“Montevideo” by Enrique Vila-Matas: a thousand open paths

“Montevideo” by Enrique Vila-Matas: a thousand open paths

2023-09-08 17:42:35


by Enrique Vila-Matas

Translated from Spanish by André Gabastou

Actes Sud, 272 p., €22.50

This senseless haze, the previous novel by Enrique Vila-Matas, a major writer in European literature, raised a question, a common thread running through his work, about the nature and meaning of writing: can it capture the richness, the exuberance of reality? In Montevideothrough a multitude of dialogues, silhouettes, reference figures, the narrator is in turn or at the same time all his characters, in the whirlwind of a story where the writing maintains a strong dramatic tension towards the resolution of riddles.

Leaving Paris and finally returning there, he multiplies the journeys, displacements, shifts, games of mirrors, appearances, disappearances. In the mid-1970s, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, he dreamed of being a writer in the style of the “lost generation” of the 1920s and found no answer to the questions he would never stop asking himself. on narration: should he give up writing, for whom living means constructing fictions, if he cannot achieve a reality outside of time?

Tutelary shadows, living or disappeared, historical or imaginary, accompany him, and we also find his favorite great figures – Kafka, Borges. A name belongs to Borges and the narrator attaches himself to it: Montevideo. In This senseless haze, the main character, Simon, remembered a reflection from his late father: “The highest tragedy is the disappearance of God. »

The narrator of this new novel, struck by the same grief, wants to return to this city where he has never been, to room 205 of the Cervantes Hotel, where Julio Cortazar located one of his short stories, The doomed gate. Petrone, his hero, spent three nights there during which he heard the sobbing of a baby in the next room. Without ever finding a trace of it. For the narrator, entering room 205 is to fix a point of reality at the heart of the fantastic, to grasp this hesitation between the familiar and the strange, or even the inexplicable.

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Visible et invisible

Did Montevideo’s room really disappear afterwards? “In reality, the visible is only a remnant of the invisible”, he said to himself, agreeing to let himself be invaded by images, with the impression of falling into “holes of time” while sliding from one book to another, constructing a work where the ” elsewhere “ searched for may be close.

And who is behind Madeleine Moore who promises him the key to a secret room in Beaubourg where she exhibits her works? In a recent interview, Vila-Matas reveals her very real identity: Lise Deharme, died in 1980. Poet, novelist, muse of André Breton, already present in Nadia. The title of one of his novels is The Next Door. A door that opens onto poetic magic. Thus, the narrator will no longer seek the truth, the truth that writers who speak of “non-fiction” believe they are achieving and only collect copies of copies.

It is the mystery of the universe that he will try to grasp through writing, before recalling the two great misfortunes which form the reality of today’s world. The attack perpetrated on November 13, 2015, three days before his return to Paris, where the jihadists killed 130 people and injured 400 others. And then, no doubt less bloody but sneaky and destructive, the invasion of a mass subculture standardizing places and minds, which he denounced a long time ago.

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