Or, perhaps, I am not entirely sure what I think of the novel as a whole thus far. I have plenty of opinions about various elements of the novel. (More on that in a bit.) However, after having made it through the entire first section, I'm still making up my mind about 2666.
Up until the very end of the section, I wasn't loving it. In fact, I was beginning to wonder what all the adulation was about, and was getting a little peeved (similar to how Avery Edison seemed to feel about Infinite Jest midway through Infinite Summer, as I recall). And while I'm still not loving it, the very last bits of The Part About the Critics have had something of a transformative effect on how I feel about the book in general. What remains to be seen is whether or to what degree there is interrelation between the various sections of the book, and if later sections will inform or lend more clarity to this one, or if they stand relatively apart from each other.
Since I'd like to end on an up note, I'll start with the aspects that I didn't like. I thoroughly dislike Pelletier, Norton and Espinoza. (In so far as Morini is given much definition, I like him well enough, I suppose.) They're horrible, arrogant snobs (see page 112, for example), and they seem utterly wrapped up in parsing the minutiae of their insular existence and entanglements with each other. It feels as though Bolaño doesn't like them much, either, and I assume they're meant to be proxies by which he expresses for literary criticism in general. I was heartily sick of them by page 159, and up until that point wondered why they were worth writing about in the first place.
And yet, upon reaching the very end of the section, and watching Pelletier and Espinoza as they realize that they have spent their lives reading and discussing one man's work, and have flown across the world to find him, only to come painfully close and fail, I began to understand the point of The Part About the Critics. It illustrates, quite movingly in retrospect, lives approaching but never achieving greatness, lives of those who do not themselves create but build their lives on the creations of others. While this is depicted by Bolaño as fundamentally exploitative (at least to my reading), there is a poignancy and tragedy to it. (I felt that Pelletier's holing up in the hotel and reading the same Archimboldi novels over and over was especially sad.) If that is the only point of the first section, it is a point well-made. Not enough, as of yet, to justify the novel's reputation for greatness, but not a bad beginning, either.
There was one bit, however, that I unambigiously loved. It comes on page 123, following a somewhat rambling, deeply metaphorical discussion of literature and criticism by Amalfitano. On my first reading, I feared that Bolaño had veered dangerously close to Pynchon territory, and was using mantic, inscrutable language absent any real meaning. A second, slower reading actually changed my opinion, and the images Amaltifano uses to represent the different media, their audiences, and the truths they try to convey are striking, unsettling and durable. However, as much as I enjoyed the imagery of the passage itself, the following conclusion is what made me truly love this bit:
"I don't understand a word you've said," said Norton.
"Really I've just been talking nonsense," said Amaltifano.
Delightful. Easily the funniest, warmest moment in the book thus far. While I don't think Amaltifano actually was talking nonsense, his wry, self-effacing response is perfect. Further, I think Bolaño is using Norton as a proxy for readers a bit confused by the heavy metaphor, and is showing a little bit of sympathy. Over at the main discussion page, Maria Bustillos has said that the warmth of the narrator's commentary is the emotional center of the book for her. I had a similar reaction to this passage, and am optimistic about the next Part, when we get to spend more time with the character who has uttered my favorite line so far.