On The Part About Archimboldi (2666)

16Feb09

In which The Gay Recluse finishes reading Roberto Bolaño.

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Through the fourth part of 2666, Roberto Bolano’s epic treatment of many things, we were extremely forgiving of the many tangents and digressions that permeate the work; not only were we impressed by the obvious genius of the writer, but we marveled at his ability to seamlessly move between the lyrical, the clinical, the suspenseful, the psychological, the satirical and the philosophical.  Although we had a few complaints — the pervasively unredeemed homophobia, the fact that many and possibly all of the characters felt like constructs of ideas as opposed to living entities — we never lost patience with Bolaño; his world was lush and full of compelling contradictions, we wanted to know more about the hundreds of murders in his fictional city of Santa Teresa and how the mysterious German author from the first part — Benno von Archimboldi — would or would not figure into them.

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Sadly however, the fifth part doesn’t deliver much more than extreme tedium, to the point where we begin to question our initial love for the book as a whole. Language that once seemed magical now comes off as indulgent and often masturbatory (not coincidentally a tired theme here), every plot twist feels like a chiche, and worst of all, the more we learn about the decreasingly mysterious author — Archimboldi — the less we care about him. Although we see a few characters from the earlier parts, there is no sense of evolution or really any insight (from a reading perspective) into why this part could not have come first or second or third.

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Ultimately, the problem can be traced back to the structure of the book; in the first four parts, the tension builds and builds as Bolaño teases and hints at the mystery — and in some cases — conspiracy surrounding the deaths of the women in Mexico. No matter where he goes, we want to know more! But when he leaves this electric setting for the mundane upbringing — albeit with a liberal sprinkling of exceedingly wooden symbols, e.g., as a child, he preferred to remain underwater — of Archimboldi, we feel deflated and long for the mystery and strength of the previous parts.

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In a few pages at the end of the book that practically weep with a sense of obligation, Bolano “ties things up,” but again we are past wanting to confirm what has become obvious and mundane.

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It’s the same feeling we get watching a teevee series — the X-Files is a particularly apt example in this regard — that reaches its peak in a shadowy but compelling aura of mystery, but one we realize has passed as it soldiers on in mediocrity for several more seasons before finally being killed off.

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Perhaps Bolaño should have ended 2666 after the fourth part, when our interest was at its height and we burned with questions burned about its outcome; as it turned out, this last part gained nothing and cost much, so that we ultimately close the cover with a sense of disappointment. We still strongly recommend that everyone read this novel, but with the understanding that sometimes questions are better posed than answered.

The 2666 Review Roundup:
The Part About the Critics
The Part About Amalfitano
The Part About Fate
The Part About the Crimes

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One Response to “On The Part About Archimboldi (2666)”

  1. 1 Joe G

    That’s interesting. For me, the part I liked least was the fourth (or possibly the second, which felt like a random exercise). I know the fourth part is the part that gets all the praise but I just found it a tedious exercise. The first and fifth movements were what the novel was all about for me. Perhaps I enjoy having my “need to know” fulfilled, but I thought The Part About Archimboldi was not only a wonderful novella in itself but a satisfying cap to a sprawling, ambitious novel. It was absolutely necessary.


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