Monday, January 15, 2007

Book Review: Montano by Enrique Vila-Matas

A novelist who takes himself as the principal subject of his novel is asking for it, and if he names his narrator after Renaissance statesman and essayist Michel de Montaigne, he is asking for it in a big way. Montaigne was an erudite and charming writer who more or less originated the personal essay, and, you could say, gave all subsequent writers permission to extrapolate from their own experiences and thoughts to larger questions of religion and morality. Montaigne was not a novelist - the novel was being invented elsewhere at the time - but it was inevitable that his idiosyncratic authorial voice would eventually be wedded to stories, long or short, and that, say, Laurence Sterne would pop up, followed by a long line of fictive autobiographers, diarists, explorers of consciousness, existentialists and solipsists. It was also inevitable, according to the narrator of Montano, that a mal, or malady, would result, and indeed, the original title of Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas's novel is El Mal de Montano (Montano's Malady)
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