Saturday, July 02, 2011

The part about genius

2666 is a ridiculously good book. No, not just good - it's obscenely great actually. Impossibly brilliant, deep, funny, perceptive, brutal and ultimately beautiful. It raises the bar for greatness to more than stratospheric heights. Nanga Fakir might just have read one of the greatest books ever. And he fears he'll become jaded and not appreciate just a regular, next-in-line, your run-of-the-mill great work of literature.

Comparisons with Boris Pasternak and his magnum opus Doctor Zhivago immediately come to mind, although to be fair, 2666 is perhaps, (if it were possible) even more, soul crushingly great than Zhivago. It fuckin' hurts that Nanga Fakir discovered Roberto Bolaño after his death (yet again! Add Bolaño's name to the list of masters discovered just after their deaths (Nirmal Verma and DFW) - in fact, actually because of their deaths and the subsequent howls of bereavement emanating from the literary establishment).

The book is divided into five parts - The part about the critics, The part about Amalfitano, The part about Fate, The part about the crimes and The part about Archimboldi. As was the case in his previous, gorgeous The Savage Detectives, the nine hundred page story is about a reclusive, mysterious master writer; a writer of many obscure cult books whose readership comprises mostly of hyperliterate critics; a writer who's recently become the contender for the Nobel Prize and is hunted by zealous writer-critic followers. And yet this is hardly what the book is about. From the part about the critics, the book jumps to the part about the professor of Philosophy who's worried sick of his daughter's safety and is conducting bizarre philosophical experiments on geometry books by hanging them upside down in his backyard and exposing them to the real, non Euclidean forces of nature and relishing the primal assault on their Platonic, sublime, Euclidean existence. Then comes the part about Fate, where the prenominate reporter from New York comes to write about a boxing match in Santa Teresa on the border of Mexico and the US but gets hooked on to the series of unsolved murders happening in the city.

The part about the crimes is a harrowing 280 page description of the serial killings of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa - a real life incident that makes Jack the Ripper seem like an unmotivated, distracted amateur. Page after page after page we're hounded by the detailed, hardboiled, brutal descriptions of the bodies found in dumps and the shrugs of the policemen as they file away the cases as unsolved. NF cannot find the name of one contemporary writer who could've carried this part off with such aplomb as Bolaño manages to do. In the hands of a lesser writer this could easily turn out to be a sappy, melodramatic and most unforgivingly boring exercise; but Bolaño's fast paced, digressive, dark humored descriptions are nothing short of terrifyingly beautiful - evoking scenes of deep sadness and hair raising cruelty.

The world-trotting, continent strolling, post national story then goes back to where things started from - the part about Archimboldi - his childhood, adolescence, youth and rise as the writer for whom the critics have been looking for. Bolaño uses his blitzy, fast paced, meandering, story-within-a-story-within-a-story format to trace out his lineage, his conscription as a Nazi soldier, his travails on the Soviet front and his departure from society and ascent in the literary firmament. The breathtaking, last forty or so pages neatly tie a couple of loose ends from the previous parts and bring the book to a closure of sorts.

Bolaño deals with extremes - his protagonists will either be overeducated, philosopher-quoting/name-dropping cultural elites or they'll be hapless, clueless Mexican policemen who, for all their jaded weariness with death, crime, destruction and mayhem, cannot help crying over the raped, dead body of a twelve year old girl. Again and again, Bolaño juxtaposes the extremes of the heart stopping beauty of high art with the cruel, Darwinian reality its existence clashes against. Perhaps Archimboldi is not the hero of this unfairly beautiful novel. Perhaps it is the countless dead women of Mexico who remain violated, killed, dumped, and, ultimately, forgotten. Perhaps the real hero is Bolaño himself with his sheer, superhuman power of spinning a great yarn, making it possible for aesthetics to be ugly, for horror to be edifying.

2666 is a majestic work of awe-inspiring beauty and unimaginable depth. It's not genius. It's more than that, more than that.

Much more than that.

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