LM I was thinking about this rigid idea of “pure” fiction. I’m interested in your particular position on this, perhaps because in the US this separation between fiction and nonfiction is under discussion quite a bit. There’s a sort of strange purism. I wonder if the interest that your work generates here comes precisely from this subversion. The review of Dublinesque in the New Yorker says that you hide false biographies in your work, but that behind these false biographies there is also the writer Enrique Vila-Matas. That uncomfortable zone is fascinating.
EVM Well, what I write is really pure fiction. The least interesting fiction for me is the kind that is based upon documentation. In Spanish literature what most interests me is the world constructed by Juan Marsé. People say that Marsé deals with the Spanish postwar years, that he always sets his work in the same neighborhood and always tells the same story. Yet that’s not true at all. There’s been a huge intellectual evolution in his work. The neighborhood is a complete invention—even though the actual neighborhood exists (I lived there for 30 years), his is an entirely mental construction. He’s such a slow writer because his novels are the work of a silversmith in search of a “fictional” fiction: without the aid of any document other than that of memory, which is always . . .
LM A false memory?
EVM Yes, and it is also the antithesis of the authors who work from journalistic data, who say they write from real events. Surely they think it will bring them more readers and maybe they aren’t mistaken. . . . Now that I think about it, whenever I finish a novel the questions from journalists tend to revolve around whether what I wrote actually happened to me or not.
LM That’s annoying?
EVM Yes, I’d almost give up writing so as not to have to answer the question. (laughter) So what if it happened in real life?
LM But your work provokes the question because you use the real names of authors with whom we are all familiar.
EVM Yes, it’s the trick that Sebald used, too, although through the use of photographs. Sebald fascinated me for his blend of essay and fiction. I had already seen it in Claudio Magris’s Danubio, but Sebald fascinated me even more, with his incredible closeness to Nietzsche’s prose, meaning it didn’t belong to any genre at all, except total melancholy—the idea that we don’t belong to this world. What was your question again?
LM We were talking about false biographies and your use of self-fictionalization.
EVM Yes, in my writing fake names and the names of real writers work much like the photographs in Sebald’s books. Nowadays, it’s harder to make a story seem realistic, and Sebald took a step toward the construction of verisimilitude through the use of photographs. They have a reality effect, so people believe that what he is narrating really happened. Giving my characters the names of real people accomplishes this sometimes. It gives fiction an air of reality so that readers can believe what they are reading, since it sounds like I’m telling the truth.