Roberto Bolano (Chile, 1953)
Los Detectives Salvajes (1998) +
Nocturno de Chile (2000)
2666 (2003), written while Bolano was dying of a liver disease, is a novel in five parts.
Both Jean-Claude Pelletier in France and Piero Morini in Italy have translated novels written by a mysterious and largely unknown German writer, Benno von Archimboldi. Both have become well-respected academics. The Italian, however, is gravely sick and confined on a wheelchair. Manuel Espinoza in Spain, after suffering from depression, graduated with a thesis on the same writer and then became an academic too. Liz Norton in England has become a fan of the same writer after a German friend gifted her a couple of his novels. The three academics have met at various conferences, share the same interpretation of the German's work and have become good friends. Finally, they also meet the Englishwoman when she shows up unexpectedly to defend their theses at a conference against the attacks of some German critics. All four are single and live alone. The French and the Spaniard have sexual fantasies about the Englishwoman. At a conference they hear a speaker describe how he met Benno von Archimbold when the writer was 29 or 30 years old (the speech is a lengthy free-form multi-page sentence), and try in vain to obtain more information from him. The French and the Spaniard decide to visit Archimboldi's publisher Bubis. The publisher is dead and is survived by his aging widow. The editor-in-chief Schnell welcomes them and lets them interview the only two employees, besides the widow, who ever met Archimboldi, but neither remembers much. The publisher's widow refuses to help them get in touch with Archimboldi. A few days later Pelletier visits Liz in London and they become lovers. Then Liz visits Espinoza in Madrid and they become lovers too, and Liz tells the two men about each other. Liz also reveals that she is divorced. The four meet again at another conference, when Archimboldi is rumored to be a candidate to the Nobel Prize, but Morini points out that Archimboldi has never even won a single award in his home country of Germany. After the conference Morini learns from an Italian newspaper of a female journalist who traveled to the north of Mexico to cover a mass murder perpetrated by a druglord. The "menage a trois" among Liz, the Spaniard and the French continues. The wheelchair-bound Morini has a nightmare in which Liz drowns in a swimming pool and decides to visit her in London. Liz tells him the story of the first painter that moved in that neighborhood, Edwin Johns, who became famous for including his own severed hand in one of his paintings, the most radical self-portrait, but was then interned in a mental hospital. Then other painters began moving there and the district became an art district. During his stay in London, Morini also meets a bum at a park. A Serbian critic writes that Archimboldi, now old and lonely, booked a flight from Sicily to Morocco, but he never boarded the flight. Liz becomes restless and decides to break up with both lovers. Pelletier and Espinoza are convinced that Archimboldi, who is becoming increasingly famous, has published his last novel. Three months later they decide to visit Liz together and they find her with a young man, Alex Pritchard, whom they immediately dislike. During another London visit, Alex tells Pelletier to be careful with Liz, calling her a "Medusa". Pelletier and Espinoza try in vain to decrypt the cryptic warning. On another London visit they are in a taxi with Liz when they start an argument with the driver, a Pakistani, who thinks they are pimps and she's a whore. Pelletier and Espinoza attack the poor driver and almost kill him, leaving him unconscious and bleeding in the street. Pelletier and Espinoza, devastated after Liz dumped them, turn to prostitutes. Pelletier's favorite is Vanessa, a woman married to a Moroccan man who had a son before he met him. Morini takes Pelletier and Espinoza to visit the mad painter Edwin Johns at the mental hospital. Morini asks him why he cut his hand. The painter whispers something in his ear and then leaves. That night Morini disappears and for a few days his friends try in vain to find him. When he reappears, he refuses to say where he went. Morini tells Liz that he spent two days in London, refuses to provide any details but then remarks that he now understands why Johns cut his hand: for money. During a seminar in Toulouse the four friends meet Rodolfo Alatorre, author of a novel, who tells them that his friend Almendro "El Cerdo" in Mexico City has just met Archimboldi in person, and that Archimboldi was actually the one initiating the contact. El Cerdo said that Archimboldi was about to fly to Sonora's capital Santa Teresa, in the north of Mexico. The friends are surprised to hear that the German is in Mexico and speculate what could be the reason. They ignore the theory of a Dieter Hellfeld that Archimboldi is none other than the widow Bubis. Three of them (not Morini) decide to fly to Mexico. They eventually reach Santa Teresa where they are welcomed by the local university. The dean of arts and letters introduces them to the local Archimboldi expert, Oscar Amalfitano, originally from Chile (note: like Bolano himself), who becomes their local guide. They check in vain all the hotels, looking for a Reiter (the alternative name Archimboldi may have used to purchase the air ticket) or an Archimbaldi. They briefly doubt that Almendro made it all up. Liz suddenly summons both Pelletier and Espinosa in her room and makes love to both. Liz then calls Almendro and doublechecks his story. They even come to suspect a magician in a circus to be Archimboldi in disguise. Liz abruptly decides to fly home and later sends a long email to explain why, a very long email that we read piecemeal while we follow the further adventures of Espinosa and Pelletier in Sonora. Espinosa dates a girl named Rebeca while Pelletier mostly re-reads Archimboldi. They learn that 200 women have been murdered in that region and the killer has not been apprehended. Liz writes that a) she has learned that Johns died and b) she has fallen in love with the invalid Morini in Italy. Pelletier is convinced that Archimboldi is there in Santa Teresa but he and Pelletier eventually abandon the search and return to Europe.
Oscar Amalfitano is 50 has a ten-year-old daughter, Rosa, whom he raised alone because her Spanish mother Lola left him after two years to visit a poet she was in love with. Rosa left with a friend, Immaculada, and started writing letters to Oscar. She admitted that Immaculada was a lesbian but she, Lola, was not. Her letter told Oscar about the Spanish poet, who used to live with a gay philosopher, and how she, Lola, "saved" him by having sex with him (before she ever met Oscar). The poet was now interned in a mental asylum. Lola and Immaculada eventually found a way to see him, but the poet was crazy. A doctor, Gorka, recognizing the importance of his poetry, was writing a biography and interviewed Lola. Eventually, the girls ran out of money and Immaculada decided to leave for Paris, and Lola remained alone, penniless, still trying to see the poet. She hitchhiked regularly from her hotel to the asylum, where the poet ignored her, and had sex with the drivers who gave her rides. She started sleeping in a cemetery. Oscar, reading her letters, realized that Lola had gone crazy too. One of her drivers, Larrazabal, invited her to move in with him, but eventually she moved out and went to France. For five years Oscar didn't hear from her. Then she wrote that she was living in Paris, had a son (Benoit) and a humble job, and was sick. Two years later she showed up and stayed for a few days, just enough to let Oscar know that she was dying of AIDS.
Una Novelita Lumpen (2002)