Review: ‘Antwerp’, by Roberto Bolano


A confusing and unsettling journey into Spain’s criminal underworld guided by a unique and improvisational voice.

I won’t profess to fully comprehend Bolano’s earliest reported ‘novel’, one which straddles comfortably and, at times, less so the line between poetry and prose. Bolano referred to this work, written aged 27, as the only work he wasn’t embarrassed by and indeed it is as fine an example of rendering a scene with visuals and emotions as you a likely to find.
The fragmented nature of the narrative, however, whilst adding to the overall dark and uncomfortable feelings experienced by the reader, does detract from the normal flow of the piece and at times it is quite hard to keep pace with who the narrator is, or which characters are involved in certain parts of the story. This is not, however, to detract from the sense of discomfort that Bolano creates, in the midst of describing disturbing scenes that would sit perfectly in any film noir, and the cinematic visuals he paints.
His cinematic influences do leap from the page, and he embraces them, acknowledging it explicitly on several occasions, with looks to camera and stage directions in the midst of the prose.
A unique and challenging piece of work which has whet my appetite for more of the Argentine’s writing, but one which I struggled to follow at times.
3 stars

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