2666, By Roberto Bolaño

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 11 September 2009 00:00
Comments

The next time you hear about the "death of the novel", beat the speaker over the head with 2666. And then make them read it. Five books in one, masterfully interwoven not only by recurrent ideas and characters but by a torrential humour, deep humanity and sheer storytelling bravura, the posthumous masterpiece from the Chilean-turned-Catalan magician (splendidly translated by Natasha Wimmer) should stand on every self-respecting bookshelf.

That makes his encyclopaedic epic – which has critics reaching for Sterne, Cervantes, Pynchon and Musil allusions – feel a duty or chore. It's not. Beyond the fabulous picaresque fun of the opening, it becomes a searing elegy for all the wretched of the earth among the forgotten dead of "Santa Teresa" on the Mexico-US border, and closes amid the polished barbarism of the Third Reich. 2666 offers everything that fiction can – and then gives even more.

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