A. G. Porta: Me llamo Vila-Matas, como todo el mundo [My Name is Vila-Matas, Like Everyone]
The first thing to note it that this is not a novel, as it is relatively short (eighty pages) and consists entirely of a dialogue between two people. Who these two people are is not clear. Spanish critics have suggested it is Porta himself and Enrique Vila-Matas, who is, of course, the subject of the book, as the title tells us. I disagree. Vila-Matas is repeatedly mentioned in the third person during the book and discussed in a way that show he is not present. They give no indication as to their identity, only that they are, presumably Spanish, and use the familiar tu form to one another.
At one point in the dialogue, one of them says
Then, who are you and who am I?
You and I are the same thing.
The book opens with a dedication Obviously, for Enrique Vila-Matas and then a quotation Je m’appelle Erik Satie, comme tout le monde [My name is Erik Satie, like everybody]. Je m’appelle Erik Satie, comme tout le monde is the title of a French show about the French composer.
The dialogue between the two unnamed people is entirely absurdist, as they themselves point out. Where does the absurd come from? they ask. This question could apply to where their dialogue comes from and they give some helpful answers: Ionesco and Beckett, Groucho Marx, Monty Python, Vladimir and Estragon (from Waiting for Godot), Faemino y Cansado (two Spanish absurdist comedians – link in Spanish).
The basic premise of the dialogue is about Enrique Vila-Matas. Indeed, the opening lines are:
Obviously, it is about Enrique Vila-Matas.
What I am telling you.
The story of the agent?
Yes. My name is Vila-Matas, I told her, like everyone..
Enrique Vila-Matas has agreed to act in an off-Broadway play, based on his novel París no se acaba nunca (Never Any End to Paris). He will therefore be an actor playing himself. However, Allison, the woman putting on the show (we never learn her surname), seems to have disappeared. Enrique Vila-Matas sets out to find her, together with his friend Eduardo Lago. (Lago has had one book translated into English, his Llámame Brooklyn was published by Dalkey Archive Press as Call me Brooklyn. As the book’s title indicates, Lago knows New York quite well.)
We get a description of their (alleged) search for Allison, including the usual haunts, wandering round the streets and attending openings. However, as this is absurdist, they also look in well-known New York books, such as those by Paul Auster, J. D. Salinger, Elizabeth Smart‘s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and the hidden room in Being John Malkovich. (My name is John Malkovich, like everyone, says one of them.) They even resort to looking in Vila-Matas’ own books, even though these are mainly set in Europe and primarily in Spain. At this point it helps to have a good knowledge of Vila-Matas’ work, as there are references to various of his books, including Kassel no invita a la lógica (The Illogic of Kassel), set in Kassel, in Germany, and Esta bruma insensata [That Mindless Mist], set in Cap de Creus and Barcelona, though with references to New York. Vila-Matas even publishes an announcement reading Writer of no fixed abode in New York is looking for Allison. Not surprisingly, they do not seem to have any luck in finding her.
Meanwhile, Enrique Vila-Matas seems to have written two plays. The first is called Looking for Allison, about which we learn little, and the second is called (the title is in English) Off Off Off Broadway, which seems to consist of a writer, played by Vila-Matas, writing a play about a writer writing a play about… You get the picture.
The dialogue gets increasingly absurdist, as they play with the idea of an actor playing a writer, who is, in fact, the writer who wrote the play in which the actor, who is the writer, is appearing. They make a great issue about the fact that they are both called Vila-Matas like everyone, but that does not mean that everyone is called Vila-Matas. Indeed, they occasionally veer into other names, one of them saying that his name is Odradek, a character who first appears in a Kafka story and pops up elsewhere, particularly in Harry Matthews‘s Oulipist The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium.
The story continues in this fashion and discusses various writers, the death of the novel, the theatre, the work of Vila-Matas and deliberately gets itself twisted into knots, ending up of course, with the two men saying:
We are Vila-Matas.
It is certainly original, it is certainly witty, it is certainly clever, it is certainly absurdist. Like everyone.
First published 2019 by El Acantilado
No English translation