An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom

Johnathan Russell Clark has published the first book about 2666. It’s a slim volume from Fiction Advocate’s new series called “…Afterwords” (which includes other books on Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home). If you are Bolaño fan or critical reader, it is well worth your time.

Clark’s book is a hybrid of personal memoir, plot summary, and analysis. He offers critical commentary on the novel’s reception and place in literary history. There is some close reading of the novel–especially around the meaning of Archimboldi’s novels. There are five parts to the book (in addition to a personal prologue and epilogue): a part about Bolaño’s biography, a part about Bolaño’s other writing, a part about the structure of 2666, a part about 2666 as a “Single Work of Art”, and a part about Bolaño’s legacy. Though the whole thing is riveting, two of the five parts of the book focus exclusively on the text of 2666.

Clark engages with Bolaño’s disruptive place in the post-Boom lineage of Latin American writers. However, we are fifteen years past Bolaño’s death and there is another generation of Latin American writers working today acutely aware of the shadow from Blanes. For those interested in how Bolaño altered and transformed the literature of the Spanish language, this new generation, which includes the wildly varying styles of Valeria Luiselli, Laia Jufresa, Brenda Lozano, Carlos Gonzalez, and Yuri Herrera, is out there today, leading Latin American literature in exciting new experiments and literary forms. Clark’s further reading for Bolaño does not include The Return, Monsieur Pain, or A Little Lumpen Novelita, but I would argue that any one of those could be a fine entry point into Bolaño’s shorter fiction before attempting the epic 2666.

The world desperately needs more critical examination of Bolaño s work. Clark’s book is an excellent entry point for what is hopefully a long tradition. There is much to admire about this book but (and I’m saying this to myself and literally every other critic considering writing on B) let’s focus a little more on Bolaño’s work and less on our personal experience of having read it, or even it’s place in the world of literature.

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