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Vampire in Love by Enrique Vila-Matas (Book Review)

'... the exquisite truth consists in knowing that it is a fiction and that, nevertheless, one should believe in it.'

Vampire in Love is a collection of nineteen stories by Enrique Vila-Matas, which are literary in style and deeply profound and wide in scope. I am new to the writings of Vila-Matas, but from the outset I found his writing style to be paradoxically both enigmatic and satisfyingly convincing. Reading through each story it is clear the complexities and subtle deliberations of the narrative could only be achieved by an author well-versed in the inner workings of the human mind, and the strange absurdities and characters in life that are so often overlooked.

Most of the stories contain such arbitrary details, that at times; one can imagine such randomness could have only come from real life, but I hasten to add Vila-Matas weaves illusion into his fiction with great aplomb, and the perspective of the frequently used first-person narrative, only serves to strengthen the autobiographical qualities of the text. In the opening story, A Permanent Home, a father tells his son stories that become more and more absurd. The father is on his deathbed, but still has enough energy to create stories in order to teach his son a lesson, a lesson that fiction should be seen as fiction, but nevertheless, one should still believe in it as if it were truth. A contradictory lesson, yet one can’t help but see the beauty in such a statement, especially when the advice comes from a man facing the cold and harsh reality of death.

The stories in this collection were written over a period of thirty years or so, and that very much comes across in the variety and scope of the stories on offer, but what brings the collection together as a cohesive whole, is the very unique sensibilities of its author. In the title story, Vampire in Love, we follow José Ferrato, who resembles a vampire and is often jeered for it, but feeling like a failure, he has come to the end of his tether, and decides that he will no longer try and be good and will do evil instead, ultimately though he fails at this too.

That summarises many of the stories of this collection, and is perhaps the central theme, the fact that so many of the characters, either central to the story or on the fringes, have something odd about them. But we see this oddness is a truer and more peaceful way for them to exist, than for them to live with the pretence of trying to be something that they are not. In another variation in form, we have a story made of many fragmented parts called, Invented Memories, in which the first person narrator decides, having scarcely no biography of his own, that he will invent one of many sides and colours, and so each part is a playful fragment of a life that seems varied and fictional, yet strangely believable too.

We as reader and observer of the strange worlds concocted by Vila-Matas, must believe in the absurdity and ultimately in the truth of his fiction, and be left with the ambiguity of deciding which stories might well be truth disguised as fiction, and which might well be fiction disguised as fact. This collection is a reminder of the power the short story has, and that even with its limitations of scale, it can still produce beautiful and believable worlds that belie their brevity.

Vampire in Love is wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa, and is published by & Other Stories, who offer a unique subscription offer which helps enable more handpicked international books to be translated. For details visit link below

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