“I have no literary interests, but am made of literature. I am nothing else and cannot be anything else,” wrote Kafka in one of the five-hundred letters saved by his on-off fiancée Felice Bauer, a condition further exemplified in his short story In the Penal Settlement, in which a prisoner is punished by needles inscribing a text onto his skin, doubly punished by being forced to simultaneously read the inscription in a glass refractor.
In Montano’s Malady, Enrique Vila-Matas’ narrator invokes Ital Calvino as, “one of the first friends to open Tutankhamen’s tomb, by which I mean Pavese’s diary, a dangerous diary because it might infect whoever reads it with despair.” Vila-Matas’ narrator is afflicted by being “literature-sick”, so saturated with literature that it permeates every sphere of his life.
Montano’s Malady, like the other books of his I’ve read, is composed as a form of autobiography of questionable factual accuracy. His fictional universe is one of depths, leading a reader on a quest for core truths about origin and identity, a search that is never quite satisfied. It is reminiscent of Nabokov’s later fiction, a precarious dance of seven veils that I got bored with eventually, feeling overly manipulated. Persist through the manipulations of the first eponymous chapter and the reward is a story that combines structural complexity with a lightness of touch.