Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Roberto Bolaño

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Antwerp

Title: Antwerp
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Genre: Novel
Written: (2002) (Eng. 2010)
Length: 78 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Antwerp - US
Amberes - US
Antwerp - UK
Antwerp - Canada
Antwerp - India
Anvers - France
Anversa - Italia
Amberes - España
  • Spanish title: Amberes
  • Translated by Natasha Wimmer
  • Originally written 1980, but first published in 2002
  • Includes a short introduction by Bolaño, written in 2002, 'Total Anarchy: Twenty-Two Years Later'

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : youthful experimentation -- and yet already with much that is vintage Bolaño

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 9/9/2011 Ángel Gurria-Quintana
The Guardian . 29/9/2011 Nicole Krauss
Irish Times . 5/11/2011 Eileen Battersby
The NY Rev. of Books . 13/10/2011 Mark Ford
The NY Times Book Rev. . 19/9/2010 Michael Greenberg
The Telegraph . 21/10/2011 Jonathan Gibb
TLS . 1/6/2012 Michael Kerrigan

  Review Consensus:

  Fascinating and essential early work

  From the Reviews:
  • "The vignettes range from the dreamlike to the noirish. Some have the intensity of prose poetry. Others invoke the language of film (.....) The impossibility of literature, its meaninglessness and its necessity, are Bolaño themes. So is the idea of writing as a disease." - Ángel Gurria-Quintana, Financial Times

  • "(T)he most recent Bolaño novel to arrive into English, and perhaps his strangest (.....) There is a way in which one wants to read Antwerp as affecting, like a prayer for something that has long since been fulfilled, because one knows the outcome of the struggle, not here, but later, when the masterworks come spilling out. But that would ignore what is most exceptional and moving -- and separate -- about this novel, which is, at its core, an enactment of failure as test of endurance, courage and loyalty to one's own originality." - Nicole Krauss, The Guardian

  • "Antwerp is a little book, a sketch pad, but it is essential for readers of his other works. (...) Antwerp is an improvisational delight, black, violent and quivering with intent. It is as if the characters are reacting for the first time to a script in which they have been given complete freedom by a more than liberal director. Voices speak at once, blurring and amplifying each other. The writer wanders in and out, bemused by the shape it is taking." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "(A) tiny, unclassifiable book that will be of interest mainly to his most devoted fans. (...) The short sections are like prose poems -- a bridge of sorts between Bolaño's fiction and poetry (.....) Though not easily comprehensible, each section presents the reader with at least one startling line." - Michael Greenberg, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) curio it undoubtedly is. A slim collection of 56 numbered sections that, if it is a novel, is a defiantly experimental one, eschewing plot and fixed perspective, blurring and muddling characters and generally ignoring the usual rules of literary endeavour. (...) All of which means that Antwerp is a fascinating, even compulsory addition to the Bolaño fan’s bookshelf, but is in no way a recommended introduction to it, despite its brevity." - Jonathan Gibb, The Telegraph

  • "No Napoleonic chess game, then, but a bewildering Borodino; life as a battle, apprehended only glancingly, in glimpses, here and there." - Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Written in 1980, but first published in 2002, shortly before his death, Roberto Bolaño's Antwerp is a compact and very short, fragmentary work in fifty-six pieces. His first novel, it is a very loose piece of fiction, with barely a story to it -- though characters and storylines do recur throughout the text. It has the feel of literary experimentation, full of stops and starts in a quick series of sketches, with bursts of risk-taking that are (just) held in check.
       In a brief introduction added in 2002 when the book was first published, 'Total Anarchy: Twenty-Two Years Later', Bolaño begins:

I wrote this book for myself, and even that I can't be sure of.
       It is a personal record, taking scenes from experience, from a busy, exhausted, uncertain life -- all reflected in the work itself. Of that period of his life he notes:
Naturally, I met interesting people, some of them the product of my own hallucinations.
       It's still a time when he is figuring out what he wants to do and be; it's no coincidence that he mentions that: "I didn't have children yet" -- the stabilizing influence of family life still absent here, where the characters -- and the writer-figure, in particular -- are still unmoored.
       In his introduction he also writes:
The scorn I felt for so-called literature was great, though only a little greater than my scorn for marginal literature. But I believed in literature: or rather, I didn't believe in arrivisme or opportunism or the whispering of sycophants. I did believe in vain gestures. I did believe in fate.
       The author figures prominently in the text -- even by name. In a typical, compressed sequence -- here the last lines of the fourth chapter, 'In my own bewitchment':
The language of others is unintelligible to me. "Tired after being up for days" ... "A blond girl came down the stairs" ... "My name is Roberto Bolaño ... "I opened my arms" ..
       Much is presented in fragmentary sequences, and through different ways of seeing: collections of quotes, such as above, or in cinematic terms -- often literally through a camera lens:
The camera zooms in: impassive faces that somehow, without intending to, shut you out. The author stares for a long time at the plaster masks, then covers his face. Fade to black. It's absurd to think that this is where all the pretty girls come from. Empty images follow one after the other
       In one parenthetical aside:
(In this scene the author appears with his hands on his hips watching something off screen.)
       The author is often an isolated figure -- so too in his writing:
I'm alone, all the literary shit gradually falling by the wayside -- poetry journals, limited editions, the whole dreary joke behind me now
       Motifs, characters, concerns recur. A campground setting, nameless girls, violence, love, Antwerp, Barcelona: everything remains elusive, the author alone, the scenes like those in a movie (to go along with the actual scenes from movies that are described (as, for example: "The spectators watch the screen and slap at mosquitoes")).
       A chapter promising 'Synopsis' offers only a thin slice of the whole; but then Antwerp can't be reduced to simple synopsis. And even Bolaño's characters admit to confusion:
Look, said the voice ... "A vacant lot at dusk" ... "Long blurry beach" ... "Sometimes you'd think he'd never use a camera before" ... "Crumbling walls, dirty terrace, gravel path, a sign that says Office" ... "A cement box by the side of the road" ... "Restaurant windows, out of focus" ... I don't know what the hell he's trying to get at.
       But it's important to remember that Bolaño insists:
There are no rules. ("Tell that stupid Arnold Bennett that all his rules about plot only apply to novels that are copies of other novels.") And so on and so on.
       In Antwerp Bolaño willfully makes certain that his novel is no copy of any other novel. He's still trying to find his way -- and would go on to take somewhat more conventional (and accessible) routes -- but it's a quite fascinating document of the author as a young artist.
       Antwerp is no easy, approachable read, yet may not be the worst book for the uninitiated to start in on -- though it should be clear that, while the book foreshadows later Bolaño, it is a very, very different beast. In any case, it is the epitome of a secondary work: while definitely not the only Bolaño-fiction you'd want to read, it is an addition to his body of work that should be welcomed (and enjoyed) by anyone who has or wants to concern themselves with him.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 January 2010

- Return to top of the page -


Antwerp: Reviews: Roberto Bolaño: Other books by Roberto Bolaño under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Chilean author Roberto Bolaño lived 1953 to 2003.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2010-2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links