Sunday, January 24, 2010

Initial 2666 Thoughts

As I mentioned last week, there's a very cool group read of Roberto Bolano's novel 2666 starting on Monday. I wasn't necessarily planning on doing much writing on the subject because there are people much smarter than I who'll be discussing 2666 as part of this group read. But if the great Matt Bucher is going to go out of his way to mention The Daily Snowman in his roundup of bloggers and others participating in the group read, I might as well volunteer my thoughts.

So here are two things I loved about the first 51 pages of 2666.

Thing the first: The most conspicuous formal feature of the novel's first section is the run-on sentence stretching from pages 18 to 22. The nice part about Bolano's use of this extremely long sentence is that it works perfectly in the context of the plot. Briefly, four scholars of the reclusive writer Benno von Archimboli have just met a man, referred to as the Swabian, who had shared a dinner table with Archimboli. These four academics--who've devoted countless years of study to the mysterious writer--must have been held in rapt attention, hearing from someone who had encountered the object of their study. They would have waited breathlessly for any scrap of information regarding Archimboli. In short, the reader experiences the Swabian's story in very much the same way that the four critics experienced it. This is formal experimentation for the benefit of the plot, not just for the sake of experimentation. That's cool.

Thing the second: At one point (pg. 40) Bolano recounts a conversation held between two of the critics, Pelletier and Espinoza. Here's the first few lines of Bolano's description:

The first twenty minutes were tragic in tone, with the word fate used ten times and the word friendship twenty-four times. Liz Norton's name was spoken fifty times, nine of them in vain. The word Paris was said seven times, Madrid, eight. The word love was spoken twice, once by each man. The word horror was spoken six times and the word happiness once (by Espinoza). The word solution was said twelve times. The word solipsism seven times.

The novel proceeds in this direction for several more lines, enumerating how many times certain words were used by the two conversationalists.

Italo Calvino, in his novel If on a winter's night a traveler..., satirizes people who read books by counting up the number of specific words used. So if a book uses a preponderance of military words, you can be certain that the book focuses on war. In the context of Calvino's book, it's a biting critique of those who don't truly read. But in Bolano's able hands, it works.

And remember, it's not too late to join the group read.


Jimmy? said...

And isn't that what we're doing with 2666 in this Group Read? There's trackers for number of deaths, countries mentioned, character names, and interesting words among other things! HA! It's like Bolano is making fun of us, prophetically.

Avi said...

@ Jimmy?

That's an excellent point--I hadn't thought of the connection to our group read. But we might be safe from ridicule because we're actually reading the book and the tracking happens afterwards, in the digestion stage.