Read-a-long: Bolaño’s 2666 – Week 5

The Bolaño 2666 Read-A-Long is a twelve week read of 2666 with people who can’t face reading the tome on their own. There are about 8 of us who are reading this together.

If you like to join in, get your copy of 2666 and join us any time. You can find the full reading schedule in THIS POST.


Section five – The part about Fate (week five)

Mentions of the abyss were abundant in section one and “the abyss is the primeval chaos out of which it was believed that the earth and sky were formed. Also the abode of evil spirits, hell. At least according to the” (week two)

By the time we get to Fate, however, their mention has trickled away and the first and only time the abyss is mentioned is on page 315. What does this mean?

In this section, fate steps in and saves Rosa from becoming another victim. Literally, via Oscar Fate.

A mad man in a cell once again has the answers. The pattern is consistent with three people in the cell as he is about to be interviewed.

Bolano’s style really comes through in this part. His lack of narrative in favour of just describing events meant that I had no real idea about what was happening in the house until Rosa and Fate discussed it. This is a real ‘show don’t tell’ kind of story. I keep thinking that the characters know more than I do.

Could the prisoner in the cell be Archimbaldi?

The jealousy that overcomes Chucho seems like some kind of external force. Rosa knows that his behaviour isn’t right. Peeking ahead it seems that the force of whatever is killing women, acts through others. We are told about the terrible force of the prisoner’s personality which leaves even the guards slightly scared. Could it be that this person in this cell has the power to unleash such hell on women through his personality?

Read-a-long week 4: Bolaño’s 2666

Section four – The part about Fate (week four)

I’m not sure if it’s on purpose but this chapter helped me understand that it is people who are depressed or who feel hopeless that end up in Santa Teresa. The two professors who have lost the woman they love, Amalfitano who is depressed and now Fate who has lost his mother and doesn’t seem to have anyone else. The only other people he gets in touch with are his colleagues.

The Italian Morini, week 1, was always settled emotionally and Norton was lost but escaped half way through. She found her compassion inside herself from when she was little and realised she still had some love. With love comes hope and we’re back to the dementors in harry potter or more accurately, Dante’s purgatory.

All hope abandon ye who enter here.

This section read a lot easier because it was more plot based rather than internal like the Amalfitano section. There is a more obvious focus on the women who are disappearing and Fate decides they are a story worth telling. The previous sections hinted at this background event of the murders but now we are being directed to pay closer attention to it.

I liked the story about Seaman and especially the sermon with its practical recipes alongside his philosophies for life. I’m not sure where the story of the Black Panthers fits in but they represent hope against the odds perhaps.

Read-a-long week 3: Bolaño’s 2666

Section II The Part About Amalfitano (week three)

3. Pages 163-228 (65 pages) March 19th

This week we have some further mention of the murder of young girls, prostitution, homosexuality and madness. There’s no mention of the abyss however or of Archimbaldi.

There is a wonderful description of jet lag as the product of moving between worlds. … “jet lag, which arose not from your exhaustion but from the exhaustion of the people who would still have been asleep if you hadn’t traveled” (p.189).

Amalfitano enters the story in week two when he meets the critics and displays some peculiar depression-like states. He sinks into a swimming pool and doesn’t seem to have any intention of coming up for air.

This week’s read shows us how his literal sinking is perhaps a symbol of his figurative sinking into a depression and like the scene with the critics, he seems quite happy to get lost in all his learnings without worrying about the loss of sanity.

A voice starts speaking to him and he accepts it and even embraces it. Is it himself that is speaking? is it the devil? something evil from a different universe disturbed by all the events that are happening?

There’s a scene that mirrors the asylum scene in the first part of the book. Amalfitano’s wife visits the gay poet and her friend mirrors the nurse in John Edwards room in Switzerland. She reads her book in the corner.

This shows there’s a connection between the two parts but I’m not quite sure what it is. Could it be a relationship between those who are looking for the answers and those who no longer care? The ones who know are already mad and the others are led to madness.

Is the reference to homosexuality an evil as depicted in the bible, for example Sodom and Gomorrah?

And why have the book hanging upside down outside? Is he losing reverence for the truth? Is he pouring out his knowledge and getting rid of it and is that why he writes out the names of the philosophers?

I don’t know but I have a sense that the dean’s son is like a Fight Club (Pahlaniuk) figure, a projection of his own anger or at least a personal contact from the devil. Someone prodding him with anger.

I found this part interesting but as Judith mentions it is slow and that’s because it is less plot driven.

Oh and the prostitution part is from Lola who, perhaps unwittingly, has sex with a man for money.

I’m interested to see what happens next.

See the posts for Week 1 and Week 2.

Read-a-long: Bolaño’s 2666: week 2

This is week 2 of the 2666 read-a-long. See Leeswammes blog for the central discussion points for this section.

Pages 80-159 (79 pages)

The second part of meeting the critics seems to continue with the theme of introducing the characters and helps set the scene for whatever horrors come next.

The story tells about the last vestiges of normality and it feels like Bolaño is placing the characters in their final positions like chess pieces ready to do battle. Norton has the most action with a central part in the story which references the abyss.

My favourite scene is the dream where Norton is looking at the reflection of herself in the mirrors in the hotel room. It’s her, but dead. A literal death or a reference to a transition? The apocalypse that’s coming perhaps?

I noticed that the characters are referred to by their surnames except when in dialogue or thought thinks of them. Then they are more intimately referenced by their first names (116). Even though Norton seems to be the ‘whore’ as mentioned in the first part, it is the men who are crass and turn quickly to prostitutes.

Espinoza turns an ordinary girl into a prostitute – see the lingerie he bought for her. A thong and garters and black tights and a black teddy and black spike heeled shoes. Then there’s the crude way the author refers to sex in those scenes (154).

The gentle Morini and Norton finally find love which we discover in a letter interspersed throughout the derelict end of the world in Santa Teresa. This makes the love sentiment even more poignant for the abandoned two critics. Pelletier spends his time reading Archimboldi, who writes about pain delicately (143), and drinking. Espinoza seduces a young local girl only to turn her into a cheap sex object in the back of his car and his hotel room.

Archimboldi is meant to have appeared in the town they all visit as perhaps trying to escape his destiny. Amalfitano can see what’s coming up and tells them of exile “as a natural movement, something that, in its way, helps to abolish fate, or what is generally thought of as fate.” (117)

Edwin Johns, the painter who cut off his arm for money is one of the first, we are told about, who fell into the abyss. He is fascinating and his actions rather chilling. When I first read about his mutilation I thought it might be due to some profound thought such as a part of him as actual self expression. Instead he tells Morini that it was about, the basest of desires, money. This seems so hollow and empty to me and he is one of the first lost to the abyss because he has lost all hope perhaps? The abyss seems to be a living metaphor for desperation and hopelessness. We see it in Liz’s eyes when looking down at the two men.

when [Espinoza] woke his stomach hurt and he wanted to die. Is this because he had a fleeting glimpse of reality? Has he lost everything that makes him a little human, that gives him some hope?

The final part is Pelletier’s dream of water. There’s also the reminder of the people waiting at the beach (see previous week). Water can also represent emotions and the strangest part of the dream was that the water was alive. Is the abyss feeding on people’s emotions? Is the apocalypse representative of a lost sense of happiness? a monster of sorts that feeds off emotions? It reminds me of the dementors in Harry Potter, that same draining of all hope. The loss of serotonin that leads to depression and the effects that can be felt in hangovers and come downs.

And so the scene is set.

Next is Section II The Part About Amalfitano (1 week)

3. Pages 163-228 (65 pages) March 19th

Read-a-long: Bolaño’s 2666 – Week 1

Despite being a week behind with my reading I’m still enjoying the readalong and intend to post about the appropriate weeks even if I have to do so at delayed times. So while the others have already commented on week 2 and are now reading week 3, I’m going to start at the very beginning.

Judith of Leeswammes has posted a summary of the first 77 pages (3 to 79). There are spoilers so look away now if you need to.

This week, we read the following

Section I The Part About the Critics

Week 1. Pages 3-79 (77 pages) (about half-way through the first section)

The critics are four professors or students of German literature with a special interest in an obscure contemporary German writer called Benno von Archimboldi. None of the scolars have ever encountered this writer in real life.

Pelletier is from France, Piero Morini is from Italy, Manuel Espinoza from Spain, and the youngest and only woman, Liz Norton from England.

Initially, the four only meet at meetings and conferences about German literature, but Pelletier and Espinoza both start a relationship with Norton and they know this about each other. When Liz Norton is seeing yet another man, a colleague from her own university, the other two are not happy.

During a conference in Hamburg, Pelletier and Espinoza decide to visit the publishing house of Archimboldi where they meet the owner, Frau Bubis. She has met Archimboldi and is willing to tell them (a little) about the author. Still, the two men are unsatisfied with the amount of information they get from her.

One day, Liz has invited the two men to her house in London and she tells them she wants to stop seeing them. When they go out for dinner in the evening, a taxi driver of Middle Eastern nationality, accuses Liz of being a whore as she is out with two men at the same time. Pelletier and Espinoza get angry and beat the taxi driver unconscious.

Discussion questions

Did you enjoy the story so far? Was it what you expected?

I found the story fascinating and it was nothing like I expected. There are parts of it that remind me of the continental and practical tone of Saramago and others bring to mind the self-involved academic characters of David Lodge. I find stories about academia to be comforting luckily, blame it on my penchant for higher education.

The author uses his language quite beautifully and unexpectedly. For example, see the following description:

“A woman who didn’t cling to the edge of the abyss but plunged into it with curiosity and elegance. A woman who plunged into the abyss sitting down” p.28 about Mrs Bubis. The description is quite visual but what does it mean? She does not get aroused even by terror? so calm and detached that she can fall headlong while not lifting a muscle?

A reference to the abyss is mentioned again in relation to Liz this time, on page 65. “Norton’s eyes were closed, as if she needed to breathe the night air of London, and then she opened her eyes and looked down, into the abyss, and saw them.”

The warnings are interspersed throughout the pages of some impending terror: the Medusa on p.69

the self-mutilation of the artist on Liz’s street as a self portrait p.53

Morini’s dream of Liz as the bearer of terror pp.46-47

Pelletier’s dream p.78-79 of the bathers waiting for something
p.74 – another long sentence to give it a dream like quality – action that doesn’t stop but at the same time gentle “much less did he expect the hail of Iberian kicks” for such a shockingly violent act.

What did you think of the long sentences? Did you have problems reading them? Do you think there was a purpose to them? Why only for a number of pages, why did the writer not use them through-out?

Bolaño appears to use the long sentences in scenes where stories are told. This gives a different style to those sections, they flow in entirely different ways as if , to compare it to a movie, it was all one take rather than a section comprised of different shots. I really liked his use of it especially in the scene about the gaucho and the horse races. We know from the neverending sentence that he is not describing current reality.

The action starts at the beginning and ends with the full stop. There is a tender kind of completion with it. If a full stop is meant to indicate where the reader, if reading aloud, were to breathe, then by the end of some of these descriptions he or she would be a lot more than breathless. If the writing were less languid I would say that Bolaño is trying to provide a frantic tone but without changing his style of writing.

I’m looking forward to the next twelfth of the book.

Read-a-long, Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

I am a bit late in posting this so please excuse the delay. The read-a-long for Bolaño’s 2666 quite hefty tome has started over on Leeswammes blog but you can still join if you fancy. This book is meant to be amazing and it both looks it and sounds it. It is also however 898 pages long so some encouragement to get through it wouldn’t be amiss.

The description on the back of the book reads as follows:

Revolving around the border town of Santa Teresa, a vortex for lost souls and the scene of some of the most horrifying crimes in twentieth-century fiction, it defines one of Latin America’s greatest writers and his visionary commitment to narrating the world as he saw it, in terrifying, awe-inspiring, irreducible beauty and despair.

We’ll be reading this book over 12 weeks starting on the 1st of March 2011 and this week’s reading is for pages 3 to 79.

Come and join us with weekly comments and summaries on Leeswammes blog.

Up ↑