Enrique Vila-Matas: Because She Never Asked

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Enrique Vila-Matas Because She Never Asked
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    Because She Never Asked
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    New Directions Publishing
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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Because She Never Asked: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Because She Never Asked  Stranger on a Train “Something strange happened along the way,” Vila-Matas wrote. “Normally, writers try to pass a work of fiction off as being real. But in , the opposite occurred: in order to give meaning to the story of my life, I found that I needed to present it as fiction.”

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Enrique Vila-Matas

Because She Never Asked

I. The Journey of Rita Malú


Nobody imitated Sophie Calle better than Rita Malú. Rita liked being considered an artist, though she wasn’t entirely sure she was one. Rita carried out a series of experiments with truth, which someone had baptized as wall novels; they stood as modest tributes to her beloved Sophie Calle, that “narrative artist” par excellence, who was so close to her in age that only a year separated them. The physical resemblance between the two women was remarkable. If Rita applied her makeup carefully, their faces could be nearly identical, although they were the least alike in height. Rita Malú was a couple inches taller than Sophie Calle (it amused her to tell her friends that Sophie was “tall and worldly,” and she was just tall, not at all worldly). If only she were a little shorter, she would be the spitting image of Sophie Calle, who truly was, by the way, a world figure. So Rita’s height did represent a bump in the road to an almost absolute likeness. No one could dare say, though, that Rita Malú didn’t try to imitate her beloved Sophie Calle in every possible way. For instance, she styled her hair and clothes after Sophie Calle, and she moved to the Malakoff quarter of Paris to be closer to her, where she secretly spied on this woman whose every detail she copied so carefully. Being in the same neighborhood, she was able to keep better tabs on her.

Rita paid careful attention to even the slightest of Sophie Calle’s physical fluctuations. She knew where she bought her clothes and food, and every once in a while, she’d follow her into the subway, or trail along behind her in a cab, identifying the people Sophie met outside the Malakoff quarter to know what lovers, friends both male or female, husband, or family she had. Rita dreamed of the day when Sophie Calle would finally realize that she existed and do her the honor of attending one of her exhibitions, held every now and then at an art gallery on Rue de Marseille, a space just below the second-floor apartment where Rita was born.

Despite her move to the Malakoff quarter and the fact that she had a rather hermetic (or perhaps simply melancholic) temperament, Rita was esteemed on Rue de Marseille, and every once in a while the gallery showed her wall novels, a peculiar genre of art copied from Sophie Calle: real-life narratives of a novelistic bent told through images centered on the photographer herself and hung on gallery walls.

Rita’s relationship with men had always been strange and disconcerting. Her father, a secret millionaire of Mexican origin, died when she was twenty years old and left her a small fortune. Neither she nor anyone else had known he was salting money away for his only daughter. Everyone on Rue de Marseille imagined that soon she’d find herself a boyfriend. She was an attractive girl, after all, if slightly lumbering. She seemed a little uncomfortable in her body, considering herself overly tall, especially when compared with Sophie Calle. As a result, she tended to slouch, trying to adjust her height to something closer to that of her beloved artist. Slouching was a silly thing to do though, and in fact eventually it became detrimental. Honestly, how ridiculous to create such a problem out of being tall.

Rita could be seen talking to the young people in the neighborhood, slouching something dreadful, but she began receding further into herself and her once-secret (now conspicuous) adoration of Sophie Calle. The whole neighborhood loved Rita, and she loved the whole neighborhood and no one in particular. Yet slowly but surely, she grew more aloof and ever more quiet. She overcame her reticence only on certain occasions when she was at home alone or with some suitor. Then she’d whisper in a slightly urbane, well-mannered fashion: “What a bore,” before returning to her melancholy state.

The day Rita turned thirty rolled around almost without her noticing, and she realized that she had become the best Sophie Calle imitator in the world. Her devotion had started early on. One day, completely by coincidence, she had come across the first newspaper article ever to mention Sophie Calle. She was immediately enthralled, certainly more than anyone else was. She took note of how much they resembled each other and was captivated by the strange work of this artist who had been born in Paris, just like her, and Rita made up her mind right then and there to begin imitating her, and perhaps in this humble way, to also fill the void in her own life.

By the time she turned thirty-five, Rita had secretly become the very picture of Sophie Calle. Rita hadn’t found a boyfriend, and had rejected all her suitors. The day she turned forty, she could be seen in her living room next to a large bouquet of flowers. “Look,” she said with an expression of utter chagrin, “I still have suitors.” A few months later, she moved out of her place on Rue de Marseille, returning only to exhibit her wall novels. She had three more shows, and the last was a series of photographs telling the story of a woman holding a camera and trailing a series of strangers, unnoticed by them. Turning down one suitor after another, Rita could be heard saying, “What a bore,” over and over again.



One day, Rita Malú decided to ring in the New Year 2006 with a few touch-ups to her life. Not because it was the beginning of the year (when people usually make grand resolutions to change their lives completely), but because she simply couldn’t go on, no, she just couldn’t bear it any longer; over the past few months she’d become so bored of her home in the Malakoff quarter that she was starting to hate it.

“I hate this domicile,” she wrote that morning in red letters in the notebook where she jotted down her moods. The very word domicile seemed horrific to her. The first thing she did to change her life was to become a private detective and decorate part of her home to look exactly like Sam Spade’s office in The Maltese Falcon. Working from movie stills, a few men spent a couple of days installing a glass door like the one in Huston’s film, but with Rita’s name etched on it instead of Sam Spade’s. She arranged the rest of the office on her own, positioning cluttered papers and files just so; she even bought a fan that was utterly useless for that time of year. Next, she placed a classified ad in all the city newspapers: “We can find the most carefully hidden person on the planet. Rita Spade. Private Investigator.”

The ad with the office phone number ran for two weeks, but no one called. Nobody requested her services. Eventually, she got sick of waiting around, and thought that if nothing showed up, at least she could use the material for a new Rue de Marseille wall novel. She decided to take action. She combed her hair back with pomade, dressed up like a man with a gold-toothed grin, and took four passport photos. She proceeded to show them around in a variety of bars and hotels along Montparnasse, asking if anyone had seen this man in the vicinity, asking questions, really, about her own self.

“Ever seen this guy?” she asked.

No one knew a thing about him. They cracked a few jokes. “Must be a real son of a bitch,” they told her at the Select. She’d pull out a card with her office address and telephone number before taking off and ask them to call her if they saw the lug hanging around. “What was his crime?” one of the waiters at the Blue asked. Rita shrugged her shoulders, saying, “Don’t know, all I know is that I was hired to look for him.” “Think you’ll find him?” the waiter asked. Rita made things up as she went along: “I think it’ll be easy. I’ll find him at home.” She sped off, back to the hated domicile, as soon as she saw that the waiter was suitably confused. The day had been worth it after all, if only for the moronic look on that man’s face.

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