I recently started reading Roberto Bolaño's epic novel, 2666. The book size itself is massive, but not enough to make me question my ability as a reader. Nevertheless, for the time being, I've decided not to continue reading it.
My first introduction to Roberto Bolaño was The Skating Rink. Despite the fact that it only left me slightly warm, I did enjoy the novel; I was not excited or amazed, just a bit above indifferent. It was a good piece of literature, but there were a few things that did not sit well with me. Unfortunately, I'm finding similar issues with 2666.
Bolaño is an interesting author, one who surely knows his craft and can write well. His pacing is good, his character development is good, his choice of words better than most. So why do I not like him as much as I should? My immediate answer would be themes. Bolaño himself said that if he did not become a writer, he would have been a criminologist (if I recall correctly, but it could be a prosecutor). There seems to be an underlying criminal theme in his work, a theme that is subtle enough not to take away from the literary meaning, but strong enough to annoy me. If I wanted to read a great detective novel, Roberto Bolaño would not be my first choice. I want to read him for his words, his style, and his ability to weave sentences in a magical way. Unfortunately, I can't.
I've spend the first sixty pages of 2666 pondering the relationship between four unlikely friends brought together by their common admiration for the work of an obscure Prussian writer. So far so good. But then comes the crime layer, or the suggestion of a crime. It was enough to put me off because, in my mind, I do not want another hundred pages of criminal study (as in The Skating Rink). Roberto Bolaño is a great writer, but I'm afraid I'm not feeling him the way I should.
My venture into the realm of 2666 came in the heels of The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. I could relate to both, and I have since resumed reading Calvino. His sentences are great, his imagery wonderful. I love the deep thought that went into creating this book, the vast array of human emotions disguised as cities, the premise of intimate conversation between two great men.
In 2666, I'm missing the human touch. I'm an observer sitting on the outside, an observer who, at times, is fed too much and not enough all the while. An observer who observes actions but not emotions, for they do not come as genuine. I know his characters struggle, feel pain, and are confused by their own emotions. Of this I am told, yet I fail to feel it.
Thus, for the time being, I've decided to return 2666 to the library and move in a different direction. I'm sure there will come a day when I borrow the book again, and I will likely enjoy it. But the time is not now.