Never Any End To Paris
By Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated by Anne McLean
New Directions, 2011
What is the nature of this wondrous book?
Let us get a few bearings to start with. Although ostensibly a novel, it is presented in the form of a series of lectures, liberally laden with irony, which take place over three days. Their subject, the subject of these lectures that is, are the couple of years that the author spent in Paris in the ‘70s, being poor and unhappy and writing his first novel, The Lettered Assassin. During this time he was also Marguerite Duras’s tenant.
Perhaps, then, this book could best be described as a kind of memoir, an account of how the erstwhile author discovered his vocation as a writer? As an approximate description this is acceptable, and throughout there are a lot of thoughts and reflections on writing and the writer’s life, and on particular writers as well (Hemingway and Duras above all, since they were in a sense Enrique Vila-Matas’s mentors, but also Beckett, Borges, Perec…) thrown in for good measure. Yet one should also bear in mind that the author states at one point that he ‘can’t think of a greater way of stating truth than being ironic about our own identity’; so as a memoir it certainly shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Picturesque allusions, literary and arty and cultural (e.g. to rock ‘n’ roll and film) proliferate, and on that score it is a fulsome, extremely entertaining read. Moreover, it becomes a moving testament when Vila-Matas writes of Marguerite Duras’s last days. If Hemingway was Vila-Matas’s first literary hero – and reading A Moveable Feast the inspiration for getting digs in Paris and writing a novel in the first place – then Duras was his unobtrusive supporter, as well as being an accommodating landlady. And it was she who shoved a sort of laundry list concerned with writing a novel into his innocent hands when he needed it.
Clearly not – and by a long chalk – a conventional novel, Never Any End To Paris is, equally clearly, a novel literary creation, a sparkling gem.
The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.