Poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño wrote about strangulations, stabbings, rapes, drug deals, pistol-whippings and love gone wrong like the Marquis de Sade on a Mexico City bender. His flat, police-report style—notably in short-story collection Last Evenings on Earth and novel The Savage Detectives—earned him almost as much notoriety as his garrulous presence on the international literary scene.
By the time Bolaño died of liver failure in 2003, many critics echoed Vinnie Wilhelm, who—writing in The San Francisco Chronicle—called
the flinty Chilean “the most important writer to emerge from Latin
America since García Márquez,” while many of Bolaño’s contemporaries
echoed Isabel Allende, who said, “Death does not make you a nicer
A jerk but a genius, Bolaño felt his demise closing
in on him for more than 10 years, and in that time went deep into the
woodshed to work on a thousand-page opus titled 2666. In interviews, the chain-smoking ex-junkie author would only let on that 2666
was based on the mysterious killings of more than 300 women in the
Northern Mexico town of Cuidad Juarez, a strange subject for a writer
seemingly drunk on his own machismo.
first in Spanish by Anagrama and now in English by FSG, 2666 revolves
around a reclusive but brilliant German author and his relationship to
hundreds of women killed in Northern Mexico. True to form, 2666 is a chilling tour de force.
main character is not unlike the author himself, if a more extreme and
mythological version. He roams Europe with only his typewriter and a
few books, writing infuriating novels of exquisite singularity. As in
all Bolaño’s work, fact and fiction mix deliciously. The book’s central
question is one Allende might have asked herself late at night: Could
the same qualities that made a man a great writer also make him a
2666 has the same detached tone as
Bolaño’s earlier writing, and the characters all exhibit trademarked
Bolaño cool, but there’s a kind of chilling empathy in the author’s
focus on the Sonora workers, many of whom are raped and tortured before
being murdered. Daniel Zalewski, for The New Yorker, said the Northern Mexico chapters of 2666 “may be the grimmest sequence in contemporary fiction.”
of such passages, the novel might just be the crowning achievement of
“visceral realism”—the fictional literary movement Bolaño dreamed up in
The Savage Detectives to counter the noxious effects of magical
realism in Latin American literature. A real writer posthumously
publishing the crowning achievement of his own fictional movement—it’s
a typical Bolaño flourish.