the seriousness of the attempt, or whether, Kakutani-like, they would draw an invidious comparison with the more accessible The Savage Detectives. I guess we’ll soon find out.

5 comments:

  1. I'm with you on this one. I got a galley in order to review it for the Seminary Co-op Bookstore's blog, and reading it was an all-encompassing experience, like being in a fugue state for a week. I covered it in more flags than the United Nations, because there was just so much in it that I wanted to have at hand for when I went to write about it later.

    Now I've been mulling it over for nearly a month, and I'm still not entirely sure how I'm going to approach it. I just know I have to convey that it's brilliant.

  2. I should be getting my 3-paperback version any day now from Amazon. I read about the book here at the Millions and was intrigued.

  3. I'm still intrigued by Bolano, and generally enjoy "difficult" or "less accessible" books, but I must admit I was just supremely bored by The Savage Detectives. So I'd love to here whether 2666 could still potentially be interesting to one who didn't like the former.

  4. robber goose,
    I can imagine finding The Savage Detectives not to one's liking. My wife didn't, for example. To be honest, when it's described, it doesn't sound like my thing at all, but I was completely caught up from the first.

    That said, if you didn't like it, you probably won't like 2666. Not that they're all that similar, but Bolano's approach to narrative–disjunctive, elliptical, ambiguous–is similar in both novels. You might, however, take a look at his book of stories, Last Evenings on Earth, or his odd, Borgesian Nazi Literature in the Americas, or his novella By Night in Chile, all of which are a bit more self-contained and direct.

  5. Thanks for the answer Levi. I still may give it a try someday, but I won't buy a copy in the hopes I may like it. (I have a habit of doing just that.) I'm not sure it was Bolano's narrative approach that bothered me in TSD, so much as, to be honest, I just didn't like/wasn't remotely interested in any of the characters.

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