New Fiction

Finds and flops
More

Even as the proposed European Constitution seems ever more defunct, the old Continent continues, in the vagrant minds of certain writers, to develop as a viable imaginative entity. The possibilities of what might be termed eccentric European literature (that is, writing not having a nationalist center) are explored in the work of the unusual British writer Nicholas Royle, who is apparently as comfortable in Norway or Romania—or, as he demonstrates in his darkly engaging new thriller, Belgium—as he is in England.

In Antwerp, Royle's off-centeredness is not merely geographic. The protagonists include an English film journalist, in Antwerp to interview an American filmmaker; the filmmaker himself, who is shooting a would-be cult biopic about Paul Delvaux, the Belgian surrealist artist; a series of mutilated female corpses accessorized by videos from the oeuvre of Harry Kümel, the Belgian director of, most notably, the bizarre Malpertuis, starring Orson Welles; sex workers in a house wired for Internet voyeurs; and the photographer Henk van Rensbergen, who is known for his pictures of abandoned spaces.

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 (this is the country, after all, whose police practically "allowed unemployed electrician Marc Dutroux, in the mid-1990s, to inaugurate a collection of young girls in specially constructed cells in his Charleroi basement"). This kind of hybridity—a unique sensibility joined with an unabashed respect for the conventions of suspense—distinguishes our most interesting thriller writers. With Antwerp, Nicholas Royle joins that group.

Joseph O'Neill is working on his third novel, The Brooklyn Dream Game.
Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Time JFK Called the Air Force to Complain About a 'Silly Bastard'

51 years ago, President John F. Kennedy made a very angry phone call.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In