Vampire in Love

By Enrique Vila-Matas

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Erik Satie never used to open the letters he received, but he always answered them. He would check the sender’s name and address and write a reply. After he died, his friends found all those unopened letters and some felt quite upset, but there was no need to be. The letters were published alongside Satie’s replies, and the results were fascinating. Ricardo Piglia wrote: ‘This is an amazing correspondence in which everyone is talking about different things, which is, of course, the essence of dialogue.’

This summer, I set off on the yacht Zacapa, a Frers Dorado 36, named after the rum of the same name because of the colour of the wood. Two expert sailors – one is a publicist and owner of the yacht and the other is a fellow writer and friend – allowed me to come on board in Marseilles, the city where I have spent the last few months in a whirlwind of activity, writing my latest novel and generally getting up to no good.

I should say that at no point did they force me to share in the work while we were on the high seas, although when they saw that I didn’t lift a finger to help, but merely eavesdropped on their conversations, there were times it seemed when they both felt a great desire to throw me overboard.

In the end, they left me in a small hotel in the Bay of Nora, on the south coast of Sardinia, next to the ruins of the Phoenician town of Pula. I’ve been here now for five days, dividing my time between the beach, the swimming pool and obsessive visits to the ruins, which are the most interesting thing in the area.

The wi-fi in the hotel is so unreliable that it has nearly driven me mad. In revenge, but also as a kind of farewell game and a nod to Satie, I am going to pay homage today to the true essence of any dialogue by responding to the emails that arrived during my holiday and which I haven’t read and now have no intention of reading.

To email No 1 (a dear friend), I said that we writers are not really such utter bastards, the proof being that some big literary names owe their success partly to our reluctance to appear envious.

To email No 2 (an interviewer I suspect), I replied that when asked how much of her work is autobiographical, the novelist Elisabeth Robinson always answers: ‘Seventeen percent. Next question, please.’

To email No 3, I recommended ignoring anyone who tries to impose a particular kind of writing style on everyone else, because only a fool would deny that there are as many forms of literature as there are forms of life.

To email No 4 (the trainer for Bayern Munich), I wrote to say that conceited critics only improve when they have a bit of a suntan.

To email No 5, I confided that, while in Marseilles, I repeatedly dreamt that I kept finding live bullets in the street.

To email No 6 (a publisher in crisis, who has only ever defended commercial rather than intellectual interests), I suggested that, in adversity, it is often best, finally, to take a bold path.

To email No 7, I said that I wished I had taken refuge for a whole year in Paris or in New York and escaped from all the idiots in my own country, but it’s too late for that now.

To email No 8 (a correspondent who is, by nature, envious), I reported that, any moment now, I was going to spread some butter on a piece of toast.

To email No 9, I wrote that truth has the same structure as fiction.

To email No 10, I explained that I wouldn’t mind visiting Abu Dhabi, as long as I could come back the same day.

To email No 11, I said that among my favourite authors are David Markson and Flann O’Brien, as well as Markson and O’Brien’s favourite authors, and all the favourite authors of their favourite authors.

To email No 12, I replied as if I were sending a postcard: On holiday in Sardinia. Ruins and a full moon. Amazing food. I have refused to make any friends. Love.

To email No 13, I said that I had grown tired now of waiting, beginning, succeeding, fastening and unfastening, persevering and persisting.

To email No 14 (a young writer), I said that I never read anything for fear of reading something good.

To email No 15, I explained that I have now been able to confirm as true that when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks back at you.

To email No 16, I wrote that the biggest argument in my life took place in Soria and lasted two days and ended up with us coming to blows. I was arguing about how to pronounce Robert Mitchum’s name.

To email No 17, I confirmed that Norma Jean Baker committed suicide.

To email No 18, I said that everything stays the same but changes, because the eternal inevitably repeats itself in the new, which quickly becomes old.
When I was about to turn off my computer, email No 19 arrived from Marseilles, in extremis, and I replied, saying that I had no intention of paying my debt and that I’m very sorry, but I’m in a hurry, because I’m just about to go and visit the ruins of Pula, where – and I’m sure you’ll forgive me – I have everything all set up to commit suicide tonight.

Perhaps that person will send me another email. No matter. Let’s be quite clear, this is a serious and definitive decision: I’m not going to read any more emails.

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