I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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ADDLED BY BOOKS

Morten Høi Jensen
Dublinesque, by Enrique Vila-Matas, (transl Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey), Harvill Secker, 320 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-1846554896 The main character in Dublinesque is repeatedly accused of reading his life as if it were a literary text, and somewhere along the way Enrique Vila-Matas must have been similarly reproached: the four novels of his that have been published in English all take literature itself as their main subject. Bartleby & Co. is a collection of footnotes about writers who prefer not to write; the narrator of Montano is so obsessed with literature that he can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined; Never Any End to Paris is a kind of mock-lecture on literature delivered by a man who wants not only to look like Hemingway but to be Hemingway. They all suffer from a peculiar neurosis: literature sickness, or literatosis as Vila-Matas calls it. Samuel Riba, our new hero, is a renowned but retired literary publisher who finds himself going through the sort of crises self-conscious male characters often go through in novels; a belated midlife crisis triggered by the failure of his publishing house, his wife’s sudden conversion to Buddhism and his own precarious sobriety. “He doesn’t find it funny when things happen to him that might seem appropriate for a novelist to put in his novel.” Riba prefers, even celebrates, the quotidian, the everyday. Much of Dublinesque concerns itself with Ulysses, James Joyce’s great novel, and Riba identifies strongly with Leopold Bloom—“a man without qualities” ‑ as he puts it, “the typical modern man”. But Riba’s everyday life lacks the mundane heroism of Joyce’s everyman. Rather than drink himself to within a nanometre of kidney failure and liver collapse, as he used to, Riba now spends entire days in front of his computer Googling himself and his publishing house, getting into petty arguments in the comments sections of blogs and agonising over the tediousness of a life on the wagon. Basically he is stuck. Life without the company of writers and drink is a life without incident (“Writers are such great drinkers.”). Isolated and depressed, Riba succumbs to ennui and regret, tormented by his career-long failure to find and publish the work of a young genius, “at once anarchist and architect”. When he’s not namedropping literary acquaintances ‑ Paul Auster, Claudio Magris, Hugo Claus, John Banville ‑ or thinking about alcohol and the mixed blessings of the sober life, Riba daydreams of New York (“this city has…

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