The famous Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas has been writing since the early 1970s and his “Vampire in love” is a collection that covers a lifetime of writing short stories.
To exist in Vila-Matas’ fictional universe is to accept the strange paradoxes of life that bring deception, lies, illusions, sadness and hilarity. His story of a father who confesses that he is responsible for the murder of his wife, forces his son, to whom the confession is made, to consider whether a truth is sometimes best expressed in a fiction.
Such a proposition underlies many of these short stories but their development is patchy and often disappointing.
The first of the book’s nineteen stories features a hard-pressed working mother who looks back on her life while sitting through her shift as a security attendant in art gallery. Suicide is an option she considers but Paul Klee’s “The black prince” hangs on the wall and the painting plays a role in an important decision that she comes to make.
“In search of an electrifying double act” tells of a fat man, once a successful actor, who seeks a thin one in the hope of resuscitating his career.
What follows is bizarre, involving a wardrobe that resembles an upended submarine, a ghost, a password and the kidnapping of his mother.
The way in which these diverse elements are connected is far from clear – or believable – and the reader will either enjoy the narrative anarchy or feel annoyed by a playfulness that lacks a discernible purpose.
Genres are impishly tossed around so that a tale with a magical dimension may be followed by a grim political parable that reaches a climax on the day that Spain’s dictator, Franco, is dead and buried. Another tale, an extremely short one, points to a peril in life: “We are too much like ourselves and the danger is that we end up resembling ourselves too closely’. Such a statement may be profoundly wise but it is not unpacked. More successful “The boy on the dwing”, a tale of bourgeois complacency being shattered by a man learning he is not who he thought he was.
The instability of the identities we bring to our lives emerges as a theme in these stories, as does the complementary notion that we are compelled to turn life into narratives and tell them to ourselves. An indeterminacy is inherent in such endeavours because “there are always gaps in any narrative, whatever sutures or remedies you might try to apply. That is why a narrative only restores life in fragmentary form”.
This statement, from “Invented memories” could serve as the philosophical basis for Vila-Matas’ fiction: our search for certainties is as relentless as it is futile.
These short stories have enjoyable metaphysical moments but they are not sufficiently we ll wrapped in narrative packaging and you are often left feeling disappointed by their flimsy form and loose content.
“Vampire in love”, by Enrique Vila-Matas¸ is published by And Other Stories.