Sunday, November 20, 2011


by Roberto Bolaño

 I wasn't too sure, going in, what I should expect from this slim volume, which contains Bolaño's first novel, written when he was beginning as a writer, and published in Spanish twenty-two years after it was written.  In the back of the book, it was described as "the Big Bang of Bolaño's fictional universe", but anyone who is familiar with Bolaño's work would know that that will make this a singularly strange read.

And strange it is.  Antwerp is a scant 78 pages, consisting of 56 numbered chapters, always only one or two pages long.  The plot is almost impossible to follow, but it basically is a crime novel, involving a hunchback, an Englishman, a writer, and a murder at a campground in Barcelona.  There are police officers who have sexual interactions (not all of which can be called intercourse) with nameless young women, and the book is full of lengthy and talented descriptions of their surroundings.  It also has a fair amount of overheard, random dialogue.

Part way through, I decided to read Antwerp as a prose poem, and got more pleasure out of it that way than as trying to follow it as a novel.  Its obvious that Bolaño was talented from the beginning, but most of this book felt like an attempt to write in the style of William S. Burroughs, rather than develop his own voice.

I enjoyed reading this as a piece of literary history and Bolaño completism, but I'm thankful that it was not much longer.

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