2666 – Roberto Bolaño. Part 5: The Part About Archimboldi

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Steph and Claire are hosting a read-along for the highly acclaimed book, 2666, by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. The novel is 900 pages long, and divided into 5 parts. We are reading one part a month.

Here are my thoughts on Part 5: The Part About Archimboldi

After nearly 6 months I have finally finished 2666! It took me a long time to decide if it was worth the effort – this book has confused me, bored me, and amazed me in equal measure.

I have learnt that Bolaño cannot be predicted and so I had no idea what to expect in this final section. What I found was an enjoyable novel, similar to part 3, in that it could be enjoyed independently. It was easy to read and beautifully written, but as an ending to this colossal book I was a bit disappointed. The explanations for some of the initial mysteries were very mundane and the majority of questions were left unanswered. I don’t mind ambiguity at the end of a book, but I had expected a few revelations and some clever twists. I was left feeling very deflated and a feeling of “is that it?” Hopefully Part 6 will be released soon and will have a much more satisfactory climax.

As a standalone novel, Part 5 was very good. I loved learning about Archimboldi and reading the rich descriptions of his family. I was hooked from the first sentence:

His mother was blind in one eye. She had blond hair and was blind in one eye. Her good eye was sky blue and placid, which made her seem slow but sweet natured, truly good. His father was lame. He had lost his leg in the war and spent a month in a military hospital near Düren, thinking he was done for and watching as the patients who could move (he couldn’t!) stole cigarettes from others.

As with the rest of the book there were also a lot of deeper, more philosophical quotes:

That night, as he was working the door at the bar, he amused himself by thinking about a time with two speeds, one very slow, in which the movement of people and objects was almost imperceptible, and the other fast, in which everything, even inert objects, glittered with speed. The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, and Archimboldi’s only wish was never to inhabit either.

I am very intrigued about why Heaven is slow. I always thought Heaven was perfect and can’t understand why he would say this. Can anyone enlighten me?

There is so much to discuss in this book that I am sure you could study it for years and still have more to uncover. The big question is whether I recommend that you read it and that is a very difficult question to answer. A quick glance as my ratings for each section would probably put you off this 900 page chunkster.

Part 1: The Part About the Critics  stars3h

Part 2: The Part About Amalfitano stars3h 

Part 3: The Part About Fate stars41

Part 4: The Part About the Crimes stars21

Part 5: The Part About Archimboldi stars41

I think this book should be approached with caution. I don’t think I would have made it to the end without the support of the other readalong participants:

RichardEmily, Frances,  Gavin, Isabella, Lu, E.L. Fay, and the wonderful hosts Steph and Claire.

It is a confusing, and at times overwhelming book, but I think it is also the sort of book which grows on you. I think that this book will remain with me, with my appreciation for it growing all the time. There are so many layers and little details which bubble to the surface weeks/months after reading it. I don’t think I will ever discover the point of this book, but I don’t think it matters. This book is a masterpiece, which will become a classic. For that reason I have to award it:



I have no idea how that happened when I struggled with so much of it, but I can’t deny the power this book has had on me over the last six months. I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves literary fiction. I promise that is is worth it in the end.

Do you think this book will still be read 100 years from now?

Do you recommend it to others?

If you haven’t read it, do you think you will attempt it?

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  1. Sandy says:

    I’ve been following you, Frances and Gavin through this readalong, and I have to admit, it makes me feel a tad bit overwhelmed. I’m impressed you made it through, and that you were able to read it, and at the same time, keep up with your other books. I can’t be sure if I would tackle such a thing. As a readalong, at the right time (not now!)…maybe. Five stars from you means something, especially when each of the parts earned two to four stars. The whole is greater than its parts?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, That’s right. Each part makes no real sense, but the explanations and analysis of the other reading group members has given me a great appreciation of the book. The cleverness is the way it challenges our ideas of how a novel should be, but each individual section is readable (unlike some other literary books I could mention!)

      I really hope that you get the chance to join another readalong at some point. I have an amazing sense of acheivement for having completed this book and feel I have a better appreciation of writing as a result.

  2. Steph says:

    Wow, Jackie! You gave it 5 stars overall, even though no single section got such a high rating. I guess this is a book that for you was bigger and better than the sum of its parts.

    I confess that I have all but given up on the Part About the Crimes. I see that it was/is your lowest rated of all five sections. Given that you said you felt that this final part was still standalone, I wonder if I could go ahead and just skip ahead and read it? I have about 80 pages left in the Crimes section, but the thought of reading them automatically makes me not want to read!

    I am really glad you got so much out of the read-along; I did too! It has been so edifying to read everyone’s thoughts and reflections on each section, and they certainly helped me appreciate parts that I might have otherwise dismissed rather cavalierly. It was definitely a really enriching reading experience! Who says reading has to be so solitary?

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, Yes – I’d say you can skip the rest of the crime section without really missing anything. I think the idea of the section is to show how monotonous the crimes were and I think you’ve worked that out! I think he is challenging our preconceptions about how a novel should work – we get excited about the section on the crimes, but in reality crimes are nothing to get excited about. The boring repetitiveness is the whole point. It took me a while to work that out, but I now realise how clever that is. I hated reading it though, so completely understand your frustration. I think that giving up on that section and making it to the end will give you great satisfaction – good luck!

  3. Isabella says:

    I’m glad you persevered, Jackie, and got something out of the final part, which is my favourite (I think).

    Regarding Paradise moving slowly, off the top of my head I’d say, since it’s perfect there, there’s no need for change — an ideal world would be static. Another possibility is that Paradis is a life of the mind: your bain would operate at full capacity so everything would appear to be slowed down (kind of like to record a film in a slow motion, you have to increase the number of frames per second).

    I do think 2666 will be read 100 years ago, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. I have, however, been encouraging certain of my friends to read just one part or another.

    To Steph: definitely it’s OK to skip the crimes and the go on. I found the crimes mind-numbing, and it’s only after I’d got through it and had a little distance that I could appreciate it and went back of my own accord to find some details. But Archimboldi stands up all on its own and you might find some real nuggets there.

    BTw, Jackie: Do you have a theory about what happened to Fate? After finishing that part, I went and reread the first paragraph of that section — I was completely disoriented, and I still have no answer.

    1. Jackie says:


      Thank you for enlightening me about Paradise – it sounds terrible to me, but I can see what you mean.

      I agree that I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. I think there are actually very few people I would recommend it to. To enjoy this book you need to be a fan of literary fiction and have the patience to read 900 pages of something which frequently makes no sense!

      I re-read the first paragraph about Fate and it sounds as though he is dead. Isn’t that Fate though – everyone dies in the end? As to how he died – I have no idea! Great question!

  4. mee says:

    Gosh I don’t know if I will ever attempt this book. With read-along at the right time, maybe. But I will most probably attempt War and Peace first before I try this one, just because it’s an older masterpiece. Have you read War and Peace?

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I haven’t read War and Peace yet, but would love to. Next time there is a read along for it I’ll be there!

  5. Emily says:

    It’s awesome that the overall effort was worth it to you in the end! I was more enthusiastic about most individual sections than you, but I also agree that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

    Re: Paradise, I think a mortal person (like Archimboldi) might imagine Paradise as moving slowly so that s/he would have time to digest and understand everything that happened. To me the passage has more to do with Archimboldi’s frame of mind than with any theological point – he is so overwhelmed by his experiences, which have happened quickly and been filled with violence, that his conception of a world without that violence and overwhelming-ness is one that moves very slowly. The slow movement also brings to mind Archimboldi’s love of swimming and diving – an underwater world moves more slowly than one on the shore, so it’s understandable that someone who so loves the sea would imagine heaven as resembling it.

    I think it’s interesting, though, that he never wants to live in either place. I don’t remember if this passage is before or after he stops diving, but if it’s around the same time, it could have to do with him making a kind of peace with the imperfect, on-shore world, and deciding to live in it and write about it as best he can. Maybe? Anyway, I enjoyed your thoughts. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Emily, Interesting thoughts about the sea. I love water and before I had children I was a regular SCUBA diver. I’m not convinced about the underwater world being slower – fish are so much faster than animals! I agree that humans are slower underwater though, so perhaps that is what he is thinking.

      For most of the book I was very confused about what was happening – the book just felt really fragmented. Now I’ve had time to reflect I have a much greater appreciation for it. Thank you for sharing the reading experience with me!

  6. EL Fay says:

    I was actually very satisfied with the ending. I think Bolaño initially set it up as a mystery, but as we worked our way through the book it became apparent that some things just can’t be tidily explained.

    In regard to your questions, I think it’s really impossible to predict whether or not a book will continue to be hailed as a classic in 100 years. I think 2666 will definitely be around, but will it still be considered a masterpiece or just a cult classic or minor work? Kristin Lavransdatter, which a lot of us are reading now, won its author the Nobel Prize in the 1920s, yet today it is not widely read at all in English-speaking countries (don’t know about its native Norway). John Dos Passos was right up there with Hemingway and Fitzgerald in his lifetime, yet today he is considerably behind them in fame.

    I absolutely recommend 2666 to others and I do hope it maintains its current prestige over the next few centuries. It’s a huge book but its division into smaller books definitely makes it more manageable. If someone is bothered by violence (quite a few Amazon reviwers were), I would just tell them that “The Part About the Crimes” can be easily skipped. It just tells us what we already know: hundreds of women have been murdered in Santa Theresa.

    Anyway, I’m glad you persevered. I was bored at times too and for that reason I think parts of 2666 definitely deserve a second reading. Are you doing Kristin Lavransdatter too?

    1. Jackie says:

      El Fay, Yes, I’m reading Kristin Lavransdatter too! It may not be read very much in the outside world, but book bloggers have really raised the profile of it – I have seen it mentioned more than almost any other classic in the past few months. I think the great thing about blogging its that it means great books are not forgotten and word of mouth will let everyone know about the best ones.

      I’m not sure that skipping the part about the crimes removes the violence from the book. In many ways I found the violence in that section boring and easy to handle – it was tiny mentions in some of the other sections which were more disturbing (the taxi driver beating in part one for example)

      I’m really pleased that we read 2666 together and look forward to sharing Kristin Lavransdatter with you!

  7. claire says:

    Jackie, finally I made it to this post! I’m soooo happy you loved it overall, and even gave it 5 stars, despite the lower individualized ratings. Part 5 was my favourite, too, and I absolutely loved the ending. Not despite but because of the ambiguity. If it were tied up neatly in the end, that would’ve lowered my opinion of Bolaño’s skill a bit. As it is, however, I though it was perfect.

    Of course, would love to know what the sixth part is about. Maybe there will be more answers. Maybe we could all get together for another read-along when Part 6 comes out! :D

    I also do not recommend this to everyone. There are certain types of readers for whom this book will click, but a lot of others to whom it won’t.


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