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Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas

Bartleby & Co. (edition 2007)

by Enrique Vila-Matas, Jonathan Dunne (Translator)

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404None26,574 (3.91)30
Title:Bartleby & Co.
Authors:Enrique Vila-Matas
Other authors:Jonathan Dunne (Translator)
Info:New Directions (2007), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library, Read in 2011
Tags:Fiction, Metafiction, Books About Books, Bartleby, Homage, Literature, Writers, Writing, Writers Block, Vignettes, Footnotes, Structure, LT Inspired, per eairo, Translated, a2009, 2011, Unfinished

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Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas



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» See also 30 mentions

English (7)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (11)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Engaging short novel in the form of a set of footnotes to an invisible text, discussing the distinguished history of the "literature of No" — a book, in other words, about the art of not writing. Vila-Matas is conscious of the paradoxical nature of the subject, and even acknowledges briefly at one point that "not writing" is not the exclusive province of a small and elusive literary élite, but is in fact practised by 99.9% of the population. He doesn't really develop the point, what he's really about is poking a bit of fun at some of the received ideas about literary greatness. Along the way, we get a good supply of entertaining anecdotes about celebrated (non-)writers.

Jonathan Dunne's English translation seems pretty good on the whole, but there were a few things that undermined my confidence in him - for instance when he talks about "verses" of poetry when the context makes it almost certain that "lines" are meant ("versos" in Spanish could mean either). I should make more effort to improve my Spanish so that I don't have to keep reading translations... ( )
  thorold | Nov 30, 2013 |
Raises questions about why people write, the purpose of literature, whether it's better to never write. I wrote down a ton of author names... hopefully I'll actually read some of them. ( )
  kgib | Mar 31, 2013 |
I spoke of this book in a review I had written for a different Vila-Matas title. My review can be found here:
http://mewlhouse.hubpages.com/hub/Never-Any-End-To-Paris-Enrique-Vila-Matas ( )
  MSarki | Mar 31, 2013 |
What with the incessant name dropping this reminded me a lot of The Savage Detectives; though that's about where the similarities end. Bartleby & Co. is a pleasant book to read: Vila-Matas has a nice style of writing and the book isn't overly long. Yet for all its playfulness I couldn't help but think this book a little pointless. Perhaps it's just a post-modern novel and that shouldn't bother me but I would have enjoyed learning a bit more about the narrator. The snippets we're allowed to see of his life are interesting and primed me for more. I was frustrated that was all Vila-Matas provided in the way of detail.

That's really all there is to this novel though. If you don't mind a post-modern book with no plot, just a lot of digressions on authors real or not, then this will be a fun distraction. If, like me, you expect a bit more character depth or plot then you'll probably enjoy the pleasant prose and the neat idea but that won't leave you feeling satisfied at the novel's end. ( )
  DRFP | Sep 15, 2011 |
I'm discouraged and also relieved to have abandoned this short novel.

Its premise is terrific metafiction (a writer who stopped writing now undertakes a project to explore other writers who stopped writing*) and its structure is clever (a series of 86 footnotes -- just the footnotes -- to a non-existent text). Exactly to my taste!

Alas, my literary eyes are bigger than...; this is way over my head. Vila-Matas references dozens (hundreds?) of iconically erudite writers who span civilization’s geography and chronology. I knew enough about a few that I'd already read their work or made plans to do so; I’d at least heard of others; but so, so many more were completely unfamiliar and there was so little space to get to know them in each one- or two-page “footnote.”

So I dug in deeper, Googleing the writers and trying to orient myself until that became too ambitious to keep up. Then I Googled just those who legitimately caught my interest, often to find (to my frustration and amusement) that their existence was fictitious! There’s Clement Cadou, for example, an aspiring writer who feels overlooked to the point of feeling like a piece of furniture, and so abandons writing to become a painter -- each painting featuring a piece of furniture and titled, “Self-Portrait.” Hilarious! (And deep -- isn't it what some writers do, continually re-working an aspect of self in their writing?) Or Felisberto Hernandez (apparently a real person), reputed for refusing to write endings to his stories and whose collection of such stories, Incomplete Narratives, intrigues me (but apparently isn’t real).

So I lightened up and then felt completely adrift in the book. I struggled to the halfway point where, even though I noticed an underlying narrative forming, I let it go.

* a la Herman Melville’s story Bartleby the Scrivener, about a man who makes hand-written copies of documents in an 1850s Wall Street law office. Early on, Bartleby declines his boss’s assignment to proofread colleagues’ copies by responding, “I would prefer not to.” Before long, he also prefers not to write his own copies, or leave the office, or even eat, and events follow to a logical conclusion.
  DetailMuse | Mar 1, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
This slender, beautiful and honest work is about invisible writers and their phantom books.
added by Flit | editThe Hindu, Pradeep Sebastian (Dec 7, 2008)
Vila-Matas has produced a postmodern paradox, something out of nothing, a positive out of a negative. His non-novel is highly original, both lucid and ludic.
added by Flit | editThe Guardian, Mark Sanderson (Aug 14, 2004)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Enrique Vila-Matasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hazaiová, LadaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strien, PetraÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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De roem of de verdienste van sommige mensen bestaat erin dat ze goed kunnen schrijven; die van andere dat ze niet schrijven.
Jean de la Bruyère
The glory or the merit of certain men consists in writing well; that of others consists in not writing

Jean de la Bruyère
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Voor Paula van Parma
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Ik heb nooit veel succes gehad bij de vrouwen.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811216985, Paperback)

A marvelous novel by one of Spain's most important contemporary authors, in which a clerk in a Barcelona office takes us on a romping tour of world literature.

In Bartleby & Co., an enormously enjoyable novel, Enrique Vila-Matas tackles the theme of silence in literature: the writers and non-writers who, like the scrivener Bartleby of the Herman Melville story, in answer to any question or demand, replies: "I would prefer not to." Addressing such "artists of refusal" as Robert Walser, Robert Musil, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Duchamp, Herman Melville, and J. D. Salinger, Bartleby & Co. could be described as a meditation: a walking tour through the annals of literature. Written as a series of footnotes (a non-work itself), Bartleby embarks on such questions as why do we write, why do we exist? The answer lies in the novel itself: told from the point of view of a hermetic hunchback who has no luck with women, and is himself unable to write, Bartleby is utterly engaging, a work of profound and philosophical beauty.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:28 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Marcelo, a clerk in a Barcelona office who might himself have emerged from a novel by Kafka, inhabits a world peopled by characters from literature. He once wrote a novel about the impossibility of love, but since then he has been able to write nothing, and a nervous breakdown has meant that he has not even been able to put pen to paper. He has, in short, become a "Bartleby", so named after the scrivener in Herman Melville's short story who, when asked to do anything, always replied, "I would prefer not to."" "One day Marcelo sets out to make a search through literature for all those other possible Bartlebys who, for whatever reason, have had the urge to say "No," and with this in mind he has the engaging notion of keeping a diary and writing footnotes to an invisible text."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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