Book review: Enrique Vila-Matas presents life’s absurdities in Vampire in Love
Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas’ collection of short stories, Vampire in Love, is full of surprises. Known for saying profound things in his succinct stories, he even presents noir with a touch of humour. His characters are always in pursuit of something or the other, and his stories end abruptly, leaving one bemused. These cynical yet hilarious stories revolve around outcasts, writers, terrorists, actors, and criminals.
The collection opens with the story titled A Permanent Home, which is a rather funny take on a serious situation. A father on his death bed explains to his son why he arranged the death of his mother, who was his third wife. The father reveals that her docile and sweet wife on a vacation right after their marriage began to act in a grotesque manner. During the course of time, he witnessed innumerable sleep dancing episodes. Sometimes midway through the night she would start commanding the troops and would even distribute bread rolls to the troops. She even smoked like a man. The son in the end, walks off from his bedside saying that he is not his son.
In Death by Saudade — the narrator despite a stable life and a beautiful, intelligent wife is sad. And there seems to be no apparent reason for his unhappiness. He wanders through the streets of Lisbon like a vagrant. In the end he reconciles with the present.
The story Vampire in Love begins on a Kafkaesque note. Nosferatu, an ugly hunchbacked barber, who lives in Seville, upon waking up imagines that he has turned into a donkey-like-greyhound, which he was dreaming about. At a bar where he frequently hangs out, he receives a call from his mother that his Uncle Adolfo who lives in Madrid has died. Nosferatu had a fall out with him long back and didn’t like him at all. When his mother tells him that he has left all his fortune worth millions of dollars to him, Nosferatu goes into a shock. After the phone call, he immediately exits the bar. An eccentric Nosferatu goes about tapping his feet and dancing along the pavement. He’s bidding goodbye to everything that comes along the way — the river, his butcher, even places. We are uncertain whether his odd behaviour is due to his change of fate. He goes to the church to see the choirboy he has been stalking for sometime now and is infatuated with his beauty. Nosferatu pulls out a gun and fires at the boy only to find out that he forgot the bullets at home.
Such absurd situations are replete in stories of Vila-Matas, which are adroitly twisted into something chucklesome. The author casts a cold eye on life through his characters that are often caught in the moment. Employing extreme virtuosity, he uses different techniques of storytelling, and it’s his sui generis and jocose style that enables the reader to hurry on to the next story.
Some of the characters are peevish because they querulously look at the negativities in life. But, with his precision, the writer manages to keep the reader engaged.
Reading this book is a strange experience, for it compels the reader to confront an appalling complex of hopelessness and weariness, despite the humour that exists in the stories. It is difficult not to come away from the book without feeling compassion for the characters though they often exhibit inexcusable stupidity.