cover image The Illogic of Kassel

The Illogic of Kassel

Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2149-8

Vila-Matas (Dublinesque) delivers wit and humor in this thought-provoking read. The unnamed narrator receives a mysterious phone call from Maria Boston, a young woman claiming to work for the curators of Documenta 13, a renowned and exclusive art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Maria invites the narrator to participate; he agrees, eager to be validated by those he idealizes as the avant-garde. However, the narrator is not enthusiastic about the role assigned to him by the elusive organizer: he’s asked to spend several days as a “writer in public,” writing every morning at Dschingis Khan, a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of the city. The narrator’s inner conflict ebbs and flows as he strolls Kassel in search of inspiration and meaning. The story is a labyrinth of non sequiturs, MacGuffins, and digressions. To ensure the reader is never lost while the story wanders along complex intellectual pathways, Vila-Matas employs section breaks and his narrator announces dramatic shifts. These thoughtful pauses help route the narrative as it winds into trenchant critiques of the avant-garde and how existence can be defined and justified through art. This is an enjoyable journey through the mind of a magnificent Spanish author. (June)