Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Am I Culturally Challenged?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Am I Culturally Challenged?

Article excerpt

Recently, I read 2666 by Roberto Bolano, a book that has been acclaimed as the greatest novel of the decade so far. I say "recently": actually it took me most of my life to date. The book is about as big as a medium-sized kitchen table and requires eight adults to carry it. And that's just the paperback version. I lugged the hardback around the country for months. When taxi drivers and concerned friends, eyeing my stooping gait, asked: "What have you got in there? A safe?", I would have to admit: "No, it's just a highly regarded Spanish novel."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

But what a novel! Over the several hundred million words, Bolaho--who died rather young, in the manner of a true literary great--tells the story of ... Er, well, that's the problem. The book is actually an assembly of five books, pretty much unconnected to each other. One does little more than detail a series of murders of women taking place in a Mexican border town. One is about a depressed professor. Eventually, connections emerge, but not very strong ones. By the end, we have met hundreds of characters, only for them to drift out of the story again, and--dare I say it -haven't formed any emotional connection with any of it.

It sounds as if I didn't enjoy it, but that's not really the case. The overall experience is certainly memorable, if only because you can hardly fail to form a relationship with a book that you've spent more of 2009 with than any of your loved ones. …

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