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1st July
2009
written by Steph

Meh.  This part of the ubernovel, 2666, may have been the shortest, but I also felt it was far less rewarding and rich compared to Part One.  We delve into the world of Amalfitano, a Chilean whom the scholars in the last part met briefly, first chronicling his relationship with his wife (and her obsession with a poet who has been committed to an asylum), and then focusing on Amalfitano’s own mounting obsession with a mysterious geometry textbook (yes, you read that correctly).  At 60 some odd pages, this section lent itself to a quick read, but I didn’t feel I got much out of it. First, I didn’t feel like this second part was a natural extension or progression of part one.  It didn’t seem to further any of the plot points that occurred in The Part About the Critics, but moreover, it didn’t appear to deal with any of the same themes either.  Well, that’s not strictly true – I suppose we see the notion of pursuit highlighted once more, as Lola sets out to find the mad poet and ingratiate herself into his life, but that was about the only part that felt like an echo of earlier parts of 2666.  But even if we consider that perhaps Bolaño meant these parts to stand more on their own, I still felt this wasn’t all that successful, because it seemed to be divided into the Lola section and the Geometry Book section, and these two sections felt disparate from one another as well.  Not sure how the two reflect upon one another, but then again, I’m not entirely sure what the section regarding the geometry book was supposed to be about at all.  I admit, I like the quirky idea of hanging a book outside oneself to withstand the elements as best it can, but did I have any idea what it was meant to symbolize?  No.  I mentioned in my last wrap-up that I wasn’t confident that Part One could truly stand on its own, that it told a complete story, and that is definitely even more true for this section. In the end, I’m glad this section was short because I didn’t really get much out of it.  I don’t know if the gap between finishing Part One and taking up Part Two caused me to sort of lose my 2666 rhythm, but the charm wasn’t there for me when reading this part.  Even if I only found the moments of wit and humor intermittent with Part One, I found those elements mostly absent here.  I wouldn’t say Part Two was boring so much as it was befuddling.  I’m not sure what Bolaño was trying to achieve here, but in my eyes, all the elements didn’t coalesce very well in this section.  Maybe if given the chance, Bolaño would have gone back and smoothed some of the rough edges?  I think this section could definitely have befitted from some serious authorial massaging.  Hopefully the next part picks back up! Other thoughts on Part Two:

13 Comments

  1. 07/01/2009

    It’s funny, you and I had to completely different reactions! lol. I thought Part 2 was an improvement over Part 1. I was basically bored with Part 1. I didn’t really like the critics and I didn’t particularly care about any of their escapades. On the other hand, like you, I didn’t really get the whole geometry book thing. Actually, I found it kind of annoying inscrutable. Who hangs a book on clothesline, anyway? then a lot of Bolano’s characters do things that I just found…odd. The reason I liked Part 2 more than 1, was mostly because I thought the writing was, as a whole, better.

    I’m really interested to see what you think of the rest of the book. Part 4 and 5 (especially 5) are what made the book worth it for me. I wonder if you’ll feel the same. Hmm… = )

    Happy reading!

  2. I thought part 2 was an improvement over part 1 too, although it was only marginal. I found part 2 much easier to read, and I engaged with the characters a bit more (possibly because there were fewer of them)

    I found part 2 bewildering though. I don’t really understand why a lot of it was there. I really hope it all comes together soon (although I have heard that part 3 is pointless and you can get away with skipping it altoghther!)

    Don’t worry – I still plan to read part 3.

    I hope someone else can explain the geometry!

  3. 07/01/2009

    @J.S. – Yes, I did notice that we did have opposite reactions to the first two parts, but I do hope that I the last two tie everything together for me and make it all worthwhile. To be honest, I didn’t feel the writing was noticeably better in Part Two, but maybe that’s because I spent most of this section confused? I think I didn’t notice the writing for the most part, which isn’t exactly bad, but I suppose is no great praise either! 😉
     
    @ Jackie: I think I liked Part One more simply because it had a more conventional plot that I found easier to wrap my mind around. I didn’t mind the Rosa storyline here, but the focus on Amalfitano’s obsession with the geometry book in the latter half was so obtuse that I didn’t really enjoy the reading.
    Interestingly, the few reviews I had read that were generally quite negative about the book seemed to only find Part 3 worthwhile (I think… I don’t really remember), so I’m interested to see how I respond to it!

  4. 07/01/2009

    Steph – I found Part One and Part Two to be very different and I really had to shift gears to get a sense of Part Two. My thoughts turn to the fine edge Amalfitano is walking between sanity and madness and that, even though Part One was dark and violent in places, Part Two seems even more threatening.

    I have no idea have this will all come together but I am really enjoying sharing thoughts with everyone reading the book! Thank you.

  5. 07/01/2009

    Steph,

    I liked part two quite a bit more than you did, but that doesn’t mean I could explain everything that was going on at this point either! (I think you might have confused the names of Amalfitano’s ex-wife and daughter above, though.) I saw the geometry textbook as a symbol of the conflict between rationality or reason and chance or destiny…but given Amalfitano’s mental state, it could just as well speak to the divide between order and chaos. I’m not sure that Bolaño meant books 1 and 2 to provide a natural progression; certain things fit together thematically and in terms of the characters involved, but my guess is that Bolaño was aiming either for a series of parallel narratives or a diptych style of storytelling that will intersect at some point in time. I like the open-ended aspect of the approach myself, but I understand the distress of people accustomed to more traditional plot development. In any event, thanks for another interesting review: it continues to be fun to see how everybody’s reacting to the same material!

  6. 07/02/2009

    @ Gavin: I like the way you put it of “shifting gears” between Part One & Two… I think I was really surprised with how approachable Part One was, so was expecting more of the same from this part… but I found it far more obtuse and like there was somehow less of a narrative there. Maybe? I think all of the things you picked up on (the line between madness and sanity, the impending threat) are all really astute, and even though I didn’t think of those things when reading, considering these elements has definitely helped flesh out my opinions/ideas on this section.
     
    @ Richard: Thanks for pointing out the Lola/Rosa mistake in my review – I did indeed mean Lola! I am with you that Bolaño may not have intended for a natural progression between the two parts, but I suppose I still have problems trying to appreciate this part on its own. That is, if I had bought this part as it’s own individual volume (as Bolaño wished), I would have been seriously peeved, because I just didn’t take anything away from it. I found the Lola storyline more interesting, more human, I suppose, and yet, I wanted more, because I didn’t understand her motivations or what she was meant to represent. I feel Bolaño’s characters are too sketchy and ill-drawn in this section for me to understand their struggles.
    But, I appreciate your thoughts on this part, even if they were so dramatically different from my own! I agree that it’s great to compare and consider everyone’s different reactions, because it really is making for a much richer reading experience than it would have been if I were reading alone!

  7. 07/02/2009

    I agree that this section doesn’t stand on its own as well as the first one, but I loved it as part of the whole. For me, it very effectively tightened the dramatic tension, and darkened the mood, focusing in on the “something wrong” that the critics perceived in Santa Teresa during the first part. For me, that was the crucial link between the two parts: what the critics observed in the role, basically, of tourists, Amalfitano grapples with on a daily basis in his own town and his own head. Since we seem to be focusing toward “the crimes” of Book 4, the progression made sense to me.

    It’s funny, the geometry book part was maybe my favorite part of the whole novel up to this point! I found it darkly hilarious, as well as pointing up the tension around Amalfitano losing his grip. But I likes ’em weird. 🙂 I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts, too!

  8. 07/03/2009

    I loved Part 2! Part 1 dealt mostly with the relationships between the critics, whereas Part 2, I felt, had so much more going on.

    You said you didn’t feel that Part 2 had much to do with Part 1 – personally, I felt that there was a strong parallel between Lola’s mad poet and the painter who cut off his hand in Part 1. I discussed it in my summary. Basically, I think Bolano is building on the theme, which he began in Part 1, of art and madness being inextricably linked.

  9. 07/03/2009

    @ Emily: I wonder if I need to re-read this section before progressing with Part Three, as so many people felt it did propel us further into the emotional narrative (if not plotwise)? I think I got too bogged down in Amalfitano’s philosophical ramblings, and wasn’t able to focus on the action (internal and external). I think it definitely makes sense to heighten the tension by giving us the perspective of a local, but I really must confess I didn’t feel it at all! 😉
    Also, I liked the geometry book being hung outside, I just didn’t really understand what it meant. But I liked the quirkiness about it, and must admit I found it an oddly romantic gesture (especially when the reference is discussed, with it first being recommended to a married couple… don’t think our condo would approve of me hanging one out on the balcony though! 😉 ).
     
    @ EL Fay: I think that whatever faults I felt Part One had, I did appreciate that it seemed to focus on interpersonal drama/relationships. Part Two seemed to have this with regards to Lola’s story, but the latter half really lost me, because I just couldn’t get a grip on what was going on. I get that Amalfitano might be losing his grip and is intensely paranoid, but I guess I couldn’t figure out what made him tick other than fear for his daughter. I found this part more alienating, I suppose.
    But you are right to draw the parallel between Lola’s poet and the painter from Part 1 – I did at one point wonder when he was first mentioned if they might be the same man. So at first I did pick up on that possible symmetry, but didn’t go much further with it. Still, I think you’re right that Bolaño might be developing a deep relationship between art and madness…

  10. 07/03/2009

    Steph.. I totally get what you mean about this being even less of a stand-alone piece than the first, because there is no evident plot, but then I kind of expected it. I totally expected this part to be completely separate from the first, definitely not “a natural extension” or “progression” and that expectation may have paid off, because I didn’t mind that the only connection between the first and this was the Santa Teresa murders. I do think, though, that the themes are recurring. Like EL Fay said, art and madness. Also, the violence. Your point about pursuit. So many things bring the whole thing together, even if plotwise they don’t.

    This is very interesting, how we can read the same thing and get (or not get) so many different things from it. I’m actually very glad we’re all reading along, as I would be lost on my own.

  11. […] Steph @ Steph & Tony Investigate!: […]

  12. Lu
    07/04/2009

    I finally got my post up! Thanks for hosting, I’m loving this 🙂 Parts that completely confused me seem to be people’s favorites and parts I found completely engaging were less interesting for others. I go into complete book-nerd smiles about this whole thing, because it’s so much fun!

  13. 07/04/2009

    @ Claire: I’m really glad we’re doing a read-along too! Even parts that I don’t necessarily enjoy I find really interesting when I read others’ thoughts on them. I definitely think I’m getting far more out of this book than I would have if I were reading it on my own! I am torn, I suppose because while I didn’t enjoy this part very much and therefore found the brevity a boon, I wonder if I might have liked it more if it had been a bit longer so Bolaño could have developed the story more.
     
    @ Lu: Glad you’re enjoying this so much. Your enthusiasm is really infectious, and I really enjoyed reading your insights into this part. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Part 3!

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