With Bolaño you rarely feel beset by monotony. Certainly not in “Antwerp,” a tiny, unclassifiable book that will be of interest mainly to his most devoted fans. Bolaño completed it in 1980, but didn’t publish it until a year before he died. “I wrote this book for myself, and even that I can’t be sure of,” he tells us in the preface. The short sections are like prose poems — a bridge of sorts between Bolaño’s fiction and poetry — with such cryptic titles as “A Monkey,” “There Was Nothing,” “Big Silver Waves.” Though not easily comprehensible, each section presents the reader with at least one startling line. A boy and a girl in “Cleaning Utensils,” for example, weep “like characters from different movies projected on the same screen.” In an essay titled “Literature + Illness = Illness,” in “The Insufferable Gaucho,” Bolaño confronts his own impending death, at the age of 50, from liver disease. He compares a patient’s voyage on a gurney — “from his room to the operating theater, where masked men and women await him, like bandits from the sect of the Hashishin” — to a hazardous 19th-century voyage where the traveler gives up everything. The best of these stories confirm Bolaño’s ideal of literature as a voyage to the zero degree of human existence, to the abyss, as Baudelaire, another of his heroes, would call it, where we lose the self in order to find it again.
more from Michael Greenberg at the NYT here.