Odd stories with a bite: cynical, funny, and often puzzling.


Barcelona-based novelist Vila-Matas (Because She Never Asked, 2015) serves up a collection of beguiling short stories.

Yes, he has unsightly fangs, and yes, things could go all unseemly at any minute owing to his interest in a young altar boy, but apart from that, it seems a little cruel to saddle poor José Ferrato, the subject of Vila-Matas’ title story, with the nickname “Nosferatu”—or, as the narrator says, Saint Nosferatu: “I’m going to call him that because, like all those in love, he is both vampire and martyr.” Not many of Vila-Matas’ characters are lucky enough to be in love, but plenty are just this side of loony: in one long tale, at its dark center a shadowy figure with the unlikely name of Hong Kong, an ancillary player is even hustled off to a mental hospital under the care of “a nun who offered him some cookies” simply because he has seen into the weird way that things work in this Matrix world of ours. That’s not to say that Vila-Matas works a sci-fi beat; if his fiction were to approach genre classifiability, it might better fall under horror, a kind of Lovecraft-ian somberness tempered by fistfuls of amphetamines—the diet, at any rate, of the protagonist of the opening story, who falls into the company of French novelist Marguerite Duras. But should we believe his yarns? So many of these stories turn on misdirection, after all, about which the author warns us repeatedly, as with his strange insistence that fiction “is all that exists and that the exquisite truth consists in knowing that it is a fiction and, nevertheless, believing in it.” Readers not befuddled by the twists and turns Vila-Matas packs into a few pages are likely to be enchanted by narrators who are never quite trustworthy (“I treated other people’s memories as mine, and that is why I can now boast of having had a life”), offbeat setups, and brilliant language.

Odd stories with a bite: cynical, funny, and often puzzling.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-811-22346-1

Page Count: 282

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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