Tuesday 3 February 2009

2666 - The Part About The Crimes

Ow. It's starting to hurt now. The fourth part of the journey is almost as long as the three before it put together and from the first sentence it is clear things aren't going to be pleasant (well, the title is another clue, obviously)

The girl's body turned up in a vacant lot in Colonia Las Flores. She was dressed in a white long-sleeved T-shirt and a yellow knee-length skirt, a size too big.

In Santa Teresa (standing in for the real-life town of Ciudad Juarez) the bodies of women and young girls are found with alarming frequency, broken and abandoned in the desert. Is it the work of a serial killer or killers? What we have here is a police procedural. With forensic detail and over almost 300 pages we 'meet' the many victims, with the repetitive, monotonous prose of police bureaucracy. The clinical delivery of these macabre findings has a numbing effect, much like the boring detail contained within American Psycho, so that they soon become less and less shocking and, worryingly, more and more acceptable. There are many characters to get a handle on (but with Bolaño you never know on meeting someone whether they will be significant or never heard from again) including one of the detectives assigned first to a case involving a man they call 'the Penitent', wanted after desecrating a church and then murdering a priest. The diagnosis of Elvira Campos, director of the asylum, is sacrophobia ('fear or hatred of the sacred, of sacred objects, especially from your own religion') which links back to the discussion about the end of the sacred from part three. Whilst she reels off a list of phobias she alights on one which is significant I think to the novel as a whole.

...Or gynophobia, which is fear of women, and naturally afflicts only men. Very widespread in Mexico, although it manifests itself in different ways. Isn't that a slight exaggeration? Not a bit: almost all Mexican men are afraid of women. I don't know what to say to that, said Juan de Dios Martinez.

He will go on to show his own fear when a relationship develops between the two of them but always on her terms (much like the ménage in part one)

The list of phobias isn't the only time I found my eyes wanting to skim a little. The back story of a TV seer, La Santa, doesn't add much to a character who raves on TV about the killings without furthering our knowledge of them. Similarly, the lineage of a young boy who becomes a cop was a bit like trawling through the 'and so-and-so begat so-and-so' pages of the Old Testament. Bolaño is known for subverting convention and it is a strange experience to read a crime thriller which isn't thrilling and which leaves you no clearer as to who the killer(s) might be. This refusal to play by the rules is fine as long as you intend to replace what should be there with something else. It's just that at the moment I'm not quite sure what that thing is. This 'undercutting' which I have mentioned before happens again when a female Governor whose friend has gone missing in Santa Teresa finally brings some passion to the proceedings, only to have them negated by the private detective she has hired.

Do you mean you think Kelly is dead? I shouted. More or less, he said without losing his composure in the slightest. What do you mean, more or less? I shouted. For fuck's sake, you're either dead or you're not! In Mexico a person can be more or less dead, he answered very seriously. I stared at him, wanting to hit him. What a cold detached man he was. No, I said, almost hissing, no one can be more or less dead, in Mexico or anywhere else in the world. Stop talking like a tour guide. Either my friend is alive, which means I want you to find her, or my friend is dead, which means I want the people who killed her. Loya smiled. What are you laughing at? I asked him. The tour guide part was funny, he said.

I'm not sure what I'm searching for in this book, but I'm beginning to worry that despite still having over 250 pages to go I may never find it.


Anonymous,  3 February 2009 at 14:41  

Can't wait for your final thoughts!

William Rycroft 3 February 2009 at 20:47  

I'm looking forward to finding out what I think about it too!

justynbatchelor 7 September 2010 at 20:05  

Part 4

I thought that reading about the numerous murders with horrific descriptions was a kind of test to emphasise the macabre fascination of the human species. When you had enough you could skip to the end or if your that way inclined read it all over again.

I skipped to the end and there are just more murders, the frequency is not desensitizing it becomes a rant.

Hopefully by the end there will something incredible to justify the idea that 2666 is a masterpiece.

William Rycroft 7 September 2010 at 23:48  

I wish that I could offer you some words of comfort Justyn. Please come back when you've completed the journey...

William Rycroft 1 July 2012 at 08:14  

Not quite sure how to take your final comment Declan! I certainly enjoy reading, and hope to be able to find something of merit in even the books that turn out to be disappointing reads (if only the ability to realise what it was about it exactly that disappointed). I firmly believe that reading is itself a skill and one that I've been working to get better at over the years.

I can sense your frustration with this novel (my own is well documented in the various reviews I wrote on its parts) and wonder if it's something to do with the manner in which it was written and rushed into publication as he approached his death. Could that perhaps explain the 'full, senseless speed' that reminded you of that film (I presume you mean The Cannonball Run rather than the Bond film Thunderball)?

I think Bolano is certainly vivid, sad, funny and other things in parts of his writing. I found much to admire in The Savage Detectives for example. But I have never managed to rustle up as much enthusiasm for him as some sections of the literati.

Thanks for the comment Declan.

William Rycroft 1 July 2012 at 22:33  

Thats quite a lot to respond to Declan! Thanks for such enthusiastic comments, much appreciated; I like some provocation.


I have come across The Omnivore and certainly Adam Mars-Jones who is, as you say, a fabulous critic. He's a pretty decent writer of his own fiction too; I've only read The Waters of Thirst but head over here for excellent reviews of his recent novels and an interview.

As for Bolano, I have tried. I have read five of his books now and my favourite is still the first of those (The Savage Detectives). I still have no idea why the critics are so in love with him. I have read cleverer, more inventive, more audacious, more touching, hell - just plain better South American fiction and yet his entire back catalogue is receiving lots of attention and adulation. The one I haven't read and which many people like is By Night In Chile. Maybe I will one day. But I'm in no rush.

As for the six word stories; they are just a bit of fun naturally but having a go at writing one does go to show how hard it is to condense much of a story at all into so few words. That's why I'll stand behind Hemingway's effort because it does contain a whole story, not in the words themselves but in what those words mean to the reader when they read them, the gap the reader fills in and the sensation of working out what those few words really mean. Going back to our earlier comments about the act of reading itself, those six words are a perfect example of the way in which the reader completes the writing. I'm not surprised that Hemingway wondered if it might have been his best work. That kind of economy is much harder than it looks.

William Rycroft 4 July 2012 at 08:43  

Hemingway as you say probably didn't mean it was actually his best work, modesty about his work in general might be a factor although he wasn't much given to modesty as I understand. I don't think he meant nothing by it though. His story is probably the only one I've read that actually works. Most of the rest aren't even stories, let alone good ones. And nearly every one that I've read apes his in its structure.

Another writer could waffle and emote for page after page about the impact of infant mortality on a couple, indeed there are entire novels devoted to the subject, and yet Hemingway's story cuts through all of that, gets to the essence without really writing anything 'about' it and leaves the reader to do the rest of the work. If it doesn't chime with the reader then its never going to have a great impact. That's why reading is always an intensely personal experience. There can sometimes be consensus about good or great writing but in the end we all experience the same words differently.

The one contribution to my little project that bucked the trend was Wesley Robins artwork but I guess that's because the old cliche holds true: a picture paints...

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