One of Monty Python's funniest sketches is The Summarize Proust Competition. Contestants are given 15 seconds to summarize Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
Its funny because of the typically absurdist Python twist; Remembrance of Things Past is a seven volume work that is impossible to summarize at all, let alone in 15 minutes.
Roberto Bolano's magnum opus 2666 is just like Proust. Its futile to summarize. So I will follow the lead of other reviewers and offer a pat summary of the structure; Its 890 pages, broken into 5 parts, with digressions. The five parts consist of different stories which sometime intersect and somehow connect with the background of the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in the Mexican border town of St. Theresa. (based on the true events of the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez read this article). I'm tempted to say these murders- while obviously horrific in their own right- are also an allegory, like the Baltimore of The Wire, for the general state humanity is now in.
Still, the problem with this pat summary is that it doesn't do the job. If anything its too straight forward and off putting and quite simply doesn't do justice to the dizzy, addictive contrapuntal variation of settings, style, imagery, inventiveness, characters and tone, which has endless brilliant sentences like this which rival any of the best social and political thought;
"Names, names, names. Those who made the revolution and those who were devoured by that same revolution, though it wasn't the same but another, not the dream but the nightmare that hides behind the eyelids of the dream."
and this which rival any of the best surreal humor;
He meets a jazz musician who tells him about chickens that talk and probably think
"the worst of it," the musician say to him, "is that the governments of the planet know it and that's why so many people raise chickens."
The boy objects that the chickens are raised to be eaten. The musician says that's what the chickens want. And he finishes by saying "Fucking masochistic chickens, they have our leaders by the balls."
I guess all I can say is that 2666 is incredible. Its one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in two weeks in what little spare time I have. I couldn't stop because it was so good. Now I kinda wish i'd taken my time. In many ways im still processing it. I want to read it again.