“I don’t write about horror so I don’t scare myself”

In 1969, a young reporter named Enrique Vila-Matas was washing his hands in a hotel bathroom in San Sebastián. He was in the city to attend the famous film festival that he had in that edition as one of his main guests to the legendary director Fritz Lang with whom he coincided at that precise moment in the bathroom. Lang looked at himself in the mirror and changed his eye patch to the surprise of an astonished Vila-Matas. “C’est la vie, mon ami”, the director released. The real anecdote could seem like a short story by an author who knows how to combine fact and fiction, novel and essay. “Montevideo”, his latest novel, which has just been published by Seix Barral, is the return of a writer in a state of grace, a masterpiece in which he recovers some of his obsessions and incorporates some new ones with the help of Cortazar.

Where does “Montevideo” come from?

The origin goes back twenty years ago when I visit Argentina. Vlady Kociancich, a writer of Serbian origin who died this year and who had been the girlfriend of Bioy Casares and a close friend of Borges, told me about two stories that ran in parallel and were written at the same time: Cortázar’s “The Condemned Door” and “A Journey or The Immortal Magician” by Bioy. The two characters, Cortázar’s protagonist and Bioy’s narrator, travel to the same city, Montevideo, ending up in the same place, the Cervantes hotel. This would be the first origin. Then one day I went on the internet to find out about the hotel, meeting all the people who spoke badly about it because it was a seedy hotel. Later I wrote an article about him saying that if one day I went to Montevideo, I would like to visit the Cervantes hotel. Later, when I was able to go to the Cervantes, I asked for Cortázar’s room, but they didn’t know anything about it, behaving a bit strangely. I have always believed that what most interested the hotel was to revitalize the presence of Carlos Gardel, highlight that he was there. They didn’t give a damn about Cortázar. However, in the end they told me: “But, will tourists come if we put it on? The Japanese are very interested in these things.” At the beginning of the novel, the protagonist is a very indecisive guy who ends up dizzy with Paul Valéry and stops writing for three years. Things happen to him that have never happened to him before. That is when I came up with the idea of ​​going to Montevideo. It is there where I propose, according to Beatriz Sarlo’s idea, the fusion between fiction and Cortázar’s door: to be in the real place and in the place of fiction looking at what is in the next room. It’s a very interesting point for me because I don’t know what is in the next room when I write this. I have to enter fantasy literature without knowing it.


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