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Enrique Vila-Matas, the pursuer


His new novel, Montevideo, starts from a story by Cortázar located in a hotel in that capital to later become an exploration of what he calls true fiction.

From Barcelona

Gathered in the bookstore where he usually gives interviews in Barcelona, ​​it is clear that the place has become an extension of his home for

Enrique Vila-Matas

(Barcelona, ​​1948).

That's where Paula from Parma to whom he dedicates each of his books appears and greets with a smile.

The new novel,


, reinforces the offering with a verse by Dante Alighieri: “my soul trembles in love”.

And it is that, at the beginning of last year, Vila-Matas underwent a surgical intervention for which his wife, his "Beatrice", gave him a kidney, in an immense act of dedication.

We are talking about


, the one that he considers his freest novel and the one that many Spanish critics have expressed as representing the return of the best Vila-Matas.

In it he makes a circular journey from Paris to Paris, going through doors, hotels, appointments and meetings with authors or artists, in different cities, as if he were moving through a supernatural contiguity similar to the one that exists in his hyperliterary mind.

One of the stops along the way, the main one, takes place in the Uruguayan capital, where the narrator goes to visit the Hotel Cervantes, the scene of two almost twin Argentine tales: “La puerta condenada”, by

Julio Cortázar

, and “A trip o The Immortal Magician”, by Adolfo Bioy Casares, both written in 1953, with immense involuntary coincidences.

Around them will also appear Juan Carlos Onetti, Idea Vilariño, Beatriz Sarlo, Vlady Kociancich, among other Río de la Plata intellectuals.

–You have said that


is your freest novel, how would you define that freedom?


, an open and happy novel, communicates with the Cervantine line of introducing the maximum possible freedom in writing, venturing out.

"For freedom, Sancho, as well as for honor, life must be risked."

Sometimes it is forgotten that Cervantes was, from a young age, a reader and admirer of Erasmus, and that explains why, for example, he soon saw the superiority of the inner life over the empty simplicity of ideologies and other external cults.

I always knew that, even reinforcing myself with Erasmo and Cervantes, it would be difficult for me to defend that


was a treatise on the ambiguity of the world.

Because let's see, I was wondering, how will I deal with the media that is interested in the content of

Montevideo ?

telling them that the facts of life always become more complex and obscure, more ambiguous and equivocal, that is, as they really are, when one writes them down?

And what's more, how can I tell them that freedom runs through the entire book and that is why the author, who wants to be honest with the reader, warns from the first moment that he possesses the wisdom of the uncertain as the only certainty?

–On the other hand, there is a new element: the fantastic genre is introduced.

He has commented that entering that terrain took him by surprise.

How did he get to that moment?

–I wrote the first hundred pages of the book knowing that at a certain moment I would reach room 205 of “La puerta condenada”, and it would be the same prose –not surprisingly,


it is fiction written from fiction – the one that ended up revealing to me what was or was not in the next room.

What I found in it, I thought, had to be something that until then I had been unaware existed in me, something new, something like a sleeping panorama in the subsoil of my imagination.

“I could see so little in the dark that I assumed I was in an empty room, with no furniture, nothing.

But he had deceived me ”.

After these lines, I wrote another sentence with which, without being aware that I was changing the literary genre, I entered into "the fantastic", something that I had never explored before.

I went into the adjoining room and soon learned something more about myself, something unexpected that came from within.


, I think I would now say, or punctuate Martin Amis interrupting us.



From within

) is the title of Amis's latest book.


It is clear that he is a good disciple of Nabokov's Look at the Harlequins!, those distorted memoirs, written by someone who seemed to know Nabokov's life very well and where he seemed to tell us that literature infiltrates life, so that A writer's real life, with its intermittent flashes of fantasy, may end up looking more and more like one of his novels.



, the narrator wonders: “Was I in the story?”

What does that door of the Cortazar story represent in his novel?

–The narrator –who is someone who seems to know my life well– goes to 205 of the Hotel Cervantes to see what happens when one has before his eyes “the exact place where the fantastic bursts into Cortázar's story”, as Beatriz Sarlo wrote at the time.

Those words were decisive, because they spoke to me of a place where there was a perfect intersection of reality and fiction.

It was as if Sarlo had pointed out to me an aleph where the real and the fictional coincided, even visibly.

–When you wanted to visit the Hotel Cervantes, did you already sense that it could be the trigger for a story?

-Not at all.

But he had been going online for years and spying on what was being said about the hotel there.

I think I did it because of a tendency in me to pursue petty, lateral, absurd matters, or what we call today “non-places”.

Suddenly, when I was invited to travel to Montevideo for a cultural event connected with the Filba in Buenos Aires, as soon as I arrived in Montevideo, I asked to see the Cervantes.

On that one occasion that I was in the hotel, I couldn't get into room 205 because it was occupied.

It was also strange that they said they were unaware that Cortázar had slept there, and that they said instead that Gardel had not only slept there, but even sung.

At first I did not think at all that, from that place, years later, a whole novel would come out.

–The connection between Montevideo and Paris also appears in


, and you wink with a character who takes a plank from window to window, like Talita and Traveler.

How was it that, although the action of the novel takes place in the Uruguayan capital, did you write it with your mind set on Paris?

–That it seems that it was written in Paris is something I discovered at the end of the book.

I am seeing, over time, that the years of my cultural formation took place basically throughout the period of my life that I lived there.

Perhaps because I moved away from Barcelona and for the first time I lived alone in a strange and foreign space, which entered my mind like a silk glove.

–Apart from that, in your work there are two main settings: hotels and the street.

And he has referred many times to the hotel room dedicated to him in an installation by the artist Dominique González-Foerster at the Pompidou in Paris.

At this stage, what does the idea of ​​your own room in Vila-Matas symbolize?



we read a sentence that I wrote without knowing what it could mean.

He entered me as if I had bumped into her on the street.

And I put it in the book: “Look, Moore continued, I also wanted you to see clearly what the masculine version of Virginia Woolf's 'own room' tends to be like, and that's why I told you about a 'one room' when in reality I thought In that "own room" that is the hell of men, where they listen to its immortal pages recorded and regret having written so much nonsense instead of having known how to blend in with the apparently light air of literature, I am not going to say feminine, but rather written by women.

Sometimes I explain that at present I am not looking for my own room (or my own style, as it seems to be sought in the novel), but a "real room", the one that Robert Walser was looking for, which I intuit that,

–With Cortázar he shares a serious humor.

Why is it so difficult for literature to have humor?

-I say that I laugh in an infinitely serious way.

Lezama Lima said that this was the way to laugh at Mallarmé.

In the narrative of my country, which is the one that I can cover best, there is not much humor, perhaps because a great comic novel (or simply crossed by joy) is always seen below a great tragic novel.

Although not everything in the Spanish narrative is gravity and realism.

Apart from Don Quixote, exceptions can be found, however hidden or underestimated they may be, especially among some of the new narrators, who are increasingly divorced from that stony idea that is "the work of weight", quite opposed to that of lightness or levity that Ítalo Calvino proposed for the new millennium.

Torrente Ballester used to quote some verses by Gerardo Diego to show that even in the rocky stone, if one wants to see it,

there is lightness

They were some verses about the stone games that can be seen on the Compostela façade of the Obradoiro: “The stone also, if there are stars, flies”.

–After years in which readers asked you what part of what you write is fact or fiction, did you find the definition in “the visible literary self”?

–I found an unbeatable definition in Álvaro Enrigue when he explained that I write fiction from a space that essayists and poets tend to occupy: a visible literary self.

He is not a ghost writer who fades behind what he tells, says Enrigue, but a spectacular author who belongs to the Montaigne lineage, a rare lineage among fiction authors.

For Enrigue, what is staged in any of my books is not a plot or a series of ideas or a battle against language, but Vila-Matas plotting, thinking or writing under the avatar of a narrator.

–He feels more sure than ever that he prefers a literature without a plot, an essay.

Why do you think it evolved in that direction?

–With the good reception of

Bartleby and company

, José María Guelbenzu and Ana Rodríguez Fischer invited me to a conference in Santander so that I could explain how I had written that book.

And for the first time I felt that I was commissioned to write an essay.

I think the Santander conference introduced me to the practice and passion of essays.

From then on – although, in fact, without realizing it too much, I had already done so with the voice of the narrator of

Bartleby and company

– an attempt to combine thought and fiction began in my work.

–It is interesting that, after so many trips, the book ends in a mythical place from his childhood, Paseo San Juan in Barcelona, ​​with the image of his mother reprimanding him.

How do you interpret this closure of the novel?

–It has been highly celebrated by readers, perhaps because it suddenly gives meaning to the whole novel.

Perhaps it is proof that the stone also flies if there are stars.

Honestly, as a writer I fly since I finished it.


, Enrique Vila-Matas.

Seix Barral, 304 pages.


look also

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Vila-Matas and the endless museum of his obsessions

Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-02-04

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