Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño

“I wrote this book for the ghosts” says the author, before adding that this “my only novel that doesn’t embarrass me…”
     The thing is though that Antwerp is neither a novel, nor a novella; it’s not even a short story collection. If anyone asked me I would say that what we have here is a collection of clippings of life and of random thoughts that somehow manage to meet at one point or another and thus make sense.
     The author is doing here what he does best; he’s playing. He’s playing with the words and the meanings and a non linear sense of time in order to tell the reader a story in shards; the story of a writer that struggles with words and the story of a hunchback; the story of a red-haired prostitute and the cop that abuses her. And also the story of a day and one more. All that takes place in the city of Barcelona.
     If there’s one thing that stands out in this small book, apart from the literary acrobatics, is the way the author drops into the text his cues; the cues that don’t seem to have anything to do with the story but somehow manage to make it better. Here are a few examples: “Forget the gesture that never came”, “Monogamy moves with the same rigidity as the train”, “There are silences made just for us”, “The gun was only a word”, “Loneliness is an aspect of natural human egotism”, “Only the inventors survive”, “Destroy your stray phrases”, “Everything is the projection of a forlorn kid”.
     Antwerp is not one of those books that have a beginning, a middle and an ending. The author seems more interested in walking on a tightrope made of words than telling a story. What he brings to light are parts of his inner world: his dreams, his thoughts and even his delusions. And for once again he reminds us of old man Borges, because every now and then he tends to address the reader with a mocking smile, as if implying that he’s not to be taken seriously by anyone. Bolaño seems to be changing costumes and roles all the time and so he sometimes becomes the author, other times the reader and yet other times the protagonist of the book; the god of his own creation.
     I’m certain that anyone who’s familiar with his work will enjoy this small gem of a book.

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