Enrique Vila-Matas - "Because She Never Asked"

I recently moved into a new apartment in a new neighborhood. A new home needs new books, I reasoned. Two days ago, on my way home from work, I exited the Blue Line subway and stopped by City Lit, an impulse I'm sure I'll indulge many more times. My initial plan was to find Alvaro Enrigue's "Sudden Death" but it was out of stock. Instead I picked up books by two Spanish authors: "On the Edge" by Rafael Chirbes and the book this post is about.

I opted to read Vila-Matas's short book first since I haven't had much time to read recently with the move. I wanted to begin and end something. The book is composed of three parts. A short story written by the narrator about a fictional character obsessed with real life actress Sophie Calle; the narrator's meeting with and interactions with Calle; the narrator's descent into physical illness and ruminations on life and mortality based on the confusing actions of Calle.

After finishing the book, I clicked on over to Goodreads to rate how I felt about it. I hovered between 3 and 4 stars, liking vs. *really* liking. I decided on 4 stars, as it has pretty much everything I want out of a book. Meta-fiction, descriptive language, copious amount of references to other authors/artists, reflections on the meaning of literature in life, various settings (Paris, Barcelona, the Azores), develops coincidences and connections (sorta like how I recently read another novel that fictionalizes an actress), and is shrouded in ambiguity throughout.

It's also a story that makes one think about other connections, about creating their own stories. After I committed to the 4 stars, I scrolled down to other reviews and ratings. Someone had rated this book 5 stars just the day before. I imagined a reader finding a book they had never heard of, of reading it and loving it, looking online to find only one other person had read it, had rated and reviewed it that same day, and held the equal and opposite reaction to the first reader. They would imagine how someone could be reading the very same words and the very same time and have the very opposite response to those same words. They would obsess over this, use what few clues on this rating website to find out about this person, to find out where they live, how old they are, why they didn't have the same reaction as the narrator, as the (possibly) only two people in this world that have read this book. This narrator would search for, hunt for this other person. And what would they discover in this search?

Maybe that's a good story, maybe it's not. Maybe I'll write it, maybe I won't. Maybe it's actually happening somewhere around the world right now.

Ultimately, the point is that after reading Vila-Matas, the wheels are turning in my head. That is what I want literature to do. I could have purchased any other book in City Lit, but this is the one I chose. The nature of that choice was based on so many other influences. Seeing recommendations of this book by two other people whose taste in literature I respect certainly influenced that decision. The fact that the original book I wanted to purchase wasn't available influenced that decision. The fact that this book is only 89 pages and I could read it while drinking tea before bed, and read it while sipping coffee upon waking influenced that decision.

Our choices aren't always necessarily our choices, but that also depends on how one views identity. Identity doesn't end at the skin. The neighborhoods we live in, the drinks we drink, the people we know, the people we hear, the people we read, all of these contribute to and determine our identities. The fictionalized versions of ourselves, the rough drafts of our pasts as Vila-Matas puts it in "Because She Never Asked." The stories that we write and never share. The stories that we believe to be our life but are only fiction. And how those fictionalized versions of ourselves create our identity as much as the neighborhood we live in, the drinks we drink, and the people we know, the people we hear, the people we read.

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