Because She Never Asked by Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. by Valerie Miles

This enigmatic novella in translation asks if life imitates art or vice versa.

because she never asked

Enrique Vila-Matas (Illogic of Kassel; Dublinesque) experiments with form and his reader’s trust in Because She Never Asked, a novella about the circularity of art and life.

This twisting story is told in three parts. In the first, a young artist, Rita Malú, lives in Paris and obsesses over another artist, Sophie Calle. Rita “carrie[s] out a series of experiments with truth”; in one of these, she embarks on a journey to Portugal to search for an author she does not really want to find. In the second part, a narrator reveals that he has written Part 1 at Sophie’s request, as a work of art that she will then live out as written. Part 3 questions again what has come before it. This convoluted structure, almost a story told in reverse, discloses details and layers of artifice as the reader proceeds. At least two subtly distinct voices demand attention and credibility.

Valerie Miles’s translation from the Spanish preserves a roguish tone that feels apt in this playful and puzzling novel, whose brevity–under 100 pages–belies its complexity. The narrator labors with questions about the reality of life, its relationship to art and their relative worth. He invokes the dreaminess of Don Quixote and the inscrutability of Marcel Duchamp, and when he becomes frustrated in explaining the jealousy of lovers, commands his reader to “read Proust to understand it better.” Vila-Matas’s novella is about something different by its end than at its beginning: a carefully packaged riddle, intriguing and stylish.

This review originally ran in the November 24, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 moments of circular imagination.

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