Enrique Vila-Matas – Never Any End to Paris

In 2009 Seán Hemingway published a “restored” edition of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. In this version the last line “This is how Paris was when we were very poor and very happy” was removed and the “There Is Never Any End to Paris” chapter was excised. If your introduction to A Moveable Feast is via Enrique Vila Matas’s Never Any End to Paris, you’ll undoubtedly be slightly confused. Vila-Matas’s narrator, whom we assume to be himself as a novice writer in Paris, is poor but also very unhappy. He also labours, a little too often for my taste, but under the guise of irony, the titular phrase, as in, “Because, isn’t it true, ladies and gentlemen, that there is never any end to Paris?” But as the narrator asks, “So, am I a lecture or a novel?” This fictional memoir is styled as a set of lecture notes, exorcising a writer’s baptism as a writer in 1970’s Paris.

I was predisposed to enjoy Never Any End to Paris, which I did though less than I expected, because (a) I love la Ville Lumière (b) I’ve a tenderness for literary rite of passage stories (c) how can you fail if your novel features a cast that includes Marguerite Duras, Ernest Hemingway, Julien Gracq, Georges Perec, Guy Debord and Kafka’s odradek and (d) several  readers I respect consider this Vila-Matas’s finest (translated) book so far. David Winters, for instance, wrote:

The book, or lecture, tells of the ‘farcical garret life’ of a writer ensnared in the error of becoming a writer. Becoming, perhaps, Vila-Matas, or else his nameless namesake, the lecturer, an old man immersed in the ‘irony’ of his ‘not having been aware of irony as a young man’. In a Borgesian take on the problem of types and tokens, the place where these identities overlap is the very place they diverge. The protagonist labours absurdly over his first novel, The Lettered Assassin, a project whose preposterous aim is ‘to kill its readers’. In reality, Le asesina ilustrada (1977) was the second of Vila-Matas’ novels. Do the two books coincide? Such questions are raised but never resolved, which is why Never Any End to Paris resembles an edge or an opening, not onto anything outside itself, but onto literature, a leap from a sheer drop, located within the book’s written limits. In this sense, the text may best be read as its own invention, with no prior knowledge of the life of its author. The true world the book opens onto is one where a writer called ‘Enrique Vila-Matas’ never existed. Let alone Hemingway. Let alone Paris.

You can read other reviews at the comprehensive Enrique Vila-Matas site.

10 thoughts on “Enrique Vila-Matas – Never Any End to Paris

  1. I have been a Vila-Matas fan for a long time and, yet, I must say I find all his novels mostly disappointing as novels. As a rule, midway through them I start dragging my feet a bit thinking what an amazing blueprint for a novel he had laid out in the beginning and how I love all the literary allusions and philosophical musings and how I would be content with that experience only. By 3/4 of the book I already know that there is no way he will be able to find a conclusion that will be satisfying because there is no possible conclusion to something which is neither a proper novel, nor a literary criticism book.

    I still am a huge admirer mostly because I figured out I have to enjoy his writings by being in the same frame of mind as if I were at a conceptual art exhibition. Every time I describe one of his novels to someone I never get into the plot or characters, I go ” It’s a collection of stories based on the premise that the current political historical events have the same magnitude of importance in the character’s lives as their personal doings. It’s inspired by Kafka who wrote in his diary two short sentences on the same day saying that the first world war had started and that he had gone for a swim that day – as if they were of equivalent importance.” I don’t recall a single story from the book. Or not enough to relate it to anybody at least.

    • Thanks, Claudia, that is astute and sits well with my reading of this, my first Vila-Matas book. It became evident quickly that there was no plot to discern, so I relaxed into the characterisation and literary references. By the second half of the book I was enjoying myself. I will certainly read more Vila-Matas, in fact have Bartleby and Company and Montano’s Malady on the shelves.

  2. I have this and La asesina ilustrada on standby, Anthony, but while I’m looking forward to them both based on the two other Vila-Matas novels I’ve read, I’ve also been told by a couple of blogging friends that some of Vila-Matas’ “lesser” novels are quite erratic/not good. He does lay on the irony thick sometimes, but that really hasn’t bothered me yet.

    • After reading this book, I am curious about La asesina ilustrada but like many Vila-Matas novels it doesn’t appear to be translated yet.

      So, the over ironic stance isn’t just a part of this book, but a Vila-Matas characteristic? It bothered me at first but the book was so enjoyable I settled into his style quite easily.

  3. I do sometimes get a little fatigued at the prospect of yet another book about writing, or about being an author, the endless conversation in which literature speaks to itself and to nothing beyond itself. The self-referentiality. To be fair though Vila-Matas sounds like he’s doing something genuinely clever, not mere “write what you know” stuff when all you know is writing. On the other hand, the irony here feels possibly too strong. If I read Vila-Matas I’m not sure this should be my first, despite my fondness for Hemingway.

    • Vila-Matas is doing something genuinely clever, much along the lines of Claudia’s eloquent comment above. The discourse becomes more important than the story, but the clever part is the way the two interact. From what I can tell, this is the best of the four that are in English translation. Three days later I am still thinking about the book, which is always a good sign that I must reread sometime soon.

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