Friday, February 26, 2010

Adam Roberts on Bolaño

2666 still rattles around in my head. And the sf writer, critic, and blogger Adam Roberts hits that spot on the venn diagram where 'agrees with me', 'is amusing and smart', and 'is witty and quotable' intersect. So I was especially pleased to read him blogging 2666, with some wise advise for writers:

The most striking thing about Bolaño’s style is what you might call its egregious twitting of the Chekov principle. If Bolaño were to have a character hammer a nail into the wall at the beginning of Act 1 not only would the character not hang himself upon it at the end of Act 3, but he would spend Act 1 hammering nails all over the place, selling his hammer to a character who never appears again, describing elaborately detailed but wholly oblique dreams, observing, doing and thinking a blizzard of things that seem to have no relationship to the larger pattern.....

The problem with Chekov’s nail is that, once you’re aware of the principle, it constrains the audience’s response: like a whodunit in which there are only two characters, it closes down your interpretive options. Bolaño works hard against that. So, which of his details matter, and which are just window dressing? The British painter who crowned his career by cutting off his own right hand, mummifying it and incorporating it in his last canvas—is he ‘important’ to the novel? Or is he just Poe-like garnish, only there to establish a vaguely guignol-y mood? What about the scene where Moroni suffers hysterical blindness, only to recover his sight a little later? What about the young English teacher, Pritchard, who hangs around Norton, and tells Pelletier and Espinoza that she is the Medusa? The scene where Morini recites an Italian restaurant menu as if it were poetry, ‘slowly and with an actor’s intonation’? The interlude when, temporarily rejected by Norton, the two men take up with a succession of prostitutes, Pelletier getting involved with ‘a girl called Vanessa’, going so far as to visit her home where she lives with her complaisant Moroccan husband and blonde son? What about Amalfitano, an effete Chilean academic who works at the University of Santa Teresa, and who befriends Pelletier, Norton and Espinoza when they stay there? Is he important? The fact that the second section, which I shall read next, is called ‘The Part About Amalfitano’ leads me to believe he will be; although it’s also possible that this chaff-blizzard of detail is all misdirection, and that in the end nothing will be.

He got that right.....

3 comments:

Generic said...

Hard to tell is that final line carries a tone of approval. Inclined to hope not.

Tulkinghorn said...

Don't know how I feel about it myself, to tell the truth....

I love messy narratives for exactly that reason -- that it leaves the possibility that none of it is supposed to make sense in an Agatha Christie sort of way.

What I don't know is where 2666 lies on the line between chaos and the well-made play.

If I've understood you, you mostly hate that sort of thing, finding it a pretentious, almost insulting, refusal to follow the genre traditions that grown-ups and professionals have developed over the years for very good reasons. Thus, your dislike of "No Country for Old Men".

One of the things I find interesting about 2666 is how he tries to have it both ways: chaos and the messiness of real life in a narrative partially constructed like a police procedural. Ellroy, too, the complexity of whose plots almost approaches the organic.

Generic said...

Too complicated for a quick response.

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" -- Jack Benny