Roberto Bolaño’s Five-Page Sentence: Read It Here First!

By
Photo: Everett Bogue

One of our very favorite Bolaño moves — right up there with his knack for spinning crazy metaphors (“The sky, at sunset, looked like a carnivorous flower”) and casually tossing off life wisdom suitable for crocheting on pillows ("Isn’t reality an insatiable AIDS-riddled whore?") — is his penchant for writing ridiculously long sentences. Most style guides recommend keeping your sentences between fifteen and twenty words. This one, from the opening section of 2666, is 2,247 words long (thanks, intern!) and covers nearly five pages.

The speaker is an old writer from Swabia (a region in southwestern Germany), telling the story of how he once met Benno von Archimboldi, a great, vanished German novelist with whom the novel’s protagonists are obsessed. After a throat-clearing preamble, the Swabian’s story gives way to another story: a widow’s tale of near-murderous horse racing in Buenos Aires. Read it for Bolaño’s obvious improvisational delight in keeping the sentence afloat, phrase by phrase — a skill the critic James Wood once compared to “someone punting a leaf.”

Read the sentence! (Warning: PDF link)