2666 by Roberto Bolano
This gigantic, posthumous book includes several tenuously connected narratives, each of which is long enough to be at least a novella. The longest, most central story is about a series of murders of women in a Mexico border town modeled on Ciudad Juarez. The women’s bodies are described in brutal, clinical detail, and most of the crimes are never solved. The effect is an overwhelming pile of bodies, an endless accumulation of violence. Some other passages reminded me of Marquez in their dreamlike quality and fantastic improbability. The beginning and ending narratives seem most removed from the crimes in Mexico, concerning a trio of European academics and their scholarly obsession, a reclusive German writer.
I didn’t always find the book easy to read, whether because of the violence, because the characters were sometimes hard to connect with, or because it was just so long. The style seemed a little alienating at times, but I’m sure that was a deliberate choice. There was a payoff, though, once I could see the connections between the various narratives. The ending of “The Part About the Crimes,” in particular, I found sinister and moving. Sometimes reading a gigantic book like this makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, even conquered something. There are some stories that just have to be long.