Wednesday March 11th, 2009

March Madness, The Literary Version

If, like me, you’re itchy for the NCAA tournament to get started, you can scratch at The Morning News, which has kicked off its Fifth Annual Tournament of Books. The competition dispenses with the crowded early rounds and skips straight to the Sweet 16. Two widely acclaimed books – Netherland by Joseph O’Neill and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga – have already been knocked out.

Balancing those upsets is a predictable win by Roberto Bolaño’s massive 2666. After each round, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner judge the judging, which is often where the real action happens. Guilfoile swims against the critical tide:

It’s possible that 2666 is a work of art, and it might even be an important one about the persistence of violence and death, cruelty and corruption. What I’m pretty sure it isn’t is a good novel.

He goes on to say that it’s “sexist, homophobic, boring, repetitive, misogynistic, tedious, repetitive, infuriating, monotonous, repetitive, maddening. It also repeats itself.”

I haven’t read 2666, and one of the reasons is that I couldn’t get through Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, which also received tremendous levels of praise. For the first 75 pages or so, I understood why. Then, the book suddenly turned into an exercise in how many characters he could introduce per page without doing much more, and when that exercise showed no signs of abating, I lost interest. A good friend, and one of the smartest readers I know, said she also struggled with that section, but that a payoff at the end of the novel makes everything worth it.