Beyond 2666
June 2, 2009 5:43 AM   Subscribe

Recently finished 2666. It is on a pedestal by itself, with my award for "Best Novel Ever." Now, everything I try to read seems jaded, inferior, or doesn't measure up. Help me get beyond this and find something interesting to read
posted by Xurando to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried any of Bolano's other books? "The Savage Detectives" is supposed to be pretty great.
posted by saladin at 5:57 AM on June 2, 2009

Response by poster: Read Savage Detectives and could only see it as a lead up to 2666. Haven't been able to finish it.

What I liked about 2666 was:
* Written in realistic narrative style. No fantasy.
* Multiple characters connected through time in six degrees of separation style.
* Unpredictable segues and rants in the middle of narrative, like a jump into "The history of snuff movies in Argentina."
* A totally sewn up plot with an ambiguous ending.
posted by Xurando at 6:05 AM on June 2, 2009

Guess its time to start on The Lifetime Reading Plan.

Of course the real answer is Proust. That will keep you in the corner gnawing on a bone for a while.
posted by shothotbot at 6:13 AM on June 2, 2009

Read Infinite Jest this summer.
posted by gettingpaidforthis at 6:33 AM on June 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Underworld, by Don Delillo, meets or at least comes very close on the things you like about 2666. At least to me.
posted by LionIndex at 6:35 AM on June 2, 2009

The things you like about that are things that Infinite Jest has in spades. Also, the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, et al), except for the ending.
posted by adamrice at 6:37 AM on June 2, 2009

Thirding Infinite Jest. A similarly sprawling novel by a genius intellect that manages to pull in huge hunks of seemingly unrelated philosophy and wit.

Maybe the Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian if you can get over it's goofy premise.
posted by GilloD at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2009

You might like Q by Luther Blissett, it's juicy and ranty but not as complicated or wide-ranging as 2666 seems to be
posted by runincircles at 7:03 AM on June 2, 2009

You might enjoy Cloud Atlas. It has all of that ambition, sprawl and so forth, but with a great deal of depth and compassion for its characters. Nowhere near as dark as 2666 is reported to be. A lot of it is science fiction and a sort of post-apocalyptic projection, but it's told in a realist voice.

And I got Cloud Atlas from this post. Other suggestions there.
posted by el_lupino at 7:12 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Infinite Jest. Also adding Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:13 AM on June 2, 2009

Another vote for DeLillo's Underworld, then. I'd actually avoid Midnight's Children, which, while an incredible book, does contain significant fantastic/magic-realism elements (which you're apparently not too enthusiastic about).
posted by saladin at 7:20 AM on June 2, 2009

Thomas Mann--Joseph and His Brothers. Specifically, the newer translation by John E. Woods. It's a retelling of the Joseph story in Genesis, done in a realist style. Very long; very detailed; very smart; very funny. Lots of fascinating digressions, and yet every single word seems absolutely necessary. Someday this book is going to catch on with Pynchon/Stephenson/DFW fans, and that will be an awesome day.

For a mind that jumps all over the place while still being concerned with synthesis of seemingly disparate ideas, try just about anything by William T. Vollmann. He's not to everyone's taste, but if you find that he's to yours, there's certainly more of his writing than an average person has time for. For starters, consider Europe Central, or Argall.
posted by Prospero at 7:24 AM on June 2, 2009

The Man without Qualities
posted by fire&wings at 7:34 AM on June 2, 2009

He gets mentioned in pretty much every book recommendation thread but there's a good reason… check out Murakami. For you, because you like realism, I'd recommend starting with Norwegian Wood and then reading Wind-up Bird Chronicle (don't start there, you need to know his style before reading it… trust him as an author, as you will).

Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra is another good sprawling, digressive novel.
posted by Kattullus at 7:36 AM on June 2, 2009

Having recently finished 2666 myself, I think part of what you are getting out of this monumental brick of text is the force of the writing itself. After finishing, I felt weirdly as if each part of the novel was necessary and powerful and perfectly-aimed. The only other mainstream book which has given me this feeling is Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, which is a cruel and ugly treatise on violence. Gene Wolfe's novel Peace also has some of the same quality, although it's been overlooked by critics and most readers because he's a "genre" author.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:05 AM on June 2, 2009

I felt like this after I finished Infinite Jest. I got out of my doldrums by rereading a book I love - in my case, it was Lord of the Rings but I feel like in general it's not a bad idea to reboot by returning to an old favorite. Just make sure it's a book you really feel strongly about. The emotional rush of returning to a fictional world that has a lot of meaning for you should carry you through and when you're done you'll be able to return to the world of normal reading.

Especially because if you take the recommendations in this thread, you're going to have the exact same problem over again when you finish IJ...probably not a bad idea to have a backup plan.
posted by crinklebat at 8:08 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, you might like Moby-Dick if you haven't read it.
posted by crinklebat at 8:10 AM on June 2, 2009

Every once in a while this happens to me, both with good books and bad, and the only way I can start up again is to pick up something that I've read before and read it again. There are some things that I've read a million times, and I immediately go to those.

I also like to cleanse my literary palate with short fiction. It's quick, usually tightly written, and if I hate it, it's over quickly.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:13 AM on June 2, 2009

Oh, another book you might like because of the force of its writing (though its subject is very, very different), is Helen DeWitt's Last Samurai (nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie).

Note, sometimes it's called The Seventh Samurai.
posted by Kattullus at 8:14 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing Infinite Jest. Also take a look at Moby Dick. It satisfies many of your requirements.

On preview, I see crinklebat has already suggested this.
posted by pombe at 9:39 AM on June 2, 2009

I find it very hard to go from one epic doorstop to another. I would suggest reading something short, just to clear the palate.
Sci-Fi usually does the trick for me. Another universe entirely self contained in a short format.
Nonfiction also works. The Wild Trees for example, is an excellent diversion, well written, self contained...a perfect change of gear.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:13 AM on June 2, 2009

I've only read 100 pages of 2666 but it reminds me a little of Umberto Eco.
posted by Rora at 10:46 AM on June 2, 2009

nthing Infinite Jest, but I like the idea of rebooting your reading brain with something simpler.

Anything by Douglas Adams is an excellence mental palate cleanser.
posted by jeoc at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2009

I was going to recommend The Children's Hospital, but I see that GilloD has beaten me to the punch.

Certainly, the thing has a fantastical premise-- but it's meaty, muscular, smart, and oh-so-tasty. I was kind of bereft after finishing it a couple of months ago, and thus far, the only novel that's been able to come close to filling the void it left is The Savage Detectives. (Full disclosure: I haven't read 2666 yet, so I can't guarantee that it measures up. Still, it's worth a look.)

If you're looking for philosophy, history, interconnection, and literate sprawl, you might also check out Nicholas Mosley's Catastrophe Practice series. I've only read the first book (Hopeful Monsters), but I liked it quite a lot.

I'm also going to recommend that you check out The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. It's a 17th century Polish/French novel crammed full of six-degrees type stuff, history, fancy, adventure, and meditation, and it's one of my favorite books ever, ever, ever. If you decide to take the plunge on it, make sure you get the full, Penguin edition. Avoid buying used unless you do so live and in person-- there are lots of cruddy old abridged and/or poorly translated editions out there.

Finally, for postmodern sprawl interlarded with literate rants, check out William Vollman.

(And on preview, second Kattulus about The Last Samurai.

posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:16 AM on June 2, 2009

I would recommend The Method Actors by Carl Shuker and The Easy Chain by Evan Dara.

Also I'll plug my Bolaño blog and mailing list, if you are interested.
posted by mattbucher at 11:28 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

More votes for Underworld, Infinite Jest, and (especially) Cloud Atlas. All of your likes about 2666 are met with these books.

Hell, anything by David Mitchell is great.
posted by reductiondesign at 11:48 AM on June 2, 2009

It's about time people rediscovered Gadda, so go read That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana. It is also digressive and comments on the interconnectedness of people (and things). And is brilliant.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:19 PM on June 2, 2009

Richard Powers, The Goldbug Variations
posted by zueod at 2:20 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I liked 2666, Underworld, Cloud Atlas, and several other of the recommendations above.

I fucking hated Infinite Jest, so take those n'things with a grain of salt. I like most of DFW's shorter stuff too, so it's not just his style that irked me.

I'd n'th the Baroque Cycle and Underworld as coming closest to what you're probably looking for.
posted by togdon at 4:05 PM on June 2, 2009

Well, maybe you'll like where 2666 came from... have you read One Hundred Years of Solitude? Yes?
Then, how about Hopscotch, by Cortázar.
Or this collection of Borges' short stories.
Maybe Sabato's On Heroes and Tombs or Tunnel
Or Pedro Paramo (and The Burning Plain) by Rulfo?

Not originally in Spanish? Maybe you'll enjoy The Elementary Particles or Platform by Houellebecq (I liked The Possibility of an Island, but not that many people did).
You may also try Everyting is Illuminated by J. Saffran Foer, but you may have read that; I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (in English; I'm in Mexico...) I heard it is really good.
How about The Black Book or My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk?
Someone who I really trust recently recomended Closely Watched Trains and anything else you may find by Bohumil Hrabal which might prove not to be very much in English.
Good luck!

Also, I am really surprised you liked 2666 so much. I heard it's really violent (hi, languagehat).
posted by omegar at 8:55 PM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Absolutely anything and everything by David Mitchell. Most of the love usually goes to "Cloud Atlas," but I have deep love for "Ghostwritten" and "Number 9 Dream," the latter of which I find particularly vivid and memorable.
posted by jbickers at 5:32 AM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Infinite Jest, Midnight's Children.

Multi-char-realism-w/history= Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra.
Maybe A Fraction of the Whole by steve toltz.
(although both of these are limited-character books, they fill every other criterion).
posted by lalochezia at 4:08 PM on June 3, 2009

ooh, I've got a good one for you: Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.

Roma by Steven Saylor

Any of Michener's novels

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Winter in Kandahar by Steven E. Wilson
posted by nickyskye at 9:46 PM on June 3, 2009

* Written in realistic narrative style. No fantasy.
* Multiple characters connected through time in six degrees of separation style.
* Unpredictable segues and rants in the middle of narrative, like a jump into "The history of snuff movies in Argentina."
* A totally sewn up plot with an ambiguous ending.

Have you read The French Lieutenant's Woman? It misses on #2, but hits all the others.

While telling the story of a twisted romance, there are lots of detours on Darwin, paleontology, Victorian society and comparisons to contemporary society. Contemporary being the late 1960's, as the book was published in 1969.
posted by marsha56 at 8:12 PM on June 4, 2009

I read The Savage Detectives as well as adored it, I'm looking forward to picking up 2666. From what I've read, it's a bear of a novel, so I might suggest something a little less epic.

kind of out of left field here, but you might like Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Perhaps a little more light-hearted than 2666 (but no worries, there is still a murder mystery buried in those pages) it satisfies all of your "requirements." The ending is wholly ambiguous but surprisingly satisfying nonetheless. As for the unpredictable rants--the book explores a number of different conspiracy theories and each chapter is named after a different famous work which parallels the "goings-on" in that chapter.
posted by allymusiqua at 9:23 PM on June 4, 2009

I read 2666 the week it came out and it still haunts me, in the sense of trying to piece it together, to make sense of senseless tragedy, and I guess that's what it's all about, tragedy is senseless, but I didn't need to read a 900 page novel for that insight. Although it is curious how my brain keeps trying to make a neat story out of it, when no story really exists. It's a natural human trait to give meaning to everything, even the meaningless and random. Postmodern is wonderful (ugh).
posted by stbalbach at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Am almost finished with Bolano's newly in print novela, "The Skating Rink." Written long before 2666 and not as epic in scope, it is still an almost flawless piece of writing. It gave me my Bolano fix. Hope it lasts long enough until the publication of his rumored posthumous novel.
posted by Xurando at 4:45 PM on December 8, 2009

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