Bartleby And Co Paperback – 7 Jul 2005
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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)
Prize-winning novel from Spain - intellectual, contemporary, very funny and highly original - by one of the most admired of present-day Spanish writers.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
Towards the end it all feels a bit like painting by numbers (Rimbaud, Kafka, the egregiously boring Oscar Wilde**). Plot is not entirely absent, but you may start to feel you are the victim of a learned confidence trick. Persist!
PS I can't believe the other reviewers didn't get the joke (see my review of the Spanish edition); it's not as if there weren't plenty of clues, beginning with the narrator's disability. I'm just hungry to read more by this intriguing - and, rightly, television- and traffic-hating author. (Though it's Gracq who brings up traffic noise (if we believe our author: I do) it's Vila-Matas who has chosen to incorporate that seemily innocuous and hence telling information.) Perhaps it's because of the insidious encroachment of traffic (and other noise) on our lives that we increasingly retreat within our animated screens. Animated? What am I saying? That means alive: screens merely move -- and emit noise
* To anyone who says we don't have enough literary prizes in this country, right now there are over three hundred - count 'em
** Big 'sur le continong' - like Byron and Poe! And they are wrong, believe me - I have read Byron, they haven't
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. In a pointless display of ingenuity, thumbnail biographies of invented authors are made to sit alongside those of real writers, but to no obvious purpose. The book makes an interesting contrast in this respect with Roberto Bolaño's 'Nazi Literature in the Americas', which is structured around similar but wholly invented literary biographies and for me works far better as fiction.
'Bartleby & Co.' is readable, and short enough not to overstay its welcome. Nonetheless, it's hard to give it more than a qualified recommendation. Vila-Matas seems to have no very novel ideas about the implications of this type of writing, and the book ends with a shrug. The reader interested in conceits of this kind, and the deliberate blurring of the boundary between fiction and non-fiction would do better to look elsewhere. One of the incidental weaknesses of the book is that it necessarily invokes the names, and in doing so invites comparison with the works of earlier and more powerful writers.
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