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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nicholas Royle

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To purchase Antwerp

Title: Antwerp
Author: Nicholas Royle
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 276 pages
Availability: Antwerp - US
Antwerp - UK
Antwerp - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid cinematic thriller with some creative quirky touches

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Atlantic . 9/2005 Joseph O'Neill
The Guardian A 31/7/2004 Matthew Lewin
The Observer . 25/7/2004 Peter Guttridge
The Times . 19/6/2004 Chris Power

  From the Reviews:
  • "It's clear from this cast that Royle is obsessed with the haunting power of visual media to shape the male gaze on the world and, in particular, on women; but his thematic preoccupations are always at the service of the book's intricate and dynamic plot, and deepen the sad, spooky, and, yes, peculiarly Belgian atmosphere permeating every page" - Joseph O'Neill, The Atlantic

  • "The novel has a pleasing texture and impressive depth of inquiry into the darkest nooks and crannies of human pathology -- but the pungent writing doesn't interfere with the fact that it is also a terrific thriller." - Matthew Lewin, The Guardian

  • "This is a chilling and exhilarating read." - Peter Guttridge, The Observer

  • "Royle’s latest begins clunkily, but once the plot begins to whir Antwerp becomes a satisfyingly atmospheric thriller." - Chris Power, The Times

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.

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The complete review's Review:

       Antwerp is a cinematically-focussed thriller, loosely centred around American director Johnny Vos' efforts at making a film about Belgian painter Paul Delvaux. Things go awry around that as extras and would-be extras are murdered. Vos has long been fascinated by Delvaux's haunting pictures: explaining his interest he admits (in what is a very strong understatement): "I saw one of his paintings. Guess you could say I was impressed."
       Among those drawn into this film-orbit are Frank Warner, a British film critic who is supposed to interview Vos and gets drawn into something considerably more complex, and his girlfriend, Siân, who follows Frank to Antwerp and gets mixed up in the murdering mess as well. There's also a Big Brother-type house filled with webcams that stream live action of what the women residents are up to to subscribers. Several of the house-girls are also extras in the Delvaux film.
       Another cinematic layer is the Harry Kümel-connexion: real-life Belgian film director Kümel makes a cameo appearance, and his films are a key to the murders (the dead prostitutes are found with video cassettes of Kümel-films ...).
       From beginning to end this is a thriller of voyeurism and ritual. Delvaux is a voyeuristic painter, the Big Brother-type house just a more modern (and far-reaching) variation on the theme. And pose and ritual are important, too -- especially to the murderer (who does some very, very strange things).
       Royle presents his novel from a variety of perspectives -- first and third person, shifting emphases and approaches. It's mainly -- but far from only -- Frank's story; several other leads keep the reader guessing too.
       There's an extended cat and mouse game, with Frank for the most part going it on his own, especially once Siân gets drawn into things. Suspicious of Vos, frustrated by police incompetence, he constantly barrels ahead -- sometimes too heatedly and far afield (there's an awful lot of travelling around Belgium in the novel). As in many ritualistic thrillers, things can seem too artificially complex -- but then it is a book that emphasises artifice (and the thrills -- though occasionally pretty raw -- aren't bad). On the other hand, Royle also places a great emphasis on specific events that leave an indelible mark on the characters -- such as Vos' Delvaux-obsession --; which feels a bit simplistic.
       The police, who seem to follow a hopeless parallel investigation, seem almost too cartoonish, but otherwise Royle does offer a very atmospheric piece. Belgium is still marked by the horrors of Dutroux, a small country with its share of dark secrets still left. Royle takes in a bit much, but for the most part it adds nicely to what is an entertaining read. Delvaux and Kümel are also well-utilised, and Royle certainly has the cinematic angle (theoretical and practical) very well covered.
       Heavy on the atmosphere and art, Antwerp is an enjoyable heady thriller.

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Antwerp: Reviews: Paul Delvaux: Harry Kümel: Nicholas Royle: Other books by Nicholas Royle under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Nicholas Royle was born in 1963.

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