‘There’s a fine line between fiction and non-fiction,’ Kinky Friedman once wrote, ‘and I think I snorted it somewhere in 1979.’ The wry protagonist of Enrique Vila-Matas’s new novel, The Illogic of Kassel, translated by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom, might be inclined to sympathise. The book is narrated by a sixty-something Catalan novelist who takes ‘happy pills’ that blur the boundary between experience and imagination. His life has been lived so comprehensively through books that he’s begun to think he exists ‘inside someone else’s novel’. To free himself of the niggling feelings of inauthenticity that come to him at night, he decides he needs to ‘escape from literature and open up to other artistic disciplines’.
An opportunity to fulfil this ambition comes one day with the kind of mysterious phone call that would be at home in the first chapter of a Paul