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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Never any End to Paris

Enrique Vila-Matas

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To purchase Never any End to Paris

Title: Never any End to Paris
Author: Enrique Vila-Matas
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 240 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Never any End to Paris - US
París no se acaba nunca - US
Never any End to Paris - UK
Never any End to Paris - Canada
Never any End to Paris - India
Paris ne finit jamais - France
Paris hat kein Ende - Deutschland
Parigi non finisce mai - Italia
París no se acaba nunca - España
  • Spanish title: París no se acaba nunca
  • Translated by Anne McLean

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever, good fun -- though very self-reflectively literary

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent . 2/7/2014 Jonathan Gibbs
The National . 11/3/2011 Scott Esposito
NZZ . 4/5/2005 Milo Rau
Die Welt . 9/4/2005 Steffen Richter

  From the Reviews:
  • "Enrique Vila-Matas's newly translated novel begins quite badly, but by the end of it I was fully seduced by its self-portrait of the artist as a young writer (.....) The book really comes down to a struggle between nostalgia and irony." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "(W)hat gives Never Any End to Paris its own distinctive sheen is the fundamental uncertainty throughout as to whether the protagonist is in fact Vila-Matas. (...) Vila-Matas shows art in all its inconsistency, thereby pushing it toward that liminal moment where it becomes true to life, where Borges' memories, as it were, bloom into that truth that they can never quite be. Never Any End to Paris always strains toward this unreachable quantity, with irony, paradox, and anxiety being the author's tools of choice for caging these mirages." - Scott Esposito, The National

  • "Paris hat kein Ende ist ein Katalog literaturtheoretischer Eiertänze, eine abwechslungsreiche, lustige Erzählung darüber, dass es nichts zu erzählen gibt. Literatur ist das Leben ist Literatur: Dies wird hier detailreich, selbstironisch, streckenweise melancholisch abgehandelt." - Milo Rau, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Das wäre beinahe interessant, hielte sich Vila-Matas nicht für einen großen Ironiker, der endlos augenzwinkernd das Leben mit der Fiktion verwechseln will." - Steffen Richter, Die Welt

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:

       In París no se acaba nunca Vila-Matas yet again sees most everything through the prism of literature. His first person narrator closely resembles Vila-Matas himself, describing the years he spent in Paris in the mid-1970s, as he is hoping and trying to become a writer. It is both a book about writing, and an homage to Paris (or, in a way, any place) as inspiration and potential. And it offers enjoyable glimpses of the literary scene in the Paris of that time.
       Vila-Matas doesn't make things easy for himself: the book starts out claiming to be a lecture (titled París no se acaba nunca, of course) -- with the narrator noting that he's prone to improvisation. And the resulting lecture/novel (he's not too sure himself what to call it, ultimately) is, in some ways, like a jazz-improvisation, its short chapters (113 in a 240-page book) offering both a constant stream of new stories as well as many variations on themes. The symposium he is speaking at is on 'Irony', and naturally the book is also meant to be dripping in such -- though that turns out to be the most forced and in many ways least successful part of it.
       Everything comes to an end, the narrator finds, except for Paris. Marked by Paris, it accompanies him everywhere: the time he spent there was the most significant in his life (and for his writing) -- a mixed blessing, he suggests. And Paris itself, he insists, is also endless, in every way.
       The novel doesn't start in Paris, but rather Key West, where the narrator enters the annual Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest. No surprise: he bears little physical resemblance to the author, and comes in dead last. But Hemingway remains a constant presence in the book, often cited and referred to, the narrator an admirer of his work and fascinated by his life but -- how ironical ! -- very different in both how he lives and writes. Whatever París no se acaba nunca may be, no one would mistake it for a work by Hemingway (which is clearly one of Vila-Matas' many points and intentions).
       The book is written from the present, the scenes in Key West and a visit to Paris (among other events) from the present day, but the bulk of the narrative is of reminiscence, describing the narrator's years in Paris in the 1970s -- though not in the words of the wide-eyed youth of then, but of the more mature writer he has grown into, a quarter of a century later. Most of the time the narrator seems almost embarrassed by the naïve young man from then -- though he also almost seems to take pleasure in relating what a little fool he was at times. The honesty -- as far as it goes -- is necessary because the narrator understands that these were formative years and episodes, and to whitewash them would be to deny his true (writer-)self.
       Much of this is more enjoyable than the usual tale of a writer working on his first novel because he does fairly little writing, but does experience quite a bit of the Parisian literary scene (as well as Spanish émigré-culture). For one, he lets a room (in the attic) from Marguerite Duras -- a room in which François Mitterand hid out for two days during World War II. And he runs into pretty much everyone who was anyone at the time. At times the name-dropping can be a bit much, but Vila-Matas doesn't make too much of the encounters, and doesn't put his younger alter ego in the middle of much, leaving him the peripheral, barely noticed figure in the more illustrious company. And though he venerates many of these figures, what encounters there are tend to be down-to-earth or even anti-climactic, from Duras the landlady to a hilarious mysterious brief reading by Georges Perec (a reading held by someone who most definitely isn't Georges Perec ...).
       It's a time of discovery for the young man, and from Hemingway's Paris to discovering Borges and his work, Vila-Matas does a fine job of showing what influenced him (and how). And though Vila-Matas' younger alter ego still had a lot to learn, the mature narrator writing the account is clearly well and widely read. Connecting, in a single paragraph, Vaughan, Celan, and the film Blade Runner (to give just one typical example), Vila-Matas builds an enormous foundation on all that he has read and seen: it's largely -- almost entirely -- literary, but, for those who like that kind of thing, enormous fun.
       It's also very well done. Beginning as the ambitious and ridiculous young would-be writer who proclaims that he wants to kill his reader with his work (and, of course, can barely write anything), the narrator does slowly figure out how to approach writing. He gets advice and listens to what writers have to say, but it's in the small examples that he slowly figures it out for himself. He admires Hemingway but isn't a Hemingway-type, he sees how Duras compares to her own work; it all shapes him. He says (without irony, he claims) the one thing he learned in Paris was how to type, but obviously there was also a lot more to it, even if that only later really gelled.
       Rules (for games) are there to played with, he says, and this book is both a look at how he tried to come to grips with all that he encountered at the time, and an enormous game (very much according to his own rules) in how he presents it. The narrator describes what an impression it made on him when he first heard of the OuLiPo, but like all the other literary schools and groups it wasn't quite what he was or wanted to be doing: Vila-Matas went his own way, soaking up everything, but using it in a unique way.
       París no se acaba nunca is also about the writing of his first novel, and familiarity with it (and Vila-Matas' other work, not all of which is as literary-focussed as what little has been translated into English might suggest) probably adds to the enjoyment and understanding of the text. París no se acaba nunca is very much an 'insider' novel, which also might limit its appeal: those who like their name-dropping to be literary should have a blast, while those who aren't familiar with ... well, let's say Marguerite Duras, likely won't enjoy it nearly as much.
       As far as novels of a writer-apprenticeship -- and of Paris -- París no se acaba nunca is quite an achievement. Vila-Matas may occasionally try a bit too much, but with the many entertaining episodes and clever connexions, and with a young character at the centre who doesn't have all (or even many) of the answers yet it's an appealing and enjoyable read.

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Never any End to Paris: 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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