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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Enrique Vila-Matas

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To purchase Dublinesque

Title: Dublinesque
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 245 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Dublinesque - US
Dublinesca - US (Spanish)
Dublinesque - UK
Dublinesque - Canada
Dublinesque - India
Dublinesca - France
Dublinesca - España
  • Spanish title: Dublinesca
  • Translated by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine novel of the end of literature -- and its everlastingness

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural A 19/3/2010 Santos Sanz Villanueva
The Guardian . 15/6/2012 Alberto Manguel
The Independent . 16/6/2012 John Self
London Rev. of Books . 19/7/2012 Terry Eagleton
The NY Times Book Rev. . 2/9/2012 Rachel Nolan
El País . 12/3/2010 J.Ernesto Ayala-Dip
World Literature Today A 11-12/2012 Will H. Corral

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dublinesca ofrece una celebración gozosa del arte y las letras, hecha desde una perspectiva cordial que añade a los autores consagrados algún nombre aún joven y cercano (.....) También contiene una elegía, algo esperanzada, por la alta literatura. Pero esta dimensión culturalista de la novela no excluye una gran densidad existencial. (...) La perfecta simbiosis de factores complementarios (lo particular y lo colectivo, lo vivencial y lo reflexivo, y lo real y lo simbólico) consumada en una obra de gran fluidez narrativa y de estilo brillante hacen de Dublinesca una excelente novela, la más ambiciosa y mejor de Enrique Vila-Matas." - Santos Sanz Villanueva, El Cultural

  • "Vila-Matas has brought home a fine specimen of that most endangered of intellectual species, the literary publisher. In Dublinesque, superbly translated by Rosalind Harvel and Anne McLean, Samuel Riba, a 60-year-old Catalan alcoholic publisher and bibliophile, heeding the apocalyptic voices that trumpet the imminent end of the book in our digital dark age, decides to travel to Dublin with a group of friends and hold there, on Bloomsday, a funeral for the book." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "The story disappears, like the vanishing characters, under the mass of literary references. Yet Vila-Matas maintains an extraordinary lightness of touch, retained in Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean's translation. Dublinesque reports on and exemplifies the ungraspability of literature, from the point of view of a man who "is trying to learn to say goodbye to everything"." - John Self, The Independent

  • "Enrique Vila-Matas, one of Spainís most distinguished novelists, turns this slight tale into a touching account of facing down mortality with a passion and an obsession for literature. (...) Riba is plaintive, intelligent and unpredictable enough to demand our full attention, and his preoccupation with literature is not a gimmick or distraction; it is the whole story." - Rachel Nolan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Una revelación paródica, con algo de la tristeza de esos espectros y señales apocalípticas que llaman a su puerta." - J.Ernesto Ayala-Dip, El País

  • "Vila-Matas is well aware that such configurations are de rigueur for bookish novels. So instead of eavesdropping on his own past, he makes Ribaís contempt unsustainable by textualizing the faith and hope one can have in literature. His novel additionally posits that in our voluble era, apocalyptic crises (the publishing one among them) can only be treated as parody. (...) Dublinesque, Vila-Matasís best and most engaging novel to date, is full of warmth and compassionate speculation about what it means to go on with oneís life." - Will H. Corral, World Literature Today

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:

       Dublinesque centers on Samuel Riba, a Spanish publisher who, as the opening line has it: "belongs to an increasingly rare breed of sophisticated, literary publishers". Not yet sixty, his life has taken an abrupt turn with the closing of his publishing house, and he is somewhat at wits' end; giving up drinking a few years earlier probably hasn't helped either. Still, there's always literature -- indeed:

He had a remarkable tendency to read his life as a literary text, interpreting it with the distortions befitting the compulsive reader he's been for so many years.
       The novel is divided into three acts -- 'May', 'June', and 'July' -- and the highpoint is a funeral, "a requiem for the end of the Gutenberg era", held, of course, midway through, on 16 June, Bloomsday, in Dublin:
A funeral not just for the extinct world of literary publishing, but also for the world of genuine writers and talented readers, for everything that's needed nowadays.
       The funeral is not at the conclusion of the novel, however: life (or at least time) goes on, and Riba returns to Ireland with his wife for a few weeks' holiday a few weeks later, for an aftermath -- as of course even the end of literature, or any aspect of fact or fiction, can not just be neatly tied up with a symbolic requiem.
       Dublinesque meanders agreeably along, a mix of Riba's literary reminiscences -- from his early concerns about the fascination with the idea of 'the death of the author' (something that worried the would-be publisher) to various encounters with the famous authors he's published -- and his present-day ambitions, dreams, and actions. He dreams of Dublin and New York, and can see the world only refracted through the literary; typically, he reached a turning point early in his career after coming across Blanchot's question: "Would writing be to become, in the book, legible for everyone, and indecipherable for oneself ?" something that he then recognized in his own authors. Meanwhile, his wife has embraced Buddhism -- making for two very different states of mind in the not so happy household.
       If Joyce's Ulysses is the guiding text for Riba -- "a sort of universal synthesis, a summary of time", as one friend of his describes it; in other words, the literally ultimate novel -- so the Philip Larkin poem, Dublinesque, is the one that Riba identifies with and that haunts him as he has lost his hold. Riba reads James Knowlson's biography of Samuel Beckett, and notes the passage where Beckett describes realizing how Joyce: "had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one's material" and instead takes a completely different approach, realizing: "my own way was impoverishment". As Vila-Matas writes:
     With this revelation of Beckett's, the Gutenberg age and of literature in general had started to seem like a living organism that, having reached the peak of its vitality in Joyce, was now, with his direct and essential heir, Beckett, experiencing the irruption of a more extreme sense of the game than ever, but also the beginning of a steep decline in physical form, ageing, the descent to the opposite pier to that of Joyce's splendour, a freefall towards the port's murky waters and its poverty, where in recent times, and for many years now, an old whore walks in an absurd worn-ot raincoat at the end of a jetty buffeted by the wind and the rain.
       Vila-Matas' solution to this dilemma, of what and how to write, takes the form of literary introspection, using literature in the most obvious way with a constant referencing of texts, authors, and literary history (with frequent cameos by authors to go along with mentions and discussions of them). It's an effective technique that he handles well -- though presumably more pleasing to the similarly literature-obsessed than those looking for a more conventional story.
       Riba is a typical Vila-Matas-figure, identifying completely with literature. Much as Blanchot suggested writers lose themselves in their texts (and reveal themselves to everyone else through them), so Riba admits:
I don't know myself. The list of books I have published seems to have obscured for ever the person behind the books. My biography is my catalogue.
       Dublinesque is an elegy of sorts. Having lost his role as publisher, Riba has lost a significant part of his self (and his wife's Buddhism isn't a satisfactory alternative ...), and so he also personifies the end of literature. But Vila-Matas isn't willing to allow it go quite that far: as Dublinesque shows, all is not yet lost.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 May 2012

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Dublinesque: 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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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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