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Vila-Matas's touch is light and whimsical, while his allusions encompass a rogue's gallery of world literature.

Time Out New York

Enrique Vila-Matas

Spanish writer

Enrique Vila-Matas was born in Barcelona in 1948. He studied law and journalism, and in 1968 became a columnist for the magazine Film Frames. In 1970 he directed two short films, All Young People Grieve and End of Summer. In 1971, he performed military service in Melilla, where in the back of a military grocer’s shop he wrote his first book, Women in the Mirror Contemplating the Landscape. On his return to Barcelona, he worked as a film critic for magazines Bocaccio and Destiny. For two years he lived in Paris and rented an attic that was once rented by the writer Marguerite Duras; there he wrote his second novel, The Illustrated Killer. His third and fourth books, South of the Eyelids and Never Am Going to the Movies, appeared in 1980 and 1982, but were only promoted in 1985 with his book The Abbreviated Laptop History of Literature. He then published Forever Suicides, and Children without Children, two books of short stories. Then he moved on to the romantic genre with works such as Far from Veracruz, Strange Life Form, The Vertical Travel, Bartleby and Company, and Mountain Sickness among others. In 1992, he published a collection of articles and essays The Slower Passenger, followed by a second collection in 1995, The Sunday Suit. Other books that contain literary essays: To End the Round Numbers (1998), From the City Nervosa (2000), Strange Laboratory Notebooks (2003, published in Venezuela) Although Not Understanding Anything (2003, published in Chile), The Light Wind in Parma (2004, published in Mexico, reprinted in 2008 in Spain), and Pasavento Was No Longer (2008, published in Argentina). He wrote about his experience in Paris: Paris is Not Just Never (Barcelona, 2003). In 2005 he published Doctor Pasavento which revolves around the theme of the disappearance and "the difficulty of not being anybody." The book closes his trilogy Metaliteraria on the Pathologies of Writing (Bartleby, Montano, Pasavento). In September 2007, he returns to the story published in Anagrama "Explorers of the abyss." In 2008 he published "Dietari Fickle", which increasingly favors a formula that blurs the boundaries between fiction, essays and biographies. The book is a journal or kind of literary guide that allows glimpses of the internal architecture of his work and combines the experience of reading with the experiences of life, personal memory and the ideas of a literary essayist. He is a Knight of the Legion of Honor from France. He has won the prize city of Barcelona and the Romulo Gallegos (2001), the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger and Fernando Aguirre-Libralire (2002), the Herralde prize, the National Critics, the Prix Medicis-étranger, the prize of Critics Circle Chile (2003), the Premio Internazionale Ennio Flaiano (2006), José Manuel Lara Foundation Award 2006, the prize of the Royal Spanish Academy 2006. In September 2007 he won the literary prize Elsa Morante Scrittori del Mondo, which rewards "to an important foreign author."

Because She Never Asked

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Valerie Miles

Because She Never Asked is a story reminiscent of that reached by the travelers in Patricia Highsmith's Stranger on a Train. The author shall write a piece for the artist Sophie Calle to live out: a young, aspiring French artist travels to Lisbon and the Azores in pursuit of an older artist whose work she's in love with. The second part of the story tells what happens between the author and Calle. She eludes him; he becomes blocked and suffers physical collapse.

"Something strange happened along the way," Vila-Matas wrote. "Normally, writers try to pass off a work fiction as being real. But in Because She Never Asked, the opposite occurred: in order to give meaning to the story of my life, I found that I needed to present it as fiction."

Illogic of Kassel

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom

A puzzling phone call shatters a writer’s routine. An enigmatic female voice extends a dinner invitation, and it soon becomes clear that this is an invitation to take part in the documenta, the legendary exhibition of contemporary art held every five years in Kassel, Germany. The writer’s mission will be to sit down to write every morning in a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of town, transforming himself into a living art installation. Once in Kassel, the writer is surprised to find himself overcome by good cheer as he strolls through the city, spurred on by the endless supply of energy at the heart of the exhibition. This is his spontaneous, quirky response to art, rising up against pessimism. With humor, profundity, and a sharp eye, Enrique Vila-Matas tells the story of a solitary man, who, roaming the streets amid oddities and wonder, takes it upon himself to translate from a language he does not understand.

A Brief History of Portable Literature

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLean

An author (a version of Vila-Matas himself) presents a short “history” of a secret society, the Shandies, who are obsessed with the concept of “portable literature.” The society is entirely imagined, but in this rollicking, intellectually playful book, its members include writers and artists like Marcel Duchamp, Aleister Crowley, Witold Gombrowicz, Federico García Lorca, Man Ray, and Georgia O’Keefe. The Shandies meet secretly in apartments, hotels, and cafes all over Europe to discuss what great literature really is: brief, not too serious, penetrating the depths of the mysterious. We witness the Shandies having adventures in stationary submarines, underground caverns, African backwaters, and the cultural capitals of Europe. 


Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey

Dublinesque opens with a renowned and retired literary publisher’s dream: he finds himself in Dublin, a city he’s never visited, and the mood is full of passion and despair. Afterwards he’s obsessed with the dream, and brings three of the writers he published on a trip to the same cemetery where Paddy Dignam was buried in James Joyce’s Ulysses, where they hold a funeral for "The Gutenberg Age." And then he notices that he’s being shadowed by a mysterious man who looks exactly like Samuel Beckett…

In this witty and poignant novel, perhaps his finest yet, Enrique Vila-Matas traces a journey that connects the worlds of Joyce and Beckett and all they symbolize: great literature and evidence of the difficulties faced by literary authors, publishers, and good readers, their struggle to survive in a society where literature is losing influence.

Never Any End to Paris

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Anne McLean

This brilliantly ironic novel about literature and writing, in Vila-Matas’s trademark witty and erudite style, is told in the form of a lecture delivered by a novelist clearly a version of the author himself. The “lecturer” tells of his two-year stint living in Marguerite Duras’s garret during the seventies, spending time with writers, intellectuals, and eccentrics, and trying to make it as a creator of literature: “I went to Paris and was very poor and very unhappy.” Encountering such luminaries as Duras, Roland Barthes, Georges Perec, Sergio Pitol, Samuel Beckett, and Juan Marsé, our narrator embarks on a novel whose text will “kill” its readers and put him on a footing with his beloved Hemingway. (Never Any End to Paris takes its title from a refrain in A Moveable Feast.) What emerges is a fabulous portrait of intellectual life in Paris that, with humor and penetrating insight, investigates the role of literature in our lives.

Bartleby & Co.

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Jonathan Dunne

In Bartleby & Co., an enormously enjoyable novel, Enrique Vila-Matas tackles the theme of silence in literature: the writers and non-writers who, like the scrivener Bartleby of the Herman Melville story, in answer to any question or demand, replies: "I would prefer not to." Addressing such "artists of refusal" as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger, Bartleby & Co. could be described as a meditation: a walking tour through the annals of literature. Written as a series of footnotes (a non-work itself), Bartleby embarks on such questions as why do we write, why do we exist? The answer lies in the novel itself: told from the point of view of a hermetic hunchback who has no luck with women, and is himself unable to write, Bartleby is utterly engaging, a work of profound and philosophical beauty.

Montano’s Malady

Fiction by Enrique Vila-Matas

translated by Jonathan Dunne

The narrator of Montano’s Malady is a writer named Jose who is so obsessed with literature that he finds it impossible to distinguish between real life and fictional reality. Part picaresque novel, part intimate diary, part memoir and philosophical musings, Enrique Vila-Matas has created a labyrinth in which writers as various as Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Musil, Bolaño, Coetzee, and Sebald cross endlessly surprising paths. Trying to piece together his life of loss and pain, Jose leads the reader on an unsettling journey from European cities such as Nantes, Barcelona, Lisbon, Prague and Budapest to the Azores and the Chilean port of Valparaiso. Exquisitely witty and erudite, it confirms the opinion of Bernardo Axtaga that Vila-Matas is "the most important living Spanish writer."

Exercises in Style: 65th Anniversary Edition

Fiction by Raymond Queneau

translated by Barbara Wright and Chris Clarke
with a contribution by Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Jesse Ball, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas and Frederic Tuten

On a crowded bus at midday, Raymond Queneau observes one man accusing another of jostling him deliberately. When a seat is vacated, the first man appropriates it. Later, in another part of town, Queneau sees the man being advised by a friend to sew a new button on his overcoat. Exercises in Style, Queneu’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the OULIPO literary group, retells this unexceptional tale in ninety-nine exceptional ways, employing writing styles such as the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and even Cockney.

A 65th Anniversary Edition includes twenty-five exercises by Queneau never before published in English translated by Chris Clarke, as well as new exercises by contemporary writers Jesse Ball, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Frederic Tuten, and Enrique Vila-Matas.