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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Because She Never Asked

Enrique Vila-Matas

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To purchase Because She Never Asked

Title: Because She Never Asked
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 90 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Because She Never Asked - US
in Exploradores del abismo - US
Because She Never Asked - UK
Because She Never Asked - Canada
Because She Never Asked - India
in Explorateurs de l'abîme - France
in Esploratori dell'abisso - Italia
in Exploradores del abismo - España
  • Spanish title: Porque ella no lo pidió; published in the collection Exploradores del abismo (2007)
  • Translated by Valerie Miles

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Our Assessment:

A : delightful and profound overlap and mix of real life and fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Because She Never Asked is a three-part story (published as a stand-alone in English, but as part of a collection in the original Spanish). The first part is titled: 'The Journey of Rita Malú', a creative story featuring a woman (the title character) who bears a strong resemblance to the artist Sophie Calle -- "that 'narrative artist' par excellence" -- and has devoted much of her life to imitating Calle. If not quite her double, Rita tries to be like an echo of Calle, discreetly imitating the artist who is very much her role model.
       Rita inherited a great deal of money, allowing her considerable freedom -- to dabble in art, or set up a Sam Spade-imitation P.I. agency, as she does here, in the hopes of shaking up her life a bit. She can barely attract any business, but that doesn't stop her from playing this role, and she gets enough out of it to set out an expedition to Lisbon and the Azores.
       It's a short, enjoyable little tale, covering many of Vila-Matas' usual themes, and cleverly using the figure and reputation of Calle. It is also, as it turns out, not quite what it seems -- indeed, neither simple, stand-alone invention, nor factual report.
       The second part of Because She Never Asked, 'Don't Mess with Me', opens with the explanation:

     I wrote the story 'The Journey of Rita Malú' for Sophie Calle.
       Rather than free invention, Vila-Matas explains the piece was commissioned, and in 'Don't Mess with Me' he provides the background and details surrounding this project. The idea that Calle has sounds like the kind of project she would think of and want to undertake:
     What Sophie suggested was that I write a story, any story. That I create a character she could bring to life: one whose behavior, for a maximum of one year's time, would be contingent upon what I wrote. She wanted to change her life and what's more, she was tired of having to determine her own deeds; now she preferred to have someone else do it for her, to allow somebody else to decide how she was supposed to live. She would obey the author in everything. Everything except killing, she said.
       It's a writer's dream-project: on the page an author's characters are like puppets, and s/he can do whatever s/he wants with them -- and now a person was offering to slip into that role, to become a truly real-life character. Of course, it's also a terrible responsibility -- and, as Vila-Matas learns, he is not first author Calle has approached, as a who's-who of internationally well-known writers -- Paul Auster, Jean Echenoz, Olivier Rolin, Ray Loriga -- has already declined the commission. But since we've already read the story we know that Vila-Matas grabbed the opportunity -- and 'The Journey of Rita Malú', now seen in this new light, is a clever approach to making Sophie Calle an other.
       So how do things go with the bigger project, of Calle inhabiting the story-role ? Well, slowly. Calle warned Vila-Matas that her mother was on her deathbed, and that might lead to some delays. And they have some communication problems with e-mails and the like. Indeed, Vila-Matas soon can't help get the feel that he's the one being played here -- maybe as part of a different Calle project, with his communications to her integrated into one of her wall novel projects. He begins: "to suspect that everything that Sophie did was a bluff" -- right down to the supposed death of her mother.
       The final part of the novella, 'The Center of the Tangle', brings the final, clever twist (although it's already more than hinted at in the piece's title), a final summa of the question of life in/as literature (and vice versa), with Vila-Matas admitting:
I am not particularly interested in reaching beyond literature. [...] I don't want to jump any deeper into the abyss, I mean, into what lies beyond literature.
       And so even as Because She Never Asked is presented as a fiction and reality for Sophie Calle to wrestle with, it is Vila-Matas as writer who is always struggling with (his) life and art, struggling with the question of : "How the hell can I ever bring to life such deeply literary sentences ?" -- and how can he make literature of life.
       Because She Never Asked is a beautifully conceived and realized work, Vila-Matas distilled in less than a hundred pages (though it should be noted that the Spanish original is part of a larger collection and -- it appears -- whole, and that it probably benefits in the original from the additional context). 'The Journey of Rita Malú' is a fine little story already, and Because She Never Asked builds exponentially on it. This little gem is a great deal of fun but also truly profound -- and an ideal introduction to Vila-Matas' work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 November 2015

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Because She Never Asked: Reviews: Enrique Vila-Matas: Other books by Enrique Vila-Matas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Enrique Vila-Matas was born in 1948. He has won numerous literary prizes.

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© 2015 the complete review

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