Sick of literature


Enrique Vila-Matas (translated by Jonathan Dunne) <em>Harvill Secker, 326

From the ghost of Hamlet to the sickness of Kafka, Montano constantly opposes the distinction between literature and reality. Evading genre, the narrator Montano's memoir shows itself as fantasy, and his discourses on literature become part of his self-delusion. It is an incredible literary patchwork, a tireless search for definition. And from the award-winning author of books as challenging as Bartleby & Co, we would not expect an easy ride.

This is post-Proust at its finest. The narrator's identity is informed by memory and delusion. There is no reality here: present, past, fantasy and truth are intertwined. And it comes at the expense of being particularly enjoyable. If the narrator is "literature sick" then, by the end, so are we.

It really is heavy stuff. But, as Montano himself admits, "the good part of not understanding a thing is that one can understand that thing as one chooses". And he recalls Montaigne's style of reading: "If he came across a difficult passage in a book, Montaigne left it." Unfortunately, in this case, that would involve skipping the entire book. However, the importance of this difficult novel is that it demands more than a passive response from its reader. Exclusive and exasperating, this is not for the faint-hearted.

This article first appeared in the 29 January 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Climate change