All these elements play a role in 2666. This sprawling book takes place in a half dozen or so countries and moves back and forth over a period of some eight decades. And, yes, it is a leaping into the void, a thrust into the darkness. As with The Savage Detectives, the theme of searching after the unknown looms large in the unfolding plot lines. Sometimes the pursuit is an ardent vision quest, as in the opening section during which several scholars attempt to track down Benno Von Archimboldi, an enigmatic writer who makes Pynchon or Salinger look gregarious by comparison. At other points, the seeking takes on darker tones, as in the long penultimate section of the book, devoted to the local authorities' attempt to identify and apprehend a serial killer who murders dozensâ€”or perhaps even hundredsâ€”of women in northern Mexico. The settings and situations constantly change in this unconventional novel, but the sense of restlessness remains.
As he worked to complete this novel, BolaĂ±o planned to publish it in five separate books. His literary executor overrode this request, and as a result 2666 sees light of day as a single long fiction, although in five sections corresponding to the components the author would have issued separately. Perhaps, as some have suggested, BolaĂ±o merely hoped to maximize the financial value of his final work, and decided that five short books would earn more money for his estate than one very long novel. The different sections do stand aloneâ€”and probably will be published in isolation in the futureâ€”although they take on their greatest resonance when juxtaposed and compared.
indeed, this work circles in on itself, and each section undermines, to various degrees, the narrative thrust of the remainder of 2666. For example, the apparent meaning of the opening section, devoted to the academicsâ€™ obsession with the elusive writer Archimboldi, is subverted and refined by the final section of the novel, which lays out in telling details Archimboldiâ€™s own story. The experience is almost like finding an unpublished final act to Beckettâ€™s famous play in which Godot shows up and offers the audience a gripping soliloquy.
But the fourth and longest section of 2666, some 280 pages, threatens to overwhelm the rest of the book. This is a peculiar crime story, in which the author presents the details of the murders committed by a serial killer in Santa Teresa (a slightly fictionalized version of JuĂˇrez) in the maquiladora-dominated northern border area of Mexico. This is much more than a murder mystery. The sheer number of victims is overwhelming, and BolaĂ±o almost numbs the readersâ€™ sensibilities by providing all the gritty specifics of several dozen corpses, crime scenes, autopsies and related investigations.