Antwerp is Bolano intensified and distilled. As his friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, once suggested, it can be viewed as the Big Bang of his fictional universe. It is the birth of Bolano’s enterprise in prose: all the elements are here, highly compressed, at the moment when his talent explodes. It’s a short book, with short chapters, each like a prose poem, and from this springboard – which Bolano chose not to publish until 2002, more than twenty years after he’d written it – he plunged into the unexplored depths of the modern novel for which he is now revered.
In fifty-six sections, the fractured narration moves in multiple directions – spliced together with an experimental crime novel set on the Costa Brava are voices from a dream, from a nightmare, from passers-by, from an omniscient narrator, from `Roberto Bolano’. This is a deep and meditative work – in Bolano’s words, `radical and solitary’ – the result of a highly personal wrestling with the form of the novel itself. The author sets out to ensure, wilfully, that this is a novel like no other – for `rules about plot only apply to novels that are copies of other novels’ – and the aim is nothing less than to find in the written word a powerful and sustaining life force: `Of what is lost, irretrievably lost, all I wish to recover is the daily availability of my writing, lines capable of grasping me by the hair and lifting me up when I’m at the end of my strength’.