“2666: A Novel” (Roberto Bolano)

I followed them: I saw them go down Bucareli to Reforma with a spring in their step and then cross Reforma without waiting for the lights to change, their long hair blowing in the excess wind that funnels down Reforma at that hour of the night, turning it into a transparent tube or an elongated lung exhaling the city’s imaginary breath. Then we walked down the Avenida Guerrero; they weren’t stepping so lightly any more, and I wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic either. Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.

-Auxilio Lacouture, speaking in Bolaño’s Amulet

Bolaño’s really big last hurrah began to regale the retinas of English-reading humans the world over on the 7th, when 2666 was unveiled to the tune of free booze, party crashing, and the kind of literary elbow-rubbing that hasn’t been available to the salon set since Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg. My 898-page copy of the volume sits ensconced in portent on my bookshelf as I try to get a few other in-progress volumes out of the way. The definitive article on this rare auteur who spent is life dancing in intimate proximity (close fighting) with the many faces of his only fellow combatant, life, remains here at The New York Review of Books.

However, for those who are in a hurry, the short version is thus: Bolaño was a Chilean who had moved to Mexico in his youth, returning to Chile right before Pinochet’s coup, where he was jailed for left-wing activities. He was recognized by a guard who had been boyhood schoolmate and released. Without that fortuitous intervention of fate, the writer would more than likely have met his end long before any of his books had been written.

2666 is a sprawling 5-volume work spanning the demarcations of geography, the echelons of culture, and the many-fathomed spaces composing the convoluted machinations of human cruelty. Bolaño, a sufferer from Hepatitis C, the result of a heroin addiction, and a poet who began writing fiction in earnest as a means to provide for his family, envisioned 2666 as a serial, the release of each volume spaced so as to afford his family the maximum benefit of the proceeds from sales in his definitively foretold absence. Following his death, his estate decided that the first printing of the book should be released in a single volume to preserve the coherence of the massive text.

I don’t want to commit more than a few words here to call attention to this writer who made a simply powerful entrance into my life in the last year or so. I haven’t read this newest book yet, but few authors have moved me like this one. A writer who was willing to admit that “literature is basically a dangerous calling” (check out the entirety of his Caracas Speech), he spoke straight and unflinching to the heart of human matters, be they boring, vile, obscenely beautiful, or entirely forgettable.