November 24, 2008

Roberto Bolaño - "2666," "Part 2 - The Part About Amalfitano"

The shortest of the five books or "parts" of "2666," I've realised that to do it justice I need to tell you a little more about "Part 1".

So, "The Part About The Critics" revolves around four academics who, for various reasons, all specialise in the work of an obscure German author called Benno Von Archimboldi. In the manner of a joke, we have a Frenchman, a Spaniard, an Italian and an Englishwoman. They meet at various conferences and become, first, friends, and then something more. But there's also a hole in all of their lives, a dissatisfaction which seems to have its personification in the "hole" of Archimboldi himself, a Pynchonesque figure who only his publisher and a few chancers have ever met. Eventually they get a tip-off that Archimboldi is in Santa Teresa in Sonora in northen Mexico and three of them travel out there to try to find him, as if the act will somehow rescue them from the essential meaninglessness of their lives.

Whilst in Santa Teresa, a Chilean academic from the University is tasked by his boss to look after them. This is Amalfitano, a person who they treat with a kind of patronising affection, but no real interest. The second part of the book goes back before the Critics' arrival and focusses on Amalfitano's own early days in Santa Teresa, including his recollections of his dead wife and his time living in Barcelona.

Despite its brevity, it's a much messier section than "Part 1," a kind of phantasmagoric unravelling, which is perhaps even more concerned with dreams than Part 1 and ends with Boris Yeltsin singing philosophy. There's a clue here, perhaps, as to the theme of the book: "Life is demand and supply... but that's no way to live. A third leg is needed to keep the table from collapsing into the garbage pit of history... So take note. This is the equation: supply + demand + magic. And what is magic? Magic is epic and it's also Dionysian mists and play." Or is Yeltsin a stand-in for Garcia Marquez and what he says obviously meant to be bullshit?

After the elegance of Part 1, Part 2 is hugely disconcerting and disturbing, but in an utterly satisfying way. We begin to learn a little more about the mass murder of women in and around Santa Teresa which seems to be the central linchpin of the book. And we're left wondering whether Amalfitano is going mad or whether something even more odd is being enacted.

Bolaño also throws out what can only be seen as a challenge: "Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown." Despite his quiet irony, it's clear what kind of book "2666" is...

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