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Bartleby And Co [Hardcover]

Enrique Vila-Matas , Jonathan Dunne
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 July 2004
Marcelo, a humble clerk in a Barcelona office who might have come from a novel by Kafka, inhabits a world peopled by characters in literature. He once wrote a novel about the impossibility of love, but since then he has written nothing and a mental trauma has meant that he has been unable to put pen to paper; he has become a 'Bartleby', so named after the character in Herman Melville's short story who, when asked to do something, always replied negatively: "I would prefer not to."One day Marcelo, decides to make a search through literature for all possible Bartlebys who, for whatever reason, have had the urge to say "no"., and to this end he has the engagingly original notion of keeping a diary and writing footnotes to an invisible text. His references to authors, both real and invented, provide the reader with extravagant doses of humour that are at once hilarious, irreverent and stimulating. (2003-05-13)

Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press (1 July 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843430525
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843430520
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.2 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 943,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Vila-Matas has had the brilliant idea of tracking down literature's slackers - Bartleby and Co proposes a shadowy history of literature" (Alberto Manguel)

"Ingenious... An Excellent book... A work of honesty and profound beauty" (John Burnside Scotland on Sunday)

"Bartleby and Co is set to become the book of the literary season... An enormously enjoyable and intelligent book, and if I am not mistaken, an important one" (El Pais)

"Told with considerable elegance and an admirable lack of melodrama" (Spectator) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Prize-winning novel from Spain - intellectual, contemporary, very funny and highly original - by one of the most admired of present-day Spanish writers. (2003-05-13)

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Customer Reviews

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
You would be wrong to say "I would prefer not to" when offered this book. Despite its weighty subject matter and nihilistic traces it is written with a sparse elegance that makes it far from hard work. To accept it is to read a book that surveys the "Bartleby impulse" and its manifestation in writers and their creations - why it is that even the best have to face off against the "no" that would negate them and their work. Some do not see their "giving up" as a defeat - to relinquish the pen can be the start of a 'lived' life from which literature was only a distraction. See Rimbaud living it up in Africa trading slaves or Salinger's enigmatic silence.

This book is written from the perspective of a former novelist who is making his first, tentative, steps towards writing again - recovering not so much from writer's bloc as the writer's "why write?" crisis he examines in others. This investigation does not take a conventional narrative form - it is rather a series of footnotes to an imaginary text. Truly different and engaging.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An engaging but inconsequential 'novel' 2 Mar 2013
By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
'Bartleby & Co.' is a moderately amusing fiction - it calls itself a novel, but is barely that - in the postmodernist mode made familiar by the successors of Calvino and Borges, among others. The narrator is a writer who is badly blocked, and who has become fascinated by accounts of other writers who have for one reason or another failed to produce - but who have turned this failure, which ought to be fatal, into a sort of perverse triumph. He thinks of these writers as 'Bartlebys', after the character in Melville's short story who politely but firmly refuses to engage with the world on any terms but his own. Tracking them down one by one, he writes 'footnotes' about each: these numbered 'footnotes' for an unwritten book accumulate to form a substitute for the book itself and, in passing, give the reader an oblique view of the narrator's life, which resembles that of a minor character out of Pessoa.

Vila-Matas is an engaging writer, and 'Bartleby & Co.' offers many small pleasures. The central problem for me is that the book doesn't convince as a piece of fiction. If it had been presented as what it is - an interesting but unsystematic essay on the literature of refusal - it might have seemed more coherent, if also more didactic than creative. But Vila-Matas seems unable to decide what kind of book he is writing. His narrator, ironically, is paper-thin, and fails to engage because Vila-Matas can't seem to summon the energy to create a credibly rounded character; consequently the implication that Marcelo, too, has been betrayed by his literary obsessions carries little emotional weight for the reader. The fictional and non-fictional elements don't so much amplify as interfere with one another.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny and wildly original 25 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's not difficult to see why Enrique Vila-Matas has been so successful in Spain. He's a brilliant writer with a fabulously original take on the metaphysics of the literary world.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An essay on literature of the no 18 Aug 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The 86 short sections of this short book discuss the literature of the no.

That means many things. There are authors whose identity they have kept secret, such as B Traven. Some who are secretive, such as Thomas Pynchon. Some who are secretive and silent, such as J D Salinger. Lots of authors such as Melville have ha extended silent periods. Some people decide just not to write after all. The book also focuses on authors of the constellation Bartleby. These include Musil and Beckett. (There is also a great deal of material on authors I know less about from Spain, Portugal and Latin America.

There are occasional gestures towards the status of the book as a novel. A girlfriend who doesn't write as she is seduced by choisisme. A friend who as an adolescent has excellent taste in music who writes only the first lines of poems and who, met in later life, is a bit disappointing.

Overall, I was a little disappointed. It didn't grip the attention page by page as I read it. And there is no overall great thesis about literature it is setting out.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To write or not to write. 14 Feb 2005
By Javier A. Moreno - Published on Amazon.com
Bartleby and Co. is an excellent entrance to get into the extremely rich literary work of the Barcelonian writer Enrique Vila-Matas. Described as a "series of footnotes of an invisible -unexistent- book", it compiles, following a labirinthic order, the observations of an early-retired writer about a pretty recurrent phenomenon among writers that he calls the "negating literature" (literatura del no). Mixing reality and fantasy, Vila-Matas gives account of the most interesting cases of writers, like Bartleby or Salinger, who stopped writing for good at some point in their lives. It is also a marvelous tour through contemporary literature and, at a higher level, it can be seen as a metaphor of abandonment and negation that explores the reasons we have for writing and telling stories and also as a homage to all those brave men and women who have decided to devote their live to writing, who have taken such a dangerous (and slippy) path.

A great follow up for this book, if you liked it, is "El Mal de Montano" (I'm not sure it's translated to english already).
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Playful philosophy 8 Nov 2005
By Emma Pele - Published on Amazon.com
As a long-time admirer of Melville's Bartleby, I loved this book. I loved its celebration of refusal and devolution. A novel that refuses to be a novel, the book is an especially good read for aging writers who may not have "fulfilled their creative potential" as the self-help goes. Though most of us know of the long silences of writers like Salinger, I had little idea how many writers have gone silent and for the most subtle of reasons.
24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous book 15 Jan 2008
By James Elkins - Published on Amazon.com
Dear Mr. Vila-Matas,

I have no reason to think you will ever see this. Why, after all, should you spend your time reading the reviews on the English-language Amazon site? But I have decided to write this review as if I am writing it to you, because it's in the spirit of your book. And how will I describe this book? It is generous, open, friendly, conversational, and also -- I hope you did not think this was only going to be a friendly review -- also infuriating, loosely written, and hopelessly scattered.

The book is a treasure trove of wonderful books, because you report on many writers that your reader will not have heard of. I marked the margins of my copy with a dozen names that I will now have to go and read. At the same time, I was delighted to find the names of many others that I know and recognize.

And that leads me to my frustration. From very nearly the beginning of the book I found myself arguing with you. Your theme, you say, is "writers of the No," meaning writers who have, for one reason or another, stopped writing. But that is the crux of the matter, that "one reason or another." Writers stop writing for many different reasons. Beckett is not the same case as Rimbaud, and Melville is not the same as Hawthorne. Some were depressed, some tired, some scared, and some -- I would have thought they would be your only subject -- stopped because they felt that modernism (a word that is weirdly absent from your book) prohibited the endless production of novels.

I can hear you saying, Well, yes, but as I say in my book, this is a vast subject, and there are many nuances and many different cases that must be judged and weighed. Exactly. They are different, and where your book falls short (sorry, I am being honest because I do not think you'll see this letter) of, say, Blanchot or even Perec (whom you cite) is where it is necessary to really slow down and think about each individual case.

PS, please, some day, read Wittgenstein's Tractatus. You wouldn't have written what you did if you'd read it, and it might have changed your ideas about other silences as well.

Still, even though this sounds negative and even, I suppose, a bit petulant (or even arch in my mimicry of your easy way of writing), the book is wonderful. It is richer, more full of ideas and writers I want to know, than any academic book I can think of.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I would prefer not to." 27 Nov 2009
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is named after the title figure in Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby the Scrivener." Melville's Bartleby is profoundly disengaged from life, and he responds to virtually every request, even those simply asking him to do his job as a scrivener or copy clerk, "I would prefer not to". Vila-Matas uses Bartleby as the prototype for authors who, in one way or another, preferred not to write. Presented as a series of footnotes to a "text that is invisible", BARTLEBY & CO. explores that denial and variants thereof through literature. Among the variants are writers who (somewhat paradoxically) never wrote, writers who vowed not to write again, those with writers' block, those who committed suicide, or those (like Thomas Pynchon) who are especially secretive.

In many respects, the book is an extended essay -- in turn, meditative, irreverent, witty, and (alas) also boring. But it is set in a context that is fictional, almost fantastical: the narrator (named Marcelo) is a reclusive hunchback, unsuccessful with women, who ultimately is fired from his job because he takes off too much time to pursue his obsession with "the literature of the No". The "footnotes" to the invisible text actually take the form of diary entries for the year 1999.

Much of BARTLEBY & CO. clearly is a commentary on contemporary literature or the "impossibility of literature," posing the question, among others, what is the future of literature? At other times, however, the book seems to be a somewhat impressionistic portrayal of existential ennui. (That latter aspect probably is responsible for the former dilemma.)

The novel certainly reflects quite extensive reading on the part of Vila-Matas. Among the writers who are mentioned (in rough order of appearance in the novel): Robert Walser, Robert Moretti, Juan Rulfo, Rimbaud, Socrates, Hofmannsthal and "Letter of Lord Chandos" (the "pinnacle of the literature of the No"), Robert Musil, Franz Kafka, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Valery Larbaud, Pepin Bello, Bobi Bazlen, Danielle Del Grudice, Robert Derain, Arthur Cravan, Hart Crane, Joseph Joubert, Chamfort, Felisberto Hernandez, J.D. Salinger, Fernando Passoa, Elias Canetti, Paul Celan, John Keats, Herman Broch, Mallarme, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oscar Wilde, Henry Roth, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Marcel Maniere, Derek Walcott, Thomas Pynchon, Guy de Maupassant, B. Traven, and Tolstoy.

If you are not familiar with Melville's story, I strongly recommend taking an hour to read it before starting BARTLEBY & CO. Those who have read the Melville story know that Bartleby is an odd duck. It is doubly fitting that this novel be named after him, because not only does it develop the "Bartleby syndrome" but it too is an odd duck, or an odd book. At first the conceit is interesting, but I found it overdone. Three-and-a-half stars.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writers of the No 26 July 2009
By M. Haber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have written the most magnificent and brilliant review of this book, quite possibly the best-written review ever posted on Amazon. However, in writing something, anything, one realizes the limits of language, the unsolicited twists words make on a mind's unadulterated thoughts. Hence, the review for this book is on the shelves of universal literature, among the greatest books and reviews never written.

Thank you Mr. Vila-Matas
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