Requiem for the Age of Print – ‘Dublinesque’ by Enrique Vila-Matas

If all creative work is shared by everyone in our new world of streaming, who will make sure that the lone individual, perhaps not the slickest salesman on the block, will get credit and a fair monetary share for his or her creation whether it be a piece of music, art, or literature?  


‘Dublinesque’ is a novel for excessively literary people like me.  It is filled with quotes and stories about famous writers, and the nice thing is that the allusions are meaningful to the severe plight of the central character of ‘Dublinesque’ himself.  They are not just to feed the author’s ego. One soon realizes that Enrique Vila-Matas is an impassioned reader of other writers’ works

The first-person protagonist of ‘Dublinesque’, Samuel Riba, ran a small company that published literary novels for thirty years until it went under.  Now he spends nearly all his time in front of the computer.  He fears he has become a ‘hikikomori’ which is a Japanese word for those young people who suffer from autism in front of the computer and avoid outside pressures by withdrawing completely from society.  His wife is concerned for him.

 “Sensing that it won’t be long before her dear autistic husband goes and sits in front of the computer, she tells him that people who regularly use Google gradually lose the ability to read literary works with any kind of depth, which serves to demonstrate how digital knowledge can be linked to the recent stupidity in the world.” 

 The age of print is over; we are streaming into the new digital age.  In order to overcome his own isolation, this ex-publisher decides to hold his own funeral for the Print Age.  What better time and place to hold the funeral for the Print Age than in Dublin on Bloomsday, June 21, the day so famously depicted in James Joyce’s Ulysses?  The ex-publisher invites three of his writer friends, all of whom he previously published.

A little over two years ago, the ex-publisher, an alcoholic, had a catastrophic drinking episode almost causing his wife to leave him.  He hasn’t had a drink since.  Imagine the temptations for an ex-drinker in going to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday.

That is the setup.  The story is told in an offhand friendly way.  A requiem for the Print Age might not be your idea of an exciting plot but it is for me.  Some of the writers who come up frequently in the story are Gustave Flaubert, Samuel Beckett, Paul Auster (even Siri Hustvedt gets a mention), Peter Handke, and Fernando Pessoa.   This book caused me to return to the poetry of Philip Larkin.  ‘Dublinesque’ is a lovely poem by Larkin about a funeral for a prostitute.  You can read it here.

The death of the age of print?  I have my own concerns about the streaming world which I suspect are shared by most people who appreciate creativity.  If every creative work is shared by everyone, who will make sure that the lone individual, perhaps not the slickest salesman or businessman on the block, will get credit or a fair monetary share for his or her creation whether it be a piece of music, art, or literature?   We have entered a new age, but that does not necessarily mean it is a good new age.  Do you have concerns?

For the appropriate kind of person, me, ‘Dublinesque’ is a wonderful book.

11 responses to this post.

  1. I loved this book too, and in an oblique kind of coincidence I was wondering today what will become of tertiary education and a literary education in the age of Twitter. Reading Elizabeth Jolley’s The Sugar Mother (1988) in which she takes a polite swipe at university reforms that made the teaching of Renaissance literature ‘irrelevant and old fashioned’ I had a vision of lecture halls full of students tweeting and texting each other and then proffering half-baked instant opinions about lecture topics they had barely heard. The hapless lecturer is then graded by them to enhance or deny his/her career prospects – on the basis of how much he/she had managed to break through their preoccupation with social media to teach them something to regurgitate in one-liner exams.
    A bleak, dismissive view of university students? I’ve seen them doing it when I sat in on a couple of lectures last year… utterly unabashed they had Facebook open on tgheir laptops, their mobile phones not even hidden away as they texted. As for the exams they do, they are a joke: from what I know of them, they are largely short Q&As designed to catch out the students who have plagiarised or bought essays from the internet.
    Let’s not call ourselves ‘excessively literary’: no doubt we are labelled elitist by those who don’t want to read as we do but I think I am not literary enough and am always aware that there is so much I haven’t yet read.
    I am profoundly grateful to authors and publishers who swim against the dumbed-down tide and still provide for a minority of appreciative readers!


    • Hi Lisa,
      What a thoughtful comment. I’m not so sure about all those surveys either where everything becomes a popularity contest with ‘smiles’ or ‘frowns’. Of course the instructor who assigns the most homework will get the most ‘frowns’ while the instructor who lets the students get off easy gets the most ‘smiles’. That is no way to evaluate instructors. It is much too facile to play to the crowd.
      Describing myself as ‘excessively literary’ was supposed to be a joke. I hope that everyone is as passionate in their enthusiasms as you and I are, regardless of what their interests happen to be.
      Vila-Matas definitely swims against the dunbed down tide.


      • BTW Did you see the NY Times Notable Books list for this year? Very disappointing, I don’t think they read anything from Europe…
        And their influence is unfortunately profound: in conversation with an online friend about this dearth of European fiction, she said she was only interested in seeing what was the best, not where it came from. In other words, she’d made the assumption that nothing from Europe could have been among the best, because if it were, it would be on the list.


        • Yes, I’ve read a lot of ‘Best of’ lists this year, and they are usually United States-centric or, at best, English language-centric. I doubt many people in the USA have even heard of Enrique Vila-Matas even though he probably ranks higher in the standings than any USA writer. His ‘Never Any End to Paris’ is also outstanding.


  2. this won our IFFP shadow prize ,such an ode to joyce and Dublin but also being involved in lit and books a lament for a changing world in a way the stories in the book may not happen with new digital age ,all the best stu


    • Hi WinstonsDad,
      I think it is great that your site is dedicated to translated fiction. I try to keep up on translated fiction, and my main site for coverage has been the Complete Review. I usually wind up reading titles that get an A there. A few of the many writers I’ve discovered there are Amelie Nothomb, Javier Marias, Vila-Matas, Jose Saramago, and Roberto Bolano who is sort of a mixed blessing for me. Your review of ‘Blindly’ by Claudio Magris makes the book look intriguing.


  3. You’ve made me intrigued about this one!


  4. Tony, I’ve heard nothing about this book, and it sounds fascinating. We’re all concerned about the effect of the internet, even though we use it for our blogs, and the crazed multi-tasking cannot be good for us. The conflict in this sounds fascinating, more interesting than Eggers’ book (which I haven’t read yet, but I don’t really like Eggers’ style: I’m the only one). Gary Shteyngart, one of my favorite writers, has said he reads less than he used to because of the internet. Publishing isn’t dead, but I do fear that marketers are telling people what to publish on the basis of what they read on the internet.


    • Hi Kat,
      I can’t say I read less fiction because of the Internet, probably because I keep needing subjects for my blog articles. I’m concerned about the copyright laws falling apart on the Internet where anyone can copy anything with just a ‘Copy and Paste’.
      ‘Dublinesque’ doesn’t really raise questions about the Internet so much as it is a story about a publisher celebrating the end of the print era by going to Dublin. I admit I added my own polemics about the Internet and the death of the Print Age to the article.
      It seemed like the ‘Best of’ lists of major newspapers were more USA-centric than ever; so much for the Internet broadening our horizons.


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