Saturday, 4 July 2009

montano [enrique vila-matas]

My father used to work for a firm called Monsanto. I am tempted to begin an account of my experiences with regard to Montano thus, and indeed I find myself succumbing to temptation. My father was called Jean Paul Sartre and he was also my uncle. He was their in-house writer and his journal only came into my hands after his death. In which I discovered that he, Sartre, wasn't my father after all, he was just pretending to be my father. Or I was pretending to be his son. The distinction isn't clear. Or rather it doesn't always make sense, as I discovered when we were both in Buenos Aires for a while, without realising it, and I saw him crossing the road and called out to him and then chased after him and when I caught up with him he had become Cortazar, and he denied all knowledge of me, and told me that just because I thought he was part of my narrative it didn't mean that he necessarily was.

Or something like that. And repeat. I confess, speaking as neither my father nor as Cortazar nor as either of the Thomas', Pynchon or Bernard, that I found it hard, taxing, at times, to get my head around the book written by Enrique Vila-Matas which is known as Montano. In contrast to the concision of Bartleby, this is a novel that gyrates around itself in ever increasing circles, and they have a way of making the reader dizzy. In trying to write about the truth; or write the truth; or see which truths the truth will allow him to tell, Vila-Matas leads himself and his readership on a merry dance, waltzing along with Walser, and Musil and Kafka and Dickinson, and plenty more besides. In the end, rather than trying to make sense of the ever charming narrator's narrative, you just have to go with it, and trust that as he (I wanted to write 'or she?' but realise that if there's one thing we know for sure about this deceptive/ deceitful narrator it's that he is a he) sorts out his marriage and his literature sickness and his romantic tendencies, we, his readership, will pick up nuggets along the way which will be worth the treasuring.

And of course, Vila-Matas being the bibliophile he is, we do. As to what it all means, without wanting to sound malevolently Anglo-Saxon, search me guv, but there's fruit on the trees to be plucked, nurtured by the writer's fair hand. Two quotations from Montaigne towards the book's conclusion struck me as amongst the finest things you can read, and in a sense Vila-Matas is the writer as guide, shepherding his flock through the pastures of literature, saying don't worry about the terrain underfoot, just look at the views; and don't be scared of strangers. Even if they do turn out to be your father. Because in the Vila-Matas world of literature, everyone's your parent or your child. And he's probably got a point.

No comments: