Monday, July 25, 2011

Antwerp to 2666 -- beginning to end for Bolaño

Man, what an achievement 2666 was. I re-read the last twenty pages of The Part About Fate this weekend -- maybe the part which is most like the Bolaño book I'm actually reading now, Antwerp.

Antwerp is very short, probably no more than 4000 words, so I'm savoring it. I read a chapter (each of which are 200-500 words long) one day and re-read it a day or two later and then move on. There is no plot, or only a very obscure one. The book sort of reads like a novel of which only the first sentence of every paragraph has been printed; in fact, I thought idly that you could actually use it as a template and write a paragraph for each sentence, using the existing sentence somewhere in the paragraph. Or you could write an alternate novel using the chapter titles only. Or you could write a series of songs using the chapter titles. (There are 55 chapters or so, so it would be a lot of songs. But the chapter titles do sound like song titles.)

Why do I say that The Part About Fate, from Bolaño's final novel, is like Antwerp, which he wrote more than twenty years earlier? Because both are noirish. And this strikes me now because part of the novel I'm working on now is noirish.

Morgan Meis put it all much better in this review from the website "The Smart Set":
Ignacio Echevarría, Bolaño's executor, called Antwerp the "Big Bang" that created Bolaño's subsequent literary universe. That would mean the fragmentary jottings from Antwerp later expand into the dense 900 pages of 2666, Bolaño's magnum opus of crime and horror revolving around the small town of Santa Teresa. In a few literal ways this is probably true. Crime and violence are the twin stars in Bolaño's works. They are already there in Antwerp, the narrative of which (if there can be said to be one at all) centers on the murder of six kids at a place called the Calabria Commune campground.

I'm more interested, for the moment, in how Antwerp is the birth of a literary mood in Bolaño, one that also stayed with him throughout the production of his longer and more ambitious works. Yes, Antwerp is the creation of themes and characters that will reappear throughout Bolaño's writings. It is also the creation of Bolaño the writer, a statement about the kind of writer he wants to be.
Huh, plus the fact that I have a character in my book named Echevarría. With the accent over the i, if you please.

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