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.