Harvill Secker, £16.99

Dublinesque, By Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean

A burnt-out publisher embarks on a literary pilgrimage - and recovers the sheer joy of texts.

Enrique Vila-Matas makes new literature from old. His novels previously published in the UK, Bartleby & Co and Montano, combine appreciation of the finest works with notes on the evanescent nature of the reading experience. His writing is filled with withdrawal and disappearance, and so it is with Dublinesque, one of the most pleasurable and joyous novels of the year, which takes as its springboards James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Philip Larkin.

These three are at the heart of the book, but it's crammed to the edges with writers, all of whom seem suddenly necessary to the reader - Gracq, Perec, Walser. The Barcelona writer has a gift for irresistible précis on them all. Carlo Emilio Gadda was "a neurotic as admirable as he was phenomenal ... And everything he did was incomplete. In a short article about risotto alla milanese, he made things so complicated that he ended up describing the grains of rice, one by one, and naturally was unable ever to finish the text."

The hero of Dublinesque is Riba, a former literary publisher from Barcelona, and most of the writers praised are those he has published. Riba now spends most of his time on the internet. He needs to find something to do, both to conceal his retirement from his elderly parents, and to resolve his sense that "the list of books I have published seems to have obscured forever the person behind the books. I, in short, am missing."

His solution is literally to follow a dream and go to Dublin. He tells his parents that this is to deliver a lecture on Ulysses and "the Gutenberg constellation giving way to the digital age". One reason he gave up publishing was his unwillingness to publish "gothic vampire tales and other nonsense now in fashion".

He fills out his plans, invites some friends, and the journey becomes its own purpose. In Dublin, Riba laments his failure to publish a genius, a "giant of literature". He worries about the death of literary publishing, and readers who "fail writers when all they ask of them is confirmation that the world is how they see it".

This is what Riba calls a "slow novel", though one not without plenty of "neurotic electricity". It has the air of a walk taken, like Bloom's in Ulysses, the traditional device to make discoveries through changing surroundings, to develop a narrative that moves like the activity - meandering, discursive. Riba "has always admired writers who each day begin a journey towards the unknown and who nevertheless spend all their time sitting in a room". Good books, like those Dublinesque celebrates - like Dublinesque itself - permit the same inner travel in the reader.

The story disappears, like the vanishing characters, under the mass of literary references. Yet Vila-Matas maintains an extraordinary lightness of touch, retained in Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean's translation. Dublinesque reports on and exemplifies the ungraspability of literature, from the point of view of a man who "is trying to learn to say goodbye to everything". It holds its own even when quoting Ulysses, and is sure to send anyone scuttling back to that book.

Vila-Matas's celebration of other Irish writing ranges wide, not least in Brendan Behan's New York. "I will have forgotten this book long before you have paid your money for it," said Behan. But to Riba, the book is "the greatest happiness", and even stands comparison with parts of Ulysses. This would have pleased Behan, who felt that "Shakespeare said pretty well everything, and what he left out, James Joyce put in".

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before