“Never Any End to Paris” by Enrique Vila-Matas (2003) – 197 pages – Translated by Anne McLean
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you.” – Ernest Hemingway
“Never Any End to Paris” begins at the Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest in Key West, Florida. Our narrator, presumably Enrique Vila-Matas himself, believes he is getting to look more and more like Hemingway every year.
“Since no one ever agreed with me about this and since I am rather stubborn, I wanted to teach them all a lesson, and having procured a false beard – which I thought would increase my resemblance to Hemingway – I entered the contest this summer.”
Unfortunately he is disqualified even before the contest begins because of his “absolute lack of physical resemblance to Hemingway.”
No style or quality endears a writer to readers more quickly than the writer laughing at his or her own expense. Vila-Matas’ self-mockery puts his readers in a good mood from the very start. This book is a delight, much more enjoyable and accessible than other Spanish-language writers such as Roberto Bolano and Cesar Aira. Vila-Matas laughs not only at himself today but also at the ambitious young man he was thirty five years ago in the Seventies when he first came from Barcelona to Paris to write his novel.
“Sometimes sitting on the terrace of some café, as I pretended to read some maudit French poet, I played the intellectual, leaving my pipe in the ashtray (sometimes the pipe wasn’t even lit) and taking out what were apparently my reading glasses and taking off the other pair , identical to the first and with which I couldn’t read a thing either. But this didn’t cause me too much grief, because I wasn’t trying to read the wretched French poets in public, but rather to feign being a profound Parisian café terrace intellectual. I was, ladies and gentlemen, a walking nightmare. “
Is “Never Any End to Paris” a fiction or a memoir? It clearly is based on his real stay in Paris and contains many real anecdotes and quotes of famous writers including Marguerite Duras, Georges Perec, Jorge Luis Borges, and many others along with Ernest Hemingway himself. However I would call this book a fiction, because of the author’s ironic and humorous attitude toward his younger self which is surely embellished. Much fiction is based on real events, this book more than most. In one article, I saw that the book was called a Metafiction, a dull word for such a lively book.
I like both genres, literary memoirs and literary novels, so “Never Any End to Paris” was right up my alley. Another aspect of the novel is its picture of Paris in the Seventies, the cafes, the nightclubs, the discos, the little garrets where would-be artists and writers live. Despite the rumored high prices, I would like to visit Paris some day.
I’m surprised it took me so long to discover this excellent Spanish writer, Enrique Vila-Matas. He was born in 1931 according to the back cover of “Never Any End to Paris”, yet Wikipedia and many other sites have him born in 1948. His latest book, “Dublinesque”, a tribute to James Joyce, was just translated into English this year. “Never any End to Paris” is a wonderful introduction to his work. I certainly will be reading more books by Vila-Matas, whether fiction or not.