Robert Bolaño’s 2666 is the book of the moment now, and part of this is mutually-reinforced hysteria, and part of this is that those who’ve read it recognize it as the author’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Underworld or Recognitions, a big, everything-encompassing novel that has somebody’s life’s work trapped inside. Reviewing the book can seem like a farce—trying to detail 900 pages, five sections, and hundreds of recognizably distinct themes and obsessions into a definitive statement about a book that’s anything but definitive. “The truth is like a strung-out pimp” says one 2666 character; for the moment, we’ll take that to mean that the essence of things is shifty and hard to pin down. So in the spirit of piling on, one reviewer’s strays, or rather, what’s merely fun about a book that’s largely and devastatingly depressing as hell.
While the first thing everyone will forever be contractually obligated to mention in reference to 2666 is its impossibly grim fourth section, “The Part About the Crimes,” there are a ton of jokes in the novel as well. Many of them are dirty jokes. Here’s Bolaño describing the varying sexual styles of two staid European academics in the book’s first section:
Like punk rockers, Bolaño’s obsessed with selling out
Writers betraying themselves and their craft is a constant theme—heroin to anyone who writes for a living. Here’s Amalfitano, a expatriate professor living in Mexico, describing the eventual cooptation of Mexico intellectuals by power:
…And the way in which most writers are plagiarizing frauds
“Every minor work has a secret author and every secret author is, by definition, a writer of masterpieces,” writes Bolaño.
Bolaño, in short, has among other things written one of the great writer’s writer novels, one full of wry comments on craft, typical obsessions with authenticity, and so on. For that alone it’s kind of amazing. Reviewers, of course, are obligated to say what it all means, but the sure to be underrated joy of 2666 is that it’s 900 agonized pages about the difficulty of doing good creative work, just as Savage Detectives was among other thing a great primer on how to spend your teenage years in a manner as dissolute as possible. Which just coincidentally are things us writers desperately relate to…