At a minimum, readers intending to read Enrique Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co. would be well-advised not only to read (or reread) Bartleby, the Scrivener, but also the last story in this collection. It matters
Cavalry Soldier—A sergeant imagines his future as he advances with his squadron through skirmishes in the Italian countryside before encountering his doppelgänger and being confronted by his commanding officer for possession of a horse taken in battle. The indifference of war.
Dream Death—Prose poem.
Places with endless significance, quite unlike reality; districts I’ve never seen, but which I know are thus and such.
Dreams are always our own and true, if only in the time it takes to dream them.
Tale of the 672nd Night—A comfortable merchant’s son finds horror in trying to learn the nature of personal threats made against him and one of his servants. Peculiarly compelling.
The Golden Apple—A rug merchant makes his way to a city where he had been abused years earlier and where he’d acquired a scented, golden apple as a gift for his exotic bride; meanwhile, his seven-year-old daughter finds the apple in a chest and her curiousity leads her to trade it for a glimpse into the sealed well. All the weight and mystery of an ancient folktale—a tale from Scheherazade.
The Rose and the Desk—A nice little one-pager in which the created challenges The Real.
Tale of the Veiled Woman—As a young mother considers the fate of the child she’s carrying and waits for her husband to return from the mines, she watches a young miner walking in the distance; in the mine, her husband (Hyacinth—really, Really!) meets the same young miner who encourages him to think and act on what is to be. This is not your father’s fairy tale. Then again, who knows who lays claim to his/her dreams?
The Village in the Mountains—Look! Up in the sky! It’s a story. No, it’s a prose poem. Whatever it is, to describe is to demean it.
Reflection—Prose poem. Lovely. I want more; more, I tell you.
Twilight and Storm After Dark—A boy watches a live sparrow hawk which has been nailed to a barn door before lurking in the dark to see butcher’s daughter undressing and then following a rejected, pregnant woman and feeling in control of her pain.
An Incident in the Life of Marshall de Bassompierre—A night of passion in 1663 Paris (the Plague Years), goes unrepeated; as contemporary as a similar night in 1980s San Francisco. Haunting.
Military Story—Schwendar, one of the squadron’s dragoons, though haunted by two images of death from his youth, is able to find a contentedness among the squadron following a flash and another flash.
Tide Creature: Mussel Poem— Prose poem. A mollusk (?) briefly considers us (?). Nice.
Tale of Two Couples—A strangely structured story which begins then becomes something else as if a fragment, undeveloped, precedes the actual story of two couples—the narrator and his ‘boyish’ looking wife attend their friends, another couple, as the wife in the second couple concedes to a terrible death. The precarious presence of love.
A Letter [the actual title of the better known titular piece]—An eloquent letter from Phillip, Lord Chandos, to Francis Bacon in which he reveals that language has failed experience and he will no longer write (create). Is it a story? Is it a poem? Is it beautiful? Yes.
As luck would have it, language fails again—Project Gutenberg provides only German editions of Hofmannsthal’s writing. My German, unfortunately, is limited to the manipulation of a menu and finding a bathroom.
Hell of a day. Finished A Mercy this morning, started this one this afternoon, read the dreary reports of the debt ceiling debacle and administration’s selling out of the Progressives and working class, watched the anything-but-inspirational Never Let Me Go, then returned to this crisp and fast-paced novella of one man’s brief abandonment of his true passion before his predictable, though necessary, return to his true nature and to nature truly. (Yes, a spoiler of sorts.) Hell of a day.
It is too easy to say of The Leviathan that it’s replete with early 20th-century Jewish stereotypes; better, perhaps, is to remember that stereotypes do not grow up in vacuums, though they usually outlast any utility.
In reconsidering this review-ette, the only change I might make is replacing “predictable, though necessary” with “inevitable.” Take your pick.