Guadalupe Nettel Wins the Herralde de Novela Prize

The Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel won the Herralde de Novela Prize for her book Después del invierno (After Winter).  I don’t know too much about her work. I’ve only read El matrimonio de los peces rojos which I was a little disappointed with. It too was a prize winner and Marcos Giralt Torrente was one of the judges then also. Kind of odd. Nevertheless, the book won over the largest group of entrants in the history of the prize. From El Pais

Guadalupe Nettel (Ciudad de México, 1973), en el pelotón de cabeza de la nueva narrativa de su país, tiene en su credo que, visto de cerca, nadie es normal. “Me gusta enfocar lo que la gente cree anormal, lo que esconde, lo que piensa que son defectos; disfruto describiendo sus manías y obsesiones, seguramente para no sentirme así tan sola”. Por eso quizá la mejor manera de definir su última obra, Después del invierno, sea aseverando que es “un encuentro chocante entre dos neuróticos”, con la que ha obtenido el 32 premio Herralde de novela, con sus respectivos 18.000 euros, que convoca editorial Anagrama.

Claudio, cubano afincado en Nueva York y que trabaja en una editorial (“es un personaje obsesivo, con unos rituales que ejecuta inexorablemente”), y Cecilia, una estudiante mexicana residente en París (Nettel vivió más de cinco años en la capital francesa y casi 15 en Francia) van dejando traslucir sus neurosis y fobias, que se acabarán entrecruzando en París. “En la vida chocamos con otra persona y a veces nos la trastoca por completo”, fija como génesis de la novela Nettel. O sea, en perfecta sintonía con su obra narrativa anterior, en la que destacan las novelas El huésped (con la que ya quedó finalista del premio en 2005) y la más autobiográfica El cuerpo en que nací (2011). Por eso no es de extrañar que los dos narradores sean emigrantes y sientan una incomodidad existencial: “Están en un país de prestado, no pertenecen al lugar al que quizás uno quiere estar o ser”. Ni tampoco la presencia de la muerte, ambos narradores fascinados –como la autora- por los cementerios. “Sí, tengo cierta afición a ellos, quizá consecuencia de que me gusta ir a rescatar a los muertos que siempre nos acompañan y, a su modo, nos rescatan”.

From Voz Populi:

En “Después del invierno” un hombre y una mujer cuentan la historia de su vida: Claudio es cubano, vive en Nueva York y trabaja en una editorial; y Cecilia es mexicana, vive en París y es estudiante. En el pasado de él hay recuerdos de La Habana y el dolor por la pérdida de su primera novia, y en su presente, la complicada relación con Ruth; mientras que en el pasado de ella hay una adolescencia difícil, y en su presente, la amistad con Haydée, que la invita a dejar atrás sus complejos y disfrutar de la vida, y la relación con Tom, un joven de salud delicada que gusta de pasear por los cementerios. “Hace mucho que soñaba con el premio Herralde y cuando fui finalista en 2005 ya pensé que era lo máximo a lo que podía aspirar”, ha confesado Nettel en la presentación del fallo.

And some of her articles in El Pais

Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente – A Review

Marcos Giralt Torrente
Trans: Margaret Jull Costa
Hispabooks Publishing, 2014, pg 343

Every time I read a book from Marcos Giralt Torrente I am amazed at his mastery of language and his use of memory as a subject. His two books in English, The End of Love published in Spain in 2011 (2013 in the US) and Paris from 1999, now translated for the first time by Margaret Jull Costa, show a writer who fascinated by memory and the past. It is a fascination that he uses immense skill, exposing the overlapping layers of the past that with each memory and each deeper exploration through them, those same memories change subtly so that there is never absolute certainty in his works, but a sense that I’m close to what happened but I’ll never quite know. It takes a delicate touch to work as he does, always keeping a simple explanation at arm’s length. The shifting search through memory that marks both books is where the brilliance of his writing lays.

Paris is narrated by a middle-aged man  attempting to understand his parent’s marriage. From the start he is doubtful he will find what he is looking for:

As with everything one has not experienced directly, for me, the beginning of their relationship, albeit devoid of all symbolism, belongs to a territory that is more mythical than real. According to the idealized version my mother gave me in my childhood—which was the one destined to last and which, even now, I have no reason to doubt, because she never amended it—they met in the late 1950s in a Madrid that I imagine to have been like the dusty skin of the elephant in the old Natural History Museum but that, when my mother spoke of it, was lit by the blue of a nostalgia that consisted in equal measures of partying into the small hours and a sense of life lived at a slower pace, which had to do perhaps with the general tone of the period and, in equal measure, a complete and proper youthful disregard for time.

Even in the search for what really happened the narrator not only admits he probably won’t be able to learn everything, but there is a sense that even what he takes is true might just be suspect. The quote is also an example of a typical Giralt Torrente approach to memory, describing not just what is remembered, but how it is remembered, which is as important and always part of the story.

His father was a restless man who never really wanted to work but wanted to live the good life. He drifts from job to job until his family’s money is exhausted. A perpetual liar, he drifts into crime. What kind it is not clear to the narrator. His father was always opaque, a man who shares little but who wants to be liked so well that he told people what ever they wanted to hear, promising what he could never offer. Midway through the book the narrator notes that he and his mother would receive phone calls from people he’d met and promised something. He couldn’t help himself, he had to be liked. They learn to disabuse the callers of any hope they have that his father will deliver on what he said. The mysterious calls are just one of the strange actions of a man who comes in and out of the narrator’s life, and he like so much in the book, is left to piece together what little fragments he can remember.

Even more mysterious and the true emotional center of the book, is his mother’s relationship to his father. She holds the family together, keeping the narrator safe, insulating him from the chaos of his father’s life. When he thinks back to his childhood, his mother his heroic if a little too patient. When he has left for what seems like good, she decides to move to Paris. It is in Paris that the mystery of their three relationships becomes more complicated. She takes on behavior much like his: no fixed address, writing infrequent letters, calling out of the blue. What is it that she is doing there? Living some Parisian fantasy or is something else going on? When she decides to come home and tells him on the phone, he realizes latter that there was something strange with her life in Paris.

Taking a rather questionable approach—questionable because it sets too much store by a supposition that is in itself extremely flimsy—I would say that, for some time, she had not appeared to be responding simply to the perfectly normal, pressing need to know if I was all right, but to a more egotistical need, like when we find ourselves alone and frightened in the dark night, hemmed in and harried by all our doubts, when we can see no way out of a life we imagine we have irrevocably chosen for ourselves and we need to be in touch with someone dear to us, not so much because that person will be able to give us the impossible answer we seek, but simply in order to hear their voice, feel their affirmative presence, and have them confirm to us that we are on the right path, that they support our choice, regardless of what right or wrong decisions we have made or not yet managed to correct. As I say, I did not realize this at the rime, and I’m not even sure that’s how it was.

As he grows older and the intertwining mysteries of his mother and father continue, he finds in the two of them a duplicitous relationship that is never fully explainable, one that they don’t even understand and it leads to a confrontation with the narrator that opens and shifts the past, at once explaining and obscuring what has happened. Ultimately, it is Giralt Torrente’s brilliant analytical eye that opens these doubts and gaps into forking paths that have a life of their own, making the search for explanations more important than an actual answer. And for the narrator, if there are answers they only will be fluid, something that one shapes as one needs. More than most authors Giralt Torrente knows how to show the slippery and ever changing reality of memory.

I’ve not read Giralt Torrente in Spanish yet, an oversight I hope to remedy. It is obvious, though, that Margaret Jull Costa’s translation is well done. Given the complexity of some of the languid complexity of some of his sentences, her work should be commended.

Paris has been one of the best books I’ve read this year and should not be missed if you are interested in great writing.

I want to thank the fine people from Hispabooks Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book. It was a pleasure to read.

The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente – A Review

The End of Love
Marcos Giralt Torrente
Tran: Kathline Silver
McSweeny’s, 2013, 163 pg

The End of Love is Marcos Giralt Torrente’s winning entry in the 2012 Ribera del Duero prize for the short story competition. Handily translated by Kathline Silver, it is simply one of the better collections I have read in sometime. I was a little surprised since I had dismissed it initially when it had one the prize. Something about the excerpt that was printed in El Pais did not catch my eye. That was a mistake. Torrente’s writing and narrative skill make this collection shine.

The four stories, as the name implies, are about the end of love. Torrente approaches the end of relationships not through a history of the decline, but through the elements that show it in relief. It is a powerful technique and mark his stories with a subtly that reveals the collapse of the four different relationships in ways that avoid cliche’s. In the first story, We Were Surrounded By Palm Trees, he describes a couple who has gone to a small coastal village in an unnamed African country. They arrive with a German couple that they don’t known. From the beginning there is something strange with the village. The head of the village gives vague warnings about going out at night. It is unspecified what, but there is a threat of something, an area where the reader can inject their own fears. The German couple doesn’t follow the requests of the village head and the couple fight over if the husband should go out and look for them. Again what they fear is unsaid but the husband is reluctant to do the search the wife wants. It is in these arguments, none of them a blow out or relationship defining, that you see the problems with the couple. It’s what makes it so subtle and refreshing. What we are seeing is just the part of a larger story that is unsaid, much as the fear that permeates the foreigners. Even the story itself is caught midway between the relationship and the end, opening with an ellipsis:

…I remember when it started. There is one scene that comes back to me, frequently, though it seems arbitrary to focus on it.

As the story ends the reader can see why the relationship is going to fail, but the opening paragraph also makes it clear that on its own, without the context of memory, of a failed relationship, this might just be a bad weekend getaway. These subtle turns make the story haunting and leaves one asking what more was there with this couple.

In Captives we have a participant-observer as a narrator, a man who relates the strange love and marriage of his cousin. The reader, like the narrator is always kept at a distance from what is happening. Where as We Were Surrounded By Palm Trees focuses on a seemingly incidental incident to obfuscate, the narrator by his very distance is unable to know the full story. What ever it is happening between his cousin and her husband it is odd. Torrente also uses the narrator’s idolization of his cousin to miss questions that as an older, wiser adult he would like to know. If the couple are so happy together why is it she takes him out alone when he visits her in New York? Do they have private lives? It is these kind of questions that permeate the story as the narrator describes their long marriage that slowly drifts into living in separate homes on the same farm and the only thing between the couple seems to be the narrator. In his brilliant first paragraph (one of many in this erudite work) you can see the shades of mystery that Torrente weaves so well:

Guillermo Cunningham had more money, more status, and was definitely more sophisticated than any member of our family, the only strike against him being a foreign surname that conjured vague social origins, as vague as the origins of his wealth–an indeterminate amount of income from nobody knew where and that would most likely not be increasing due to his lack of interest in business, which was an even more serious concern. I don’t think, in any case, that it would have occurred to Alicia’s parents, nor to any other adult relation, to in any way hinder their engagement. The possibility of bringing into the family someone who possesses wealth is much more tempting for those who have had it and no longer do that for those who never have.

Despite the brilliance of Captives, I still think Joanna is my favorite of the four stories. The narrator is an adult looking back on when he lived in with his gradmother in El Escorial outside of Madrid. She is one of those those grandmothers who means well, but belong to a different time:

…a strong and affectionate woman who ave me everything she could, but who was shaped by a set of old-fashioned beliefs that view misfortune as a circumstance requiring even more rigorous discipline, not greater tolerance. The misfortune, of course, was mine, orphaned and abandoned as I was, and it was precisely for this reason that my grandmother kept me on such a short leash, lest I forget that life is hard, that there is no respite.

He begins a friendship with Joanna, a girl of his age and a summer resident in one of the big homes in the town. Because of his age he is permitted to be friends with her, even though his class would not normally permit it. From the beginning the Joanna’s mother is a disturbing woman preoccupied with her looks, especially in relation to Joanna. The mother tries to insert herself into to Joanna’s world and is the epitome of a woman who’s never grown up. Joanna does not like her and with the narrator there is a freedom that comes to a halt when they are with her family. When her brother shows up midway through the story there is a hint that something perverted is going on. The narrator doesn’t know what it is though. For him, Joanna disappeared when he was 18 and she returned to Madrid and a life among the well to do. What he suspects, though, is that one of his call in guests on his radio show has told him what really happened and it haunts him still. The ending which is so strong, like his other stories, plays with what the narrator truly knows as is a masterful ending that avoids the taint of epiphany.

My only criticism of the book is with the first story. It felt a little as if he were playing with exotic locals, using Africa, for his own devices and projecting on it. It certainly not egregious, but as I read it I couldn’t help but have that in mind. In part this is because the most powerful part, the mystery, also feels tinged with stereotypes.

That aside, this is a masterful collection. One in whose pages I can continually find phrase that distil the essence of a moment into something greater. I leave you with one of my favorites:

I was carrying the camera, but I did not take a single photo. I regret it. If I had, those photos would now be of what could have been.

Guadalupe Nettel Has Won the Ribera del Duero Prize for Short Stories

Guadalupe Nettel has won the Ribera del Duero prize for short stories. The judging panel was Enrique Vila-Matas, Cristina Grande, Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Samanta Schweblin, and Marcos Giralt Torrente. I’m not familiar with her work but if a panel of authors I respect have selected her, I think her work might be worth looking at. The Press release says the book is 5 long short stories that uses a structural device to tie the stories together: the presence of a domestic animal which partly represent the complex links that exist between humans and animals. This is from the press release at Paginas de Espuma:

Cinco relatos extensos forman Historias naturales, un libro con una excusa estructural: en todos ellos coincide la presencia de un animal doméstico (desde peces a insectos, pasando por gatos o serpientes), que intenta por una parte representar los complejos vínculos que existen entre animales y seres humanos, pero que, sobre todo, sirven como metáfora o comparación de determinadas actitudes de los personajes

El Pais has a little more about the book. I think the invasion of cockroaches that starts a class war sounds funny:

Un matrimonio convive en un pequeño piso de París mientras espera el nacimiento de su hijo. Ella pasa las horas mirando a sus dos peces. Es tan exhaustivo el ejercicio que termina por encontrar una serie de paralelismos entre sus mascotas y su vida de pareja. Una familia burguesa y mexicana sufre una invasión de cucarachas. La epidemia termina por convertirse en una lucha de clases en una gran casa-laboratorio social. Estos dos relatos forman parte de Historias naturales, la obra –de título provisional- con la que la escritora mexicana Guadalupe Nettel (Ciudad de México, 1973) ha ganado el III Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve Ribera del Duero que organiza la editorial Páginas de Espuma, especializada en el género del cuento en español, y que entrega al ganador 50.000 euros. La obra se publicará a comienzos de mayo y se presentará oficialmente en la Feria del Libro de Madrid.

“Aún sigo atónita”, dice la escritora. “Supongo que me presenté por el prestigio que ha adquirido el premio en pocos años y por el dinero, claro”, ríe. Nettel no tenía muchas pistas del jurado y tampoco confiaba mucho en poder ganarlo, menos cuando se enteró de que en esta convocatoria se habían presentado 863 trabajos, provenientes de 26 países diferentes. Luego descubrió que entre los encargados de juzgar sus cinco relatos largos estaría Enrique Vila-Matas, acicate suficiente para correr el riesgo. “Los cinco relatos destacan por la alta calidad de su prosa, impecable tensión narrativa y unas atmósferas en las que lo anómalo se aposenta en lo cotidiano”, ha dicho el escritor, a la postre, presidente del jurado.




Less Well Known Spanish Authors Who Should Be Well Known – Acording to El Pais

El Pais ran an article on authors who should be more well known in Spain. In some ways it is a bit of a your not telling me anything surprising: some authors are more famous than others. However, the list of authors is interesting. I haven’t read any of these, although I know a few of the names, such as Tusquets (she is related to the publishing house), Chribes, Giralt Torrente, and of course Barba. They make quite a bit of Javier Cercas, noting that perhaps his pre Soldiers of Salamis works was better, i.e. the work before he was famous. It isn’t a claim I can refute, but it is one I’ve heard before. Any how, there is a nice list of authors and works at the end.

The other interesting fact is only 58% of Spaniards read once a week. Considering read could mean anything, that is low.

Hoy es el amanecer de un mundo dual, impreso y electrónico, donde sólo el 58% de los españoles dice leer al menos una vez a la semana. Donde la resonancia de los escritores tiene varias vías cuyas repercusiones entran dentro de un “enigma sociológico”, según J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip, crítico literario de Babelia. “Hasta Soldados de Salamina, Javier Cercas era un autor de minorías, con novelas y cuentos publicados. ¿Era mejor el Cercas exitoso que el Cercas minoritario? No me atrevería a afirmarlo, incluso creo que una novela como La velocidad de la luz es superior a Soldados de Salamina, pero el éxito no se repitió. Así que me parece que lo más sensato es seguir escribiendo al irrenunciable dictado de un proyecto narrativo y dejar que la suerte juegue su papel. Así lo siguen haciendo autores tan minoritarios como dueños de una sólida poética: Javier Tomeo, Juan Eduardo Zúñiga, Luciano G. Egido, Ramiro Pinilla, Menchu Gutiérrez, Justo Navarro, J. A. González Sainz, Julián Ríos, Gonzalo Hidalgo Bayal, Irene Gracia, Vicente Molina Foix, José Carlos Llop y Esther Tusquets. Así como su relevo en Juan Francisco Ferré, Javier Saiz de Ibarra, Marta Sanz, Manuel Vilas, Andrés Barba o José Ovejero”.

Lecturas (Readings)

Jaume Cabré, Yo confieso (Destino). Francisco Ferrer Lerín, Familias como la mía (Tusquets). Gonzalo Hidalgo Bayal, Conversaciones (Tusquets). Justo Navarro, El espía (Anagrama). Irene Gracia, El beso del ángel (Siruela). Menchu Gutiérrez, El faro por dentro y La niebla (Siruela). Ramiro Pinilla, Cuentos (Tusquets). Andrés Trapiello, Apenas sensitivo (Pre-Textos). Esther Tusquets, Pequeños delitos abominables (Ediciones B). Juan Eduardo Zúñiga, Brillan monedas oxidadas (Galaxia Gutenberg). Andrés Barba, Muerte de un caballo (Pre-Textos) y Agosto, octubre (Anagrama). Nuria Barrios, El alfabeto de los pájaros (Seix Barral). Joaquín Berges, Vive como puedas (Tusquets). Marcos Giralt Torrente, El final del amor (Páginas de Espuma) y Tiempo de vida (Anagrama). Luis Magrinyà, Cuentos de los 90 (Caballo de Troya) y Habitación doble (Anagrama). Antonio Orejudo, Un momento de descanso (Tusquets). Javier Pérez Andújar, Todo lo que se llevó el diablo (Tusquets). Isaac Rosa, La mano invisible (Seix Barral). Marta Sanz, Black, black, black (Anagrama). Francesc Serés, Cuentos rusos (Mondadori).

Finalists for the Short Story Prize II Premio de Narrativa Breve “Ribera de Duero”

The finalists for the second prize for the short story  Ribera de Duero (II Premio de Narrativa Breve “Ribera de Duero”) was announced last week.  via Moleskin Literario). I’m not familiar with any of them, but neither was I with Javier Sáez de Ibarra who won last year and I liked the story that was in El Pais. The winner is announced on the 31st of March.

Convocado por el Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Ribera del Duero y la editorial Páginas de Espuma, la segunda edición del Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve Ribera del Duero ya tiene a sus finalistas. Las obras que entran en la selección final, seleccionadas de entre seiscientos sesenta libros de cuentos presentados por escritores de veinticinco nacionalidades, vienen firmadas por siete primeros espadas “de perfil muy heterogéneo”, según el comité de lectura, “aunque todos ellos están ligados desde hace tiempo al mundo de las letras”. Los miembros del jurado, cuya identidad se desconoce, dará a conocer el nombre del ganador el próximo 31 de marzo, día en que se celebrará el acto de entrega en el Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid.

El ganador de la edición anterior fue Javier Sáez de Ibarra por su obra Mirar al agua.

Finalistas del II Premio Internacional de Narrativa Breve
“Ribera de Duero”

– Dioses inmutables, amores, piedras, de Lolita Bosch

– Cuatro cuentos de amor invertebrado, de Marcos Giralt Torrente

– Ensimismada correspondencia, de Pablo Gutiérrez

– No hablo con gente fea, de Marcelo Lillo

– Ideogramas, de Juan Carlos Méndez Guédez

– El libro de los viajes equivocados, de Clara Obligado

– Los constructores de monstruos, de Javier Tomeo