This collection of short stories is bizarre, and that’s entirely the point. We witness a dinner party with Margeurite Duras, our narrator hopelessly intoxicated with amphetamines. We see the family life around a mute boy, who seems unnervingly to have come straight out of Kafka. We delve into the mind of a listless, restless, agitated museum guard, a woman trapped by her family and confronted with suicidal thoughts many times in a single day. "What’s for supper?" her son asks. "Death," she says, "death." It is testament to Vila-Matas’ style that this reply to her son is delivered with lightness. It sounds brutal out of context, but in the world of the story it is almost off-hand.
The stories are taken from Vila-Matas’ entire career, but they hang thematically: almost too much so. The first few all deal with suicide, and the intensity of the short form gives the reader little space for breath (that is the point, of course). For the most part, the translation captures the lightness and digressiveness that Vila-Matas is known for – but there are moments where a stricter editorial eye would have helped refine the whole. Vila-Matas is a highly acclaimed Spanish writer, and it's refreshing to find a publisher looking to translations of bold works from other languages, this collection the work of Margaret Jull Costa.