Hello everyone. Trevor and Lee here, excited to announce the first read-along for The Mookse and the Gripes. It’s a book both of us have read but that we are rather desperate to reread — with help! The book that we couldn’t shake, that we want to talk about? Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, which was translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer and hit English readers in late 2008. It’s a big book, divided into five seemingly disparate parts, with most editions clocking in at around 900 pages. We’ll need some time to read this! At the bottom of this post you’ll see our reading schedule, which we plan to have go on from now until late November.
Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño’s life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of Santa Teresa — a fictional Juarez — on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.
Trevor: Maybe this was silly or maybe it all worked perfectly in the end, but 2666 was my first Bolaño. I didn’t like it (my original review is here). Or, rather, I was obsessed by it but ultimately frustrated by it. As I read it, usually very late at night (I still remember vividly staring down the pages at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning over the Christmas holiday season), I felt like I was chasing down hidden figures in vague yet malicious dreams. It was unlike anything I’d ever read, and I was unprepared to evaluate it.
Several months passed and I realized that I couldn’t shake the book. It wasn’t just a memory; it had actually affected the way I looked at the world. I started to go through some of Bolaño’s earlier work. I became a convert when I read By Night in Chile (my original review here). At that point in time, I don’t think I had revised my opinion of 2666 yet, but it wasn’t long before I realized that the frustration I’d felt with that book was exactly the reason the book was so powerful, why it was a masterpiece, why I think it is going to go down as one of the most important works of the twenty-first century. Despite my altered view, I’ve never reread the whole thing again.
When I posted my review of Chris Andrews’ Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe (here), Lee and I got to talking and realized the book had deeply affected each of us. Lee posed the idea of a read-along on the blog, and I was immediately excited. I didn’t have to think about it. Let’s do it.
Lee: In anyone’s reading life there are monuments that sit ominously in the shadows of their personal literary landscape that inevitably pass judgment on every other encountered book, echoing perniciously through the pages of lesser efforts, enriching others. They are omnipresent and alive. They alter, perhaps, the mindset of those involuntarily under their unending spell, and continue to grow. Sometimes they demand a re-read.
Trevor: Yes, my mindset was definitely altered! I’m excited to go back now and, with you and maybe some others, examine what happened to me!
Lee: I look forward to taking on (and that’s how it feels: it’s daunting) 2666 once again, to reappraising it a few years beyond our first reading, to rediscovering whatever it was that has meant it has remained so prominent in our minds, to clutch that maddening, brilliant behemoth again as it quite conceivably slips through my fingers, as it largely did first time around. It resists interpretation for many reasons: we can’t ask the author about it; it’s probably easy to argue hundreds of interpretations of its labyrinthine content; it was never finished; it’s in five sections that, as much as they are (and as we will doubtless argue) linked in many ways, they are intriguing in isolation and may well only have been tenuously linked in Bolaño’s thinking.
And I’m hoping to understand it a little better during this re-read, tease out hitherto unbeknownst thematic hints, find elements I had missed, draw links between the sprawling multitude of prominent characters, passing specters, odd cameos, murders, revelations, exchanges, geographical leaps, enigmatic interior monologues, switches in genre, inferred symbols, overt symbols, silences, and all those difficult to articulate essences that comprise plenty of this vast, incomplete, grand vision, grander and more enduringly immanent, perhaps, due to its incomplete, monolithic, contentiously assembled format, the sad, premature demise of its incomparable creator, its horrifying, stubborn insistence on looking right into the void.
Trevor: It’s that darkness that changed me, I think, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. On the contrary. It darkened my worldview, but in that stronger contrast, brightened it as well. I wonder why?
Lee: I think that as Bolano snuffs out, in 2666, some of the night-sky stars he imbues those left with more effulgence. Maybe a re-read will illuminate?! Hope so. To read 2666, first, second or umpteenth time, is to accept some painful truths (or was for me, certainly). Bolaño dealt in them unflinchingly, and there are long stretches of the book that are not to be underestimated. The novel repels a large portion of potential readers by mere fact of its subject matter and confrontational facing down of the very bleakest realities planet earth serves up with horrific regularity. It’s an unavoidably harrowing proposition to a degree, but of all the things I’ve read it rewards all those moments of sadness that are so central to Bolaño’s worldview. It often says terrible, wrenching things about us but changed my mind about a fair few fundamental things and made me a better reader and, I hope, a better human being. I know many really perceptive and admirable commentators on literary matters that don’t believe in a book’s capacity to change the reader. I can only disagree. Amid the sadness Bolaño inevitably uncovers on his fearless voyage he also locates a strange, life-affirming magic. He locates redemptive elements in the strangest of places, and warns us to keep our eyes open and live fully: to do so, he suggests, is to remain susceptible to everything, from the unspeakably grim to the wondrous. 2666 contains what feels like the truest version of the contemporary world I’ve yet come across in fiction, I think: although it’s a world in itself. I look forward (in the main!) to having another look around it and to seeing what we find this time . . .
Trevor: Very well put, Lee. I am exceedingly excited to begin!
As mentioned, we have never done a read-along here at The Mookse and the Gripes, so forgive us if we don’t really know what we’re doing as we try to make this an inclusive and thorough reading experience for any joining us. We’ve decided to give ourselves plenty of time to read and reflect upon each of the five sections before coming here and posting a joint reflection in conversation, which we hope will be the beginning of a longer conversation. But, we comfort ourselves by saying that even if no one joins in, we will still find all of this worthwhile. We know, though, that if we get some others to join us, the conversation will be exponentially richer, so do, please, join us.
Here is our schedule; we’ll be posting our thoughts on these sections on the dates listed, so, if you’d like to join, dig in! In the meantime, please feel free to comment here about your thoughts.
|Part I: The Part about the Critics||September 19|
|Part II: The Part about Amalfitano||October 3|
|Part III: The Part about Fate||October 17|
|Part IV: The Part about the Crimes||November 7|
|Part V: The Part about Archiboldi||November 28|