Enrique Vila-Matas: El viaje vertical [The Vertical Voyage]


The latest addition to my website is Enrique Vila-MatasEl viaje vertical [The Vertical Voyage], one of his books that has yet to be translated into English though it has been translated into Catalan, Chinese, Hebrew and Norwegian. This is very different from his usual novels, in that it has few literary references and fewer post-modern touches. It tells the story of Federico Mayol, a man in his seventies, who had run a successful insurance company which he has handed over to his eldest son. At the start of the novel, his wife, Julia, on the day after their golden wedding anniversary, tells him that she wants him to leave their house and that she wants to live the rest of her life on her own, so that she can find out who she is, instead of just being his wife. He is naturally devastated and things get worse when his adored eldest son, tells him that he is tired of his wife and, worse, is tired of running the insurance company. Where is Federico to go? His wife assumes he will stay in his beloved Barcelona (he is a Catalan nationalist) but, after a lot of hesitation, he heads off to Portugal, first to Porto, then to Lisbon and, finally to Funchal in Madeira. He struggles, not very successfully, with trying to find who he is and how he is to spend the rest of his life, as he does does not like being on his own and knows only one person in Portugal, Pablo, his wife’s nephew, whom he has not seen for thirty years. Vila-Matas and his narrator, who suddenly introduces himself and becomes a character two-thirds of the way through the book, dig deep into Federico, cleverly showing him not only as he sees himself but as his family and others see him, and comparing him to others who are struggling even more with who they are and where they are going. A different book from Vila-Matas but still very worthwhile, though sadly not available in English.

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