I ADORED this book. Vila-Matas (or is it better to just call him the narrator?) was so funny, self-depreciating, personable, and wise. He was in tuneI ADORED this book. Vila-Matas (or is it better to just call him the narrator?) was so funny, self-depreciating, personable, and wise. He was in tune with ever flavor of irony. I just wanted him to go on and on. Like Paris.
He was a poseur trying to be like Hemingway, who was himself a poseur trying to be like Hemingway. The layers of self-mythology are thick and pillowy here. Where's the truth under it all? Is this autobiography or not? Autobiography, fiction: it's all story. I enjoyed wanting to know and not knowing.
I was so jealous, too. As any good poseur will do the Vila-Matarrator name dropped like crazy. In fact if he hadn't pulled his title from Hemingway's A Moveable Feast he might've considered: The Great Name-Drop. Oh, sure, the other day I was talking to/thinking about/heard a story from someone who knows: Duras, Perec, Queneau, Mellarmé, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Céline, Barthes, Susan Sontag, Gertude Stein, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, Trotsky, Rilke, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Audrey Hepburn, Elmo, Samuel Beckett, The Beatles, The Who, Robert Walser, Walter Benjamin, Céline, Kafka, and, oh yeah, Hemingway, to name a few. . . . Okay, so I added Elmo, but the rest were in there. It read like a Diego Rivera mural of art and thought in the 20th Century. What I'd give to be there myself brandishing my own pipe in front of people's faces to impress them, but not smoking it because I can't afford to....more
This really grew on me. What odd sentences. What wonderfully bratty, vacillating, tantrum-throwing, proud, frail characters. The characters, and the sThis really grew on me. What odd sentences. What wonderfully bratty, vacillating, tantrum-throwing, proud, frail characters. The characters, and the sentences also, are crushed, contorted, blush-faced under a sense of propriety, under the compulsion to adhere to social procedure. This sentence seemed to describe it best:
“What would become of enterprises, households and businesses, indeed, what would become of the world itself if suddenly its laws were no longer allowed to pinch and shove and wound one a little?” (p. 270)
I can see Walser becoming a new fascination of mine in the very near future. The KCRW Bookworm podcast on Walser was a helpful to me as a Walser newbie. I can't wait to try out Jakob von Gunten....more
One of the most purely entertaining books I've ever read. Honestly, when I finished, I held it to my chest with a purr.
I was a bit nervous at the starOne of the most purely entertaining books I've ever read. Honestly, when I finished, I held it to my chest with a purr.
I was a bit nervous at the start. I mean, was this just going to be some guy capitalizing on the fact that Borges never wrote a novel? Saying to all the Borgesians who are a bit glum over the fact: "Hey everybody over here! I got your Borges novel! Your Borges stamped key chains! Borges coffee cozies! Going fast!"
Well the book was an homage, definitely, almost a piece of fan fiction, but an extremely respectful and astute one. The guy obviously knows Borges down to his fluids and neurons. At the end he crafts this letter written from Borges to the narrator, and the rhythms and diction are so spot on I had to go look at the publishing date to make SURE Borges hadn't participated somehow. No, he was dead by the time this book was written, and admits as much in the letter. The book was full of little touches and nods like that. This book distills and collects so much of what I love about Borges.
Okay, how's this for super clever? Borges stars as the sleuth in a very Borgesian detective story (it relies heavily on a mirror), set appropriately enough in Buenos Aires at a literary conference on Edgar Allan Poe, who a) invented the detective story and b) was a primary if not THE primary influence on Borges and c) was also the primary influence of H.P. Lovecraft, another Borges favorite. The puzzles in this book quickly move from forensics to philology, as you'd expect.
While Poe and Lovecraft definitely have their qualities, I'll admit they can be a little too pulpy for me. I think I like them best as busts in the library of Jorge Luis Borges. Herein lies one of the main pleasures of this book for me: examining those two writers through Borgesian eyes (excuse the irony there), through his love of semiotics, of misdirection, and of obscure and fantastic scholarship. The letter, mentioned above, was only one of the many ways that Verissimo exploited the meta-fictional "Is this this real or not?" possibilities of the story. The last word of the book is "verisimilitude" a word which I think, in its connotations toward both truth and the simulation of truth, captures the spirit of this book; and it makes me wonder if the universe is really so kind to have honestly named this author Verissimo.
This reminded me a lot of the boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell, a kind of curio cabinet in book form. But like Cornell's pieces, it's more than jusThis reminded me a lot of the boxed assemblages of Joseph Cornell, a kind of curio cabinet in book form. But like Cornell's pieces, it's more than just a collection of weird, or esoteric, or forgotten bric-a-brac. These little bits of cultural memory are placed in revealing relationship to each other. Their connections are often startling and baffling. Like, have you ever scratched an itch on the bottom of your foot and found that it made a place on your scalp tingle? You look at yourself in the mirror and you have to wonder, What's going on in there? This book was kind of like that, but with the whole itchy tingly world....more
. . . . nothing that happens has ever completely happened until you tell someone, until it is spoken about and known about, until then, it is still po
. . . . nothing that happens has ever completely happened until you tell someone, until it is spoken about and known about, until then, it is still possible to convert those events in to mere thought, mere memory, nothing.
What I really dug about Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me was how Marías employed the basic novelistic trope of suspense — witnessing a near stranger's death, feeling somehow implicated, then sneaking out the back door and wondering what came of it — to open up a rich and thoughtful (dare I say, existential) space. We spend most of the novel floating uneasily in that space, between the act and the comprehension of the act. Suspense is kind of the workhorse of any novel, but here Marías shows us that, with a bit of love and grooming, the old girl’s still got plenty of kick under her saddle....more
Who you gonna call? Took me about 70 pp to start getting it. Once I did I really liked it a lot. I think this book is trying to demonstrate how much oWho you gonna call? Took me about 70 pp to start getting it. Once I did I really liked it a lot. I think this book is trying to demonstrate how much of our lives is pure fiction, pure imaginary construct. The ghosts were fun, too....more
By chance the second book in a row I've read that involves cat-strangling. Both fantastic books, but take it easy on the cats okay?
A weird little bookBy chance the second book in a row I've read that involves cat-strangling. Both fantastic books, but take it easy on the cats okay?
A weird little book. There's a hunchback, and three witches, and a near-albino nympho-maniacal angel, and a priest with a hauntingly holy voice and a drinking problem. There's also some elderly people who will tell you they are already dead when they're obviously not. As the night grows darker all these characters get mixed into a bizarre anxiety dream. The witches will show you the veins on their legs. The cats will jump on the table and eat all the food. The angel is waiting under the altar for sex. What it's all about I don't really know, but it's well written and alluringly weird. Just my thing. Except, lay off the cats!...more