Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2666 (93rd Book)

I thought that the book of the month, The Strangers (154 pages) was too short for my liking so I picked up this behemoth (898 pages) from the Vancouver Public Library to fill the remainder of the month. I almost ran out of time to read both! I think I have been warped forever by this challenge with my perceptions of what a "normal" length for a novel is. I scoff at any book under 300 pages. I never meant to become one of those people...

2666 by Roberto Bolano was a really odd breath of fresh air in a sea of ho hum fiction. What do I mean by that? I was excited to read it, and remained excited to read the novel throughout the entire process despite a really dark topic. The novel follows a series of different, completely unrelated people  who find themselves drawn to the Mexican town of Santa Teresa. It is apparently a picture perfect image of a very real town called Ciudad Juarez. I was horrified to discover that this is a real town since the novel depicts the utterly horrific murders of women over a several year period. Sure enough, I just googled the town, and it is famous for its extremely high numbers of female murders since 1993.

 I randomly chose this novel after recognizing it on the library shelf as a book from the 1001 list. I read the jacket description and was hooked. I love novels that draw extremely disparate people together in an unusual fashion. 2666 has several vastly different groups of people converging on Santa Teresa and meeting similar people and encountering similar things. If you are interested in this type of fiction I have two highly recommended novels for you:

A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher which is a novel in which a young boy is kidnapped from a planetarium. The people that both he and his sister run across in their search to find one another are extremely varied and incredibly fascinating. Take for instance a arachnologist with 8 fingers, a man who owns a huge hotel, and wounded airman and many other interesting individuals. By the end of the novel they are woven together in a most fascinating way that left my breathless and wanting to immediately reread the novel to pick up all the pieces that I might have missed.

The other is Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner (translated by Lazer Lederhendler). This novel follows a set of 3 seemingly unrelated people who all come together at the end of the novel and several repeated images, one of which is a broken compass that points to Nikolski Alaska rather than Magnetic north.

I am not sure why I liked this novel, but I was hooked and wanted to read right until the end to figure out what the hook was. Parts of it are a slog....but they are supposed to be. The novel is broken into 5 sections and the novel, which was published posthumously, was intended to be 5 separate books. The section entitled "The Part about the Crimes" is just shy of 300 pages of horrific deaths of woman many of which remain unsolved.  I struggled there, but at the same time, knowing that the novel was based on a real life town I forced myself to be witness to these tragedies.  I mulled over how a town allows such tragedies to happen, only to realize that BC has a very similar situation with the high number of murder or missing aboriginal woman.

I don't think I fully understand the novel, but the title is a date that lies several years beyond the authors death. Apparently many of his works make reference to this date and what I take from this novel is that it is a treatise on what makes a life worth living. The theme is particularly noticeable in the first section of the novel which follows a series of German literature enthusiasts who are obsessed with the cult author Benno von Archimboldi. This author has never been seen in real life and speculation around his life is the focus of  the group of german literature professors. They travel to Santa Teresa on hearing a report that he booked a ticket to the town and one after another they slowly come to the realization that they have been hiding from real life by their obsession with Archimboldi. Archimboldi is the focus of the 5th part of the novel and there is a lot of discussion around death and what honour and purity mean throughout his story.

What ever the point of the novel is there is so much packed into the novel that it makes for an interesting read, one that I would recommend to anyone that likes a cerebral novel. It isn't terribly good bedtime reading however, and particularly after the section on the dead women, the storyline frequently invaded my dreams. I count this novel as one of the successes of these two challenges in that I would have never picked this novel up if it weren't for my obsession with lists!

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