When one of Roberto Bolaño’s characters praises “the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown,” he’s describing Moby-Dick and Kafka’s Trial, but also 2666 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30). The final completed work by the extraordinary Chilean writer, this book has five parts, each of which could stand alone as a satisfying novel. Together, they resolve specific mysteries, deepen larger ones, and form a brilliant panorama of humanity’s follies, quirks, and outrages, ranging from the genteel pursuits of European literary critics to the depravities of World War II, to the harrowing unsolved murders of women in Juárez, Mexico. Above all, Bolaño is a compulsive storyteller, and his narratives continually spin off in surprising directions, often told by the characters themselves, as Bolaño’s amazingly dexterous, manic, and fully crafted prose lends itself by turns to the voices of cynical cops, tough thugs, the working poor of Mexico’s maquiladoras, sorrowing mothers, an earnest Brooklyn journalist, and unintentionally humorous elderly soldiers. This is a huge, stunning novel, without a wasted word.
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