2666: pages 1-51

The collective online reading experience of 2666 has begun! I'm delighted to say that I've managed to stay on schedule for the first block, at least. [Pats self smugly on back.] For those of you who are interested in participating, the clearinghouse for the whole project can be found here, complete with schedule.

Thus far, I've found the book quite enjoyable and engaging. Bolano's prose is lyrical and fluid, and his wry sense of humor permeates through without being overbearing. The plot has revolved around the lives and associations between four European scholars, experts on the work of an obscure (fictional) German author, Benno von Archimboldi. The four scholars attend conferences, dine and drink and walk in various cities, and fall into bed with each other. Not a tremendously complicated story so far, but it's certainly engaging enough to hold my interest and make me want to read more.

One thing that has made me very, very happy is that Bolano doesn't seem to suffer from what I call "Pynchon derangement syndrome," named for its most famous contemporary sufferer. Any time I start a large-scale, critically acclaimed "literary novel," I fear I will encounter another example, but for the most part 2666 seems spared. This disorder is typified by the use of words, each of which can be defined and understood on its own, but when strung together by the author produce sentences, paragraphs and pages that cannot be understood to mean anything at all. If one speaks in this manner in a medical setting, it is called "word salad" and one's medications are titrated. If one writes in this manner, one wins the National Book Award. Again, 2666 seems largely free of this malady, though I would love it if someone could explain what is meant by "the briefest crystallized vomitings" (page 9).

My complaint at this point is that thus far the novel has essentially been character-driven, and I don't find the characters to be all that well-defined. (The exception is Liz Norton, whose description I found to be masterfully, brilliantly written.) Even after rereading the sections about Pelletier and Espinoza's early lives and careers, I have a hard time telling them apart, other than that the former lives in Paris and the latter in Madrid. Perhaps this could be interpreted to be Bolano playing with the malleability of national identity, and thus these two scholars from different countries are defined mainly by their shared academic passion rather than their national origins. (The contrast between their skills as lovers on page 45 is a witty exception.) I'm waiting to see where these four go, and to see if the contrasts between them become more clear.

Anyone else reading along? Any and all comments welcome.


  1. This is my second reading of 2666, and my assumption has been and remains that the scholars are supposed to sort of blend in with one another. It's a joke at the expense of scholars, if a mostly benevolent one. Maybe they're almost Rosencrantz and Guildensternian? Malleability of national identify may also be at play.

  2. "the briefest crystallized vomitings" would be interesting to read that in the original Spanish (I don't have a copy), but I think it's difficult to imagine what the earth and the grass could be saying to each other. Since it's raining in that passage, maybe it's meant to contrast the falling rain with the crystallized "vomitings" coming out of the earth in that "argument." Remember, Bolaño considered himself a poet above all.

    Also, 2666 did win the National Book Critics Circle Award.

  3. I haven't read the book, but is the title a reference to the Mark of the Beast in Revelation?


  4. Daryl, there do seem to be a great many subtle jokes at the expense of scholars. If the interchangeability of Pelletier and Espinoza is one of them, then it is subtle indeed.

    Matt, I think the phrase makes a strange sort of sense, in that Norton is supposedly feeling like she just down a cup of peyote, and "briefest crystallized vomitings" seems the kind of thing that a person on peyote might think. And not every winner of a major critical award is required to write like a random word generator, but it certainly seems to help.

    And Barbara, I do not think the title is a biblical reference, but it is my understanding that nobody knows what it means.