2666 by Roberto Bolano: Redefining the Novel as a Form

2666 by Roberto Bolano: Redefining the Novel as a Form

2666 by Roberto Bolano: Redefining the Novel as a Form

2666 is possibly one of the most rewarding, exceptionally exciting and stylistically rich novels I have ever read. Bolano’s 2666 is remarkable in its sui generis (unique in its characteristics) and beyond emulating. His form making is without parallel and has been described as having “redefined the novel ”. Like Hardy, Bolano regarded his poetry as his calling or “higher art” and turned to fiction purely as a way of making money. But like Joyce, his fiction is rich with allegory and metaphors. It is this realm of true vision, when his novellas are almost dreaming that they fall into the their trances of allegory and metaphor. Made up of five novellas, clarity is scarce in 2666. Single sentences stretch over several pages and trail into lengthy descriptive flourishes; Even the title 2666 is an enigma. Many have speculated that this references to the science fictional year that the novel is set in, or that the inclusion of 666 alludes to the more sinister “number of the beast”. Sadly, I cannot subscribe to either theory as this didn’t become clear to me upon reading.

Right, now this is the point at which many would quote Roland Barthes and divulge into a lengthy, “Death of the Author” style discussion arguing that writing and creator are unrelated. However, please stick with me on this one as I think given the incomparable aspects of Bolano’s final novel, this argument falls by the wayside. We are then forced to use traditional literary criticism to get some handle, if any handle on this complex novel. Personally, I think that the “point” of 2666, if you like, or Bolano’s intention is to convey an overwhelming sense of the uncertainty that life offers, as epitomised in the below;

“He chose The Metamorphosis over The Trial, he chose Bartleby over Moby-Dick, he chose A Simple Heart over Bouvard and Pecuchet, and A Christmas Carol over A Tale of Two Cities or The Pickwick Papers. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.” Taken from 2666 

Bolano’s writing within 2666 is one of pure excess, both in terms of its length (nearly 900 pages) and its ambition. 2666 is a global epic, not a European novel, but littered with references to the tragic reliance of Bolano’s provincial Latin America on outside powers, namely Europe and North America. In light of the brevity of his life and the gravity of his subject, the insufferable and relentless pursuit of the inexpressible in 2666 arguably mirrors Bolano’s race against death, always striving for immortality.

Text: Lucy Whittaker