Tuesday, 17 August 2010

antwerp [bolaño]

Last year, on my trip to South America, I read Bolaño. However, Antwerp is a very different kind of beast to 2666. The last was his final book, more or less, this was his first, written in 1980.

It's a dense, poetic tract, of little more than 70 pages. There's no more than hints of a narrative in a text made, like a Hanecke movie, from 56 fragments. If it's reminiscent of anyone, it might be Lautreamont, the prince of the depraved, whose great text makes little sense but still manages to sear itself on the reader's retina. It's perhaps another glimpse of the poet Bolaño claimed he wanted to be before he settled into become the novelist he truly was. The claim on the back of the book that Antwerp is "the only novel that doesn't embarrass me", seems disingenuous, and written from a position of strength. It is, as he mentions in his introduction, not the kind of book that gets published these days; the kind of book that in the late 19th century had a vast readership but in this day and age would have precious few. And those that do, would be aficionados. In a way its a book of the damned, one of those texts written by a writer with no ambitions, just the need to thread words together on a string of consciousness.

Nevertheless, I suspect that if you work it harder, if you read it carefully, repeatedly, looking for the links, not on a plane to Montevideo surrounded by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the connections it contains will gradually make themselves clearer; the artistry emerging in a fashion he later learnt to make more latent.

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