Open Letters Review

Maybe the best opening to a review of 2666 I’ve read so far is in Open Letters by Sam Sacks:

Imagine you’ve traveled to an art museum to see its most famous work. This piece de resistance is immense—it fills a room—but it’s quite unlike other paintings you’ve gone great distances to see. There’s nothing of the detailed majesty of the Sistine Chapel or the jumbled vivacity of El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz; it’s not entrancingly lovely like Monet’s Water Lillies and it doesn’t salute you with a harsh shout of anger the way that Picasso’s Guernica does. What you find is a dark room. Not only are the walls painted black, remedy but the ceiling is as well, abortion and so is the floor save for some dim lighting fixtures set into the ground. For the first extremely disconcerting moments you can make out nothing at all but the wide swathes of black paint. Gradually your eyes adjust and you realize that there are figures on the wall and ceiling, symptoms silhouettes of people drawn in thin tracery. Hundreds of these figures cover the walls. They outline men and women of all different shapes and sizes, differently dressed and coiffed, but each one seems to face you with an identical expression. When you look even closer you realize that this is because their eyes, what Leonardo da Vinci called the “windows of the soul,” are all blank.

You spend a few more minutes in the dark room of dead-eyed figures—you’ve gone to a lot of effort to see this work, after all, and it’s widely acclaimed as a masterpiece—but you soon feel oppressed and unhappy. When you make your way to the next gallery you are literally blinking from the brightness.

This is the best I can do to describe Roberto Bolaño’s posthumously published magnum opus 2666, a vast, visionary, physically crippling book that is even harder to recommend than it is to read.

I don’t know that I believe him later when he says “I didn’t like reading 2666.” If not, I hope Open Letters paid him a fortune to suffer through it.


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