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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

(Montano's Malady)

Enrique Vila-Matas

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To purchase Montano's Malady

Title: Montano
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 316 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Montano's Malady - US
El mal de Montano - US
Montano - UK
Montano - Canada
Montano's Malady - India
Le Mal de Montano - France
Risiken & Nebenwirkungen - Deutschland
Il mal di Montano - Italia
El mal de Montano - España
  • Spanish title: El mal de Montano
  • UK title: Montano
  • US title: Montano's Malady
  • Translated by by Jonathan Dunne

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyably literature-obsessed, though perhaps too ambitious

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Berliner Zeitung . 26/8/2004 Gregor Ziolkowski
Financial Times . 26/1/2007 Melissa McClements
Frankfurter Rundschau . 28/10/2004 Martin Zingg
The Guardian . 13/1/2007 Jane Smiley
The Independent . 8/2/2007 Jonathan Gibbs
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 6/5/2004 Kersten Knipp
New Statesman . 29/1/2007 Nadia Saint
The New York Sun . 27/6/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The Spectator . 23/4/2007 Alberto Manguel
The Telegraph . 24/12/2006 Miranda France
The Telegraph . 4/2/2007 Susan Elderkin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eine konventionelle Kritik mag diesem Roman allerlei Vorwürfe machen: Unübersichtlichkeit, Selbstbezogenheit, Handlungsarmut, und alle diese Vorwürfe sind begründet, wenn man die Konventionen eines Erzählens zugrundelegt, das sich seit dem 19. Jahrhundert nicht verändert hat. Hier aber geht es um anderes: Vila-Matas' Roman ist ein großartiges Experiment, das die Literatur selbst als Abenteuer beschreibt und die Suche nach neuen Ausdrucksmöglichkeiten nicht aufgegeben hat." - Gregor Ziolkowski, Berliner Zeitung

  • "Vila-Matas seems determined to make his readers go intertextually insane. (...) Unsurprisingly, the style of Montano reflects its form. Its dense sentences contain tangled webs of sub-clauses that must have given its English translator sleepless nights. In the Spanish-speaking world, Vila-Matas is revered as a truly original and daring writer. His erudition is not in question. There is also a certain charming playfulness in parts of Montano. But a lot more of it is, frankly, tortuous." - Melissa McClements, Financial Times

  • "He dismisses current literature out of hand, but especially "a slum called Spain, where a kind of traditional, 19th-century realism is encouraged and where it is normal for a majority of critics and readers to despise thought." In this he reminds me of all the old male novelists and critics who deplore the death of literature, even as all around them, young girls are picking up novels by writers like Sandra Cisneros with eager fascination." - Jane Smiley, The Guardian

  • "But for all the erudition on display (and one of the great merits of Montano is the casual introductions it offers to dozens of European writers), we are never far from a novelistic flourish -- a light touch carried through in Jonathan Dunne's fine translation." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "This is post-Proust at its finest. The narrator's identity is informed by memory and delusion. There is no reality here: present, past, fantasy and truth are intertwined. And it comes at the expense of being particularly enjoyable. If the narrator is "literature sick" then, by the end, so are we. It really is heavy stuff. (...) Exclusive and exasperating, this is not for the faint-hearted." - Nadia Saint, New Statesman

  • "(R)ead Mr. Vila-Matas for his full, forthright sentences, his gripping sense of narrative, and his command of a confident humor, at once bookish and cosmopolitan, that hardly makes sense in our culture. Plus, the quotations are great." - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "Montano is not an apocalyptic novel, it is not an elegy, it has none of the facile gloom of those who warn of the end of books and lend a helping hand in the closing of the libraries. Montano is an intelligent and joyful paean that proclaims not the demise, but the survival of literature." - Alberto Manguel, The Spectator

  • "Montano has no particular structure, though it could be read as a series of philosophical digressions on the art of writing some of which are certainly interesting. But the narrator is unreliable to the point of straining patience. (...) Perhaps continental readers have fewer anxieties on this score; I can believe that Vila-Matas is popular in Spain, where people are more willing to accept the playful nature of his writing and go along with it without minding whether or not it all makes sense in the end. I suspect they have a higher tolerance of mellifluous waffle than we do." - Miranda France, The Telegraph

  • "Like his compatriot Javier Marias, he has a fondness for commas that is not strictly grammatical and, unlike Marias, his sentences sometimes require re-reading. And yet how can one resist a narrator who, misanthropic, dishonest, impersonal and sometimes tedious as he is, goes to a literary festival up a Swiss mountain and calls the other writers 'sectioned idiots' who merely copy what has been done before? Vila-Matas can't be accused of that." - Susan Elderkin, The Telegraph

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       El mal de Montano is about literary obsession and overload: so consumed are the characters (the narrator, in particular) by literature that it overwhelms them. The 'mal' of Montano is the literary sickness that plagues them.
       Not satisfied with simply wallowing in the disease, the novel itself is part of the problem (and an attempt at a cure) -- not at all, at first, what it seems to be. It is a five-part novel, and the first of these is called: El mal de Montano. In it a literary critic visits his son, Montano, who has just published a book about authors who have abandoned writing (it has a different title, but sounds suspiciously like Vila-Matas' own Bartleby & Co. ...) and now finds he can no longer write, overwhelmed by the thoughts of others -- to the extent that he feels he has lost his own identity.
       The narrator has his own problems, and soon feels his own version of this Montano-syndrome. Domestic problems and a trip abroad don't help him get his mind off literary-obsessions; instead, they come to dominate his thoughts more than ever.
       The second section shifts perspective, the same narrator now acknowledging he's just finished a novella, El mal de Montano, a mix of fact and fiction from his life. He turns now to the diary form, the personal writing of authors he admires, not emulating them (entirely) but ordering his own life around an encyclopaedia of these authors, their lives and experiences juxtaposed with his own. After entries form Henri Amiel and André Gide comes also one for him -- under his pseudonym, Rosario Girondo (which happens also to be his mother's name, and mom happened to be an avid diary-writer ...). Literary connexions are made all over, and words and events tightly interwoven: Girondo's reality is a surreal (and sur-literary) one.
       Doses of reality include real writer-encounters: in the third section Girondo lectures in Budapest and has Kertész Imre in the audience; and there are encounters with, for example, Jean Echenoz. Meanwhile, one of his goals is to visit a café in the Azores that figures in a story by Tabucchi.
       Among the most prominent influences are Robert Musil and Robert Walser -- the narrator going so far as to literally identify himself as Walser (and imagine a meeting with Musil, among other things).
       There's the occasional extra-literary experience -- he watches Ulmer's classic film noir, Detour, for example -- but word (and author) experiences dominate.
       El mal de Montano -- the whole and the parts -- are a convoluted super-literary game, an intricate but playful creation. Incredibly well-read, and cleverly using literary experience, Vila-Matas does entertain with a sort of precarious high-wire act. Juggling more ideas and concepts and references than one can keep track of, it's amazing that he can even keep his balance -- but, though sometimes a blur, it does all stay in the air. One has to like this sort of literary play to enjoy this unwieldy book, but for those who do -- and fans of the authors Vila-Matas relies on (including Borges, Sebald, Kafka, Magris, Musil, Walser, Gombrowicz, and Paul Valéry) -- it's a worthwhile entertainment.

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Montano's Malady: 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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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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