The books of Enrique Vila-Matas occupy a borderline between fiction and non-fiction writing: they are written in a way that makes you think nothing in them is fiction. Before he began writing novels, Vila-Matas had a job contributing interviews and articles to a cinema magazine, but he fabricated many of the interviews that he submitted. For example, if he was supposed to interview a certain filmmaker but couldn’t arrange a meeting, he would just make everything up. In many of his texts there are also references to encounters with historical figures like Marcel Duchamp or Marguerite Duras, although when the narrator meets such figures, the way they behave or speak is both very specific and yet not what one might expect.
I remember one day I was with Vila-Matas in a bar in Barcelona, and asked whether he had ever seen Fritz Lang’s film, The Secret Beyond the Door. Vila-Matas replied, “No, I’ve never seen the film, but I met Fritz Lang once.” He said it was at the cinema festival at San Sebastian – something about bumping into Lang in the men’s room. It was difficult at that moment to tell whether this was a true experience or a fiction that had been made up on the spot. In the writing of Vila-Matas there are so many elements that make the fictional convincing, just as in the work of WG Sebald, who would often insert images into his novels in such a way that they act like a reality check: what you assume to be a fiction may in fact be real, but you’re not absolutely sure that it is real because the only source you have is the author’s text. In the case of Vila-Matas, all the names that appear – the street names, the writer names – lure readers into a comfort zone in the sense that much of it is, actually, real.