There is a lot of resetting of the hard drive and return to the origins in the latest novel by Enrique Vila-Matas, which hits bookstores on the 31st. ‘Montevideo’ is called and for those who are looking for descriptions of the Uruguayan capital, let’s say that they are only to find the one in a real hotel room where Julio Cortázar placed his story on a condemned door. The conversation begins driven by concern for the state of the writer, who has just overcome a major health problem. Little would they say. He has just had a kidney transplant and the donor is his wife, Paula. The sempiternal Paula de Parma of his dedications. The author is dark, thin and eager to tackle the tiresome promotion of his novel that Seix Barral has published. Everything’s fine.
The light tone of this novel written in a period that has not had anything fun is surprising.
I would say that since ‘Kassel does not invite logic’ I had not concocted such a free book. My latest novels were a bit cramped, especially the last one. Here I have not wanted to set rules. I’ve told myself that I’m going to be what I am again.
I didn’t want journalists to ask me again if what I write is autobiographical. But it’s useless, they’ll do it again
Could it be said that ‘Montevideo’ is like a rewriting of ‘París never ends’, one of your most successful books?
That book was, to put it in some way, autofiction, a word that has been devalued and has been little understood, because it is known that everything that is written about reality modifies this reality. Here I wanted to mark the differences with this narrator who travels to Paris to be like Hemingway and shortly after becomes a criminal. I didn’t want journalists to ask me again if what I write is autobiographical. But it is useless, they will do it again.
Why does the term autofiction bother you now?
Before it was a very modern term that imposed. I remember that once I gave a talk in a provincial city with the presence of part of the Royal Family and they warned me not to talk about autofiction or strange things [ríe] but now it is used to make everyone equal. Today even the dumbest of writers has made a book about his father or his mother.
What I like is thought, literature, Nietzsche, Paul Valéry
What did you want to say here?
Basically, I’m sick of storytellers and storytelling. That what I like is thought, literature, Nietzsche, Paul Valéry. Those things.
A novel without a story, is that it?
Yes, and it can already be seen from the cover that shows that painting by Hammershoi, the Danish painter, in which three doors open in perspective. I like it because it is an interior without human figures and that means that the illustration is not telling anything.
But it does give it a certain fantastic air. It could be said that this is his first foray into that unsettling geography.
In ‘The Illustrated Assassin’, the novel I wrote in 1977, it was already there. I don’t want to play innocent but while I was writing I didn’t realize that I was doing fantastic literature. I just wanted to find the real door of the room that inspired Cortázar in a real hotel, the Cervantes, which is no longer called that anymore. When I traveled to Montevideo I went there and asked for the same room.
Did they know something about Cortázar passing through the hotel?
No. The hotel had become an hourly dating facility and customers were complaining about cockroaches. It had had better times and was frequented by Borges, Bioy Casares and Carlos Gardel, who came to sing there. I imagined a conspiracy forged in the hotel reception that is launched from a slogan, which does not appear as such in the book.
With the book finished, I realized that the search for my own room is for me the search for my own style.
‘Tacuarembo’. It is the little town where the Uruguayans assure that Gardel was born in opposition to the theory of Buenos Aires or those that place him in Toulouse. Well, the conspiracy is quite innocent. Only when the book was finished did I realize that the search for my own room, like Virginia Woolf’s, is for me the search for my own style.
From Montevideo you moved to Paris, where the artist Dominique González-Foerster created a room specifically for you.
Yes, it was in a retrospective dedicated to him at the Pompidou. He created for me a unique room that could only be opened by a key that only I had. Many friends asked me to go in my place but I felt that only I could open that door. I didn’t know that I would find myself there. In the end it was a red suitcase, very similar to one that I had found in Toulouse, shortly before its owner pounded on the door of the hotel where I was staying, much to my bewilderment.
In ‘Montevideo’ they ask Madeleine Moore, a copy of González-Foester, what writing is for her.
Yes, and among other things it says that “laughing at flies of Belgian origin & rdquor ;.
“Laughing at flies of Belgian origin” would be a good definition of his literature?
Yes, I accept it. I hope the Belgians don’t take it the wrong way [ríe].
I find it very nice to think of writing about what we do not have access to
There is another important question in the book and it is if deep down we don’t write about what it doesn’t let us write about.
It’s a question Beckett posed to a friend of his. And I find it very nice to think of writing about what we do not have access to. That we will never reach the end of a story because getting there means that it makes no sense to continue.
Playing with the parallels between ‘Paris never ends’ and this novel. That one ended with an amusing lapidary phrase from his father. Here her mother says it.
Yes. After asking him why the world was so strange, he let me out: “The great mystery of the universe is that there was a mystery of the universe & rdquor ;.
It’s funny because my father didn’t talk about his mother either. At home we were very intrigued
His father was an imposing figure and in a way has appeared in many of his novels. But his mother, no.
It’s funny because my father didn’t talk about his mother either. At home we were very intrigued. When I started writing, she used to come see me at presentations and conferences. If I told, for example, that we had gone to Cadaqués in a 600, she would get up and say out loud: “False, lie.” She did not understand fiction.
A very literal lady, no doubt.
During the war he had to work a lot in the Llavaneras house and he matured very quickly. He wasn’t up to nonsense. One day she wanted to tell him a very funny story. I went to Paris on one of those four-berth sleeper trains. One of the travelers, who looked like Johnny Hallyday, was carrying a parrot that just said “Je t’aime.” And he kept saying it. The fourth traveler who boarded in Lyon was missing, he entered in the dark and when the bird had gone to bed he began to shout “Je t’aime.” No one moved a muscle. I had a polaroid and in the morning I took a photo of the boy and the parrot, basically, to show it to my mother. When he saw her she told me: “You made that up.”
Thus, before the journalists, the first interested in the reality or not of his fictions was his mother.
My father didn’t have much to do with fiction either. When I wrote ‘The vertical journey’ I told him that a book was going to come out that seemed to talk about him but it wasn’t. He asked me what the character was doing. Well, I said, he is a politician, a nationalist, he plays poker & mldr; but the things that happen to him I make up. It was then that my mother asked: “And, I go out?” To which he replied: “How do you want to go out if I don’t go out?” Brutal.