The Morning News

The Morning News Tournament of Books

The Tournament of Books is an annual battle royale between 16 of the best novels published in the previous year.

A new match is played here each weekday in March.

The 2009 ToB Contenders List

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judged by Maud Newton
So many superlatives have been attached to Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 by American critics and readers in the past year that I’m afraid we run the risk of exceeding our allotment. Fortunately, I’m called upon here not to offer an exegesis, or even a proper review, but to decide between two novels using whatever arbitrary criteria I choose, so I will keep this verdict short.

Bolaño’s 900-page, five-part book is a brilliant, far-ranging, occasionally trying, meditation on art, life, and the relationship between the two. As Jonathan Lethem has said, 2666 “evokes the absurd yearning embedded in our reverence toward art, and the tragicomic paradoxes ‘masterpieces’ embody in the human realm that brings them forth and gives them their only value.” Reading it is more like falling into a fever dream than entering the world of a novel. During the weeks I lugged the giant volume around with me, to the office and back again, I sank so far into the story that the real world seemed oversaturated with meaning. People and things even looked wrong, like I was trapped in an early colorized photo.

Louis de Bernières is best known for his historical-fiction bestseller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which was poorly adapted for the screen several years ago. In his latest novel, A Partisan’s Daughter, the author narrows his lens to focus in on a married man’s obsession with a Serbian woman he initially mistakes for a prostitute and tries to hire. The story is lean, the prose straightforward, the unreliability of the lust object’s narrative almost, but not wholly, plausible.

Like Bolaño’s novel, A Partisan’s Daughter comments (if mostly implicitly) on the nature of storytelling and art, but its insights are a little slight and in any event have receded in the delirium induced by 2666. I vote to advance the Bolaño.

Today’s WINNER

2666 by Roberto Bolaño

About the Judge

Maud Newton is a writer, blogger, and book reviewer. Her book reviews and opinions have been published in newspapers such as the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, American Prospect, and Newsday. You can visit her blog here. Known connections to this year’s contenders: Mark Sarvas has been my writing partner for a little more than four years, which means we read each other's work at every stage, intervene if someone is slacking or contemplating razors, and send each other email every night to say whether we wrote that day. Tom Piazza has contributed a guest post to my site. Keith Lee Morris and I have exchanged intermittent email since I posted about enjoying his latest novel, The Dart League King. I've also written admiringly about the work of Roberto Bolaño, Aleksandar Hemon, Peter Matthiessen, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson.

From the Booth

The question you have to ask yourself is whether the experience of being numbed by this book is worth the price of being bored by it. Kevin John 2666 has become a vessel into which we can pour just about anything, which I suppose is something.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match and leave a comment of your own «

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