The part about the well-deserved hype

Bolaño. Bolaño. Bolaño. The writer who everyone is talking about; and not just a mere mention, more like a CD that is skipping. Yet hearing the writer’s name over and over isn’t an annoyance. It’s a reminder to pay attention to the hype and see if it’s earned or not. And yes, readers, it is.

I readily admit that 500-600 pages into the novel, I was finding the book to be well written, incredibly brave, ambitious, epic, and pretty darn good– yet I didn’t see why people were calling it a masterpiece. I wasn’t quite at that level of appreciation yet. The 300 pages of almost didactic descriptions/police procedural style of the brutal rape and murder of women was almost mind-numbing, and sort of painful to read. I had read in one review how the person couldn’t stop writing in the margins during that section of the book, and honestly, I don’t know why. The writing wasn’t very descriptive/extraordinary in this part of the book, as it had been in earlier sections. But then…you get to the last part of the book.

“The Part about Archimboldi” is one of the best written sections of a book I’ve ever read. I almost went through all the lead in my mechanical pencil underlining sentences and sometimes whole paragraphs that detail the life of the elusive and sought after fictional writer who is so earnestly admired by the scholars in the first section of the book. Bolaño manages to weave together this almost 900 page novel in such a way that it all comes together in gorgeous but grainy clarity. All the characters he throws at you, all the digressions, the plot lines, the stories within stories, finally make sense. I don’t want to say anything specific in case you haven’t read the book yet. But please, please do, and talk with me about it.

A few samples of his stellar writing.

“At that instant, said Ingeborg to Archimboldi, I understood that there could be music in anything. Mrs. Dorothea’s typing was so quick, so particular, there was so much of Mrs. Dorothea in her typing, that despite the noise or the clamor or the rhythmic beat of more than sixty typists working at once, the music that flowed from the oldest secretary’s typewriter rose far above the collective composition of her office mates, without imposing itself on them, but rather adjusting to them, shepherding them, frolicking with them.”


“At the first bend the village disappeared from sight and all she could see was a row of pines and the mountains multiplying in the night, all white, like nuns with no worldly ambitions.”


“He didn’t like the sea either, or what ordinary mortals call the sea, which is really only the surface of the sea, waves kicked up by the wind that have gradually become the metaphor for defeat and madness. What he liked was the seabed, that other earth, with its plains that weren’t plains and valleys that weren’t valleys and cliffs that weren’t cliffs.”

I could go on and on, but you should just pick up a copy of the book already and read it. 2666 is flawed but beautiful and ugly, and often opposing forces are what make this book so good. It’s funny, too, because I’m usually so sensitive about how writer’s treat women in books. Bolaño’s women are often sexual objects, but not always the victims. Some of them are powerful and all are given a voice or, if not a voice, there are telling details of a life that they lived, however brief it was. It’s so heartbreaking how short the author’s life was, too. Certain themes of a writer’s legacy and our own mortality play a large part in this book, and it’s as if Bolaño is sharing his own fears and worries from the other side.

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4 Responses to The part about the well-deserved hype

  1. Tom Clancy says:

    Argh. I got this as soon as our local library had it in, but I took so long to get around to reading it I didn’t finish before someone else requested it. Now you’re going to force me to re-request it. I was dead in the middle of him listing everybody who ever got killed and was at a take-it-or-leave-it point. Now I’m going to have to take it out again and the librarians are totally going to think I’m a slow reader who sounds out all the big words.


  2. Michele says:

    Nothing wrong with being a slow reader! (I’m one myself).

  3. Patrick says:

    Great review. I agree completely with your assessment of the “Part About the Crimes” and the “Part About Archimboldi.” From hell to heaven right there.

    Side note: Can you imagine that he wanted to publish the five parts separately? Would that have worked? I doubt it.

  4. Michele says:

    I completely agree, Patrick. It just wouldn’t have been the same if they were published gradually. I’ve read a lot of reviewers talk about the sections as different books, but they are not! The fifth section is the most important part, and wouldn’t work on its own without the other ones before it.

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