The merciful tedium of 2666

I submit to you, dear reader, an image of a paperback copy of Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, coloured to show the relative length of its five parts. The book is dominated, physically (as you can see) but also spiritually (and thus, semantically) by its fourth part: the part about the crimes.

As the jacket copy and any reviewer will tell you, this is a novel about the real-life murders of over 400 women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. And yet a reader can be can be 300 pages into this 898-page doorstop before realizing it. Only the 4th part, “The Part about the Crimes” deals directly with that horror, but it sits deep in the book as a kind of black hole around which everything else orbits, skirts, or is deflected off. Those who draw too close risk being pulled into oblivion. This is a massive and ongoing crime that no one wants to see. Neither in reality, nor in fiction. Defying all rules of good-taste-novelistic-pleasure-making, the novels subjects its reader to hundreds of pages of of the corpses of raped and murdered young women. One count put the number of bodies on display at 108. (I stopped counting in the 40s when I realized the absurdity of listing the names and circumstances of murder victims in my notes, when the names and circumstances of the actual women are available online. Bolaño only lightly fictionalized these stories.) Readers balk. They don’t want to read it. The novel says, “Look.” One review said this is a novel that wants to inflict itself on you. I would agree. It is a monument. It seeks to represent horror. Indeed, the fifth section will bring us a trainload of German Jews who must be disposed of by an unprepared functionary and his firing squad of depressed policemen and drunk children. This is a book that attempts to answer the question about how such crimes can and should be represented in fiction. Once you start reading the descriptions of body after body of raped and murdered young factory workers, you begin to understand that the novel’s circuitous course to its main subject has been merciful for the reader, but also respectful of the immensity of the crime. It is a dark sun above the oppressive and unrelentingly airless atmosphere of the novel as a whole. When the novel is finally laid to rest, reality has turned the colour of the desert. Just as the bloody 4th section must, through its immense physical and spiritual weight, colour all that came before it, so too does the novel as a whole, in subject and in style, remain with you long after you have finished it, making everything light, clever, and precious seem like silly baubles.

Your task, dear reader, is to illustrate the divisions of any text so as to make a point. Provide a short explanatory note if necessary.

For an alternative assignment, if you are interested in 2666 submit anything else on this text.


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