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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Brief History
of Portable Literature

Enrique Vila-Matas

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Brief History of Portable Literature

Title: A Brief History of Portable Literature
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 84 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: A Brief History of Portable Literature - US
Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil - US
A Brief History of Portable Literature - UK
A Brief History of Portable Literature - Canada
A Brief History of Portable Literature - India
Abrégé d'histoire de la littérature portative - France
Dada aus dem Koffer - Deutschland
Storia abbreviata della letteratura portatile - Italia
Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil - España
  • Spanish title: Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil
  • Translated by Anne McLean and Thomas Bunstead

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Our Assessment:

B : clever literary (re)invention

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Globe and Mail . 5/6/2015 Pasha Malla
The NY Times . 13/8/2015 Valerie Miles
TLS . 14/8/2015 Scott Esposito

  From the Reviews:
  • "This time, the stories are made up but the names are real, and the book’s taxonomical framework lends the fiction authenticity" - Pasha Malla, The Globe and Mail

  • "The thrill of being someone else, playful insouciance and literary high jinks, engaging the ghosts of artists past as if they were contemporaries in a continuing metafictional conversation -- these essential elements thread throughout Mr. Vila-Matas’s body of work, creating an atlas of episodes in the life of a peripatetic writer. The genesis of this can be found in A Brief History of Portable Literature." - Valerie Miles, The New York Times

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:

       A Brief History of Portable Literature is a work of fiction masquerading as literary history, an often Borgesian-style fantasy that uses real-life literary figures and other artists, (re)imagines some as portable littérateurs, and describes their involvement in and around a 'Shandyist' (as in, among other things, Tristram) movement.
       As suggested in the Prologue:

     We will meet those who paved the way for this novel about the most joyful, voluble, zany secret society that ever existed, a society of writers who seemed practically Turkish to judge by all the coffeee and tobacco they got through, a society of gratuitous and courageous heroes in the lost battle of life, lovers of writing when it becomes the most enjoyable experience possible, and also the most radical.
       Among the few requirements to be a Shandy ("apart from the demand for high-grade madness") are bachelorhood -- women, from Georgia O'Keeffe to Sylvia Beach, figure some along the sidelines, but the Shandies are a dominantly male affair -- as well as a portability to their art: it should fit comfortably in a suitcase.
       Vila-Matas ascribes a Portable History of Brief Literature to Shandy (and Dadaist) Tristan Tzara, suggesting:
Tzara's aim is to cultivate the imaginary portrait (a form of literary fantasia concealing a reflection in its capriciousness), to endeavor in the imaginary portrait's ornamentation.
       This is, of course, exactly what Vila-Matas does in his alter-History.
       A variety of episodes describe meetings (organized and incidental) of the Shandies as well some of their (mis)adventures. Aleister Crowley figures as the mystical power undoing the Shandies (including one fictional one, Hermann Kromberg, driven to lose his mind in the Himalayas), while Kafkaesque 'Odradeks' haunt, in a variety of forms, various Shandies (including Dalí). ("Will Duchamp turn out to be my Odradek ?" wonders the narrator, too, as he repeatedly threatens to get caught up in his own (hi)story.)
       Vila-Matas's text is dense, playful, often surreal, cleverly weaving in elements of the lives and work of his famous literary subjects while adding fantastical and sublime embellishments, twists, and interpretations.
       It's stylish literary fun, a compact yet far-reaching early work that's already proto-typical of Vila-Matas' fiction.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 June 2015

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A Brief History of Portable Literature: 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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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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