Miqui Otero’s new novel, Simon (Blackie Books) is full of superheroes, although they look more like those from the neighborhood that Kiko Veneno sang than those that come out of the Marvel factory. Both groups have super powers in their own way, but the latter have the ambition to save the world and the former to survive in it. There is an audience for everything, but who more and who less can be reflected – or empathize – in some of the characters in the book, even the supervillains, who are also there.
The stoppage of the coronavirus forces publishers to rethink their model: “To continue as before is to sink the ship”
The protagonist, who gives the novel its name, is a boy who wanders the rooftops of Barcelona with his rich cousin on one of the most festive nights on the calendar, that of Sant Joan, in 1992. It is the last that he shares with him, his vital referent, which vanishes and leaves him with a trauma that would have led a rich boy to a psychologist’s couch in the upper part of the city. He has no choice but to grow up sniffing his track and looking for answers in the phrases that he left underlined in the novels he gave him.
That’s the starting point of a story that takes place in 448 pages, no less. It could be said that it is a training novel [que narra la transición de la infancia a la vida adulta] in which not only the protagonist grows and learns, but also all the characters and even the stage in which they unfold. “From the beginning I was quite clear that I wanted it to start with that kind of collective Olympic euphoria and something naive, very enthusiastic, that people lived in Barcelona and that the attack on the Ramblas would end as a symbol of many other things. space of time, the novel explains what has happened to the city in all those years and also to the lives of the characters who travel it “, comments Otero in an interview with elDiario.es.
Simon is the fourth novel by Miqui Otero. He published the first with Alpha Decay in 2010, titled Piped music, with which he won the FNAC New Talent award. In 2013 it came out The time capsule, structured in the style of Choose your own adventure with 37 endings to reach and which was book of the year for the now defunct RockDelux magazine. In 2016 came Ray, with which he began to take his foot out of the box of ‘new promises’. These last two published by Blackie Books. Do you now enter the group of ‘consolidated writers’ on the national literary scene? He laughs as he asks if they give restaurant tickets or yacht trips to Benidorm to the members of said club: “If they give something away, I’ll go, I have no problem.”
More seriously consider that: “you notice that you are learning as in anything or trade and you understand –because otherwise, you would not continue– that you are fine-tuning your limitations and your talents.” He also qualifies: “that being consolidated is like honor, that you don’t have to tell yourself but others have to say it. Yes, I obviously try to overcome what I have already written and preserve certain ways of looking at life. that I was in my early twenties and that I want to continue having now. ”
To complete he adds a literary reference (who knows him by his columns will know that it is a common gesture in him): “There is an edition of Desolate house of Dickens that I have at home with a Chesterton prologue that says that ‘this is the most mature Dickens novel which does not mean that it is the best’. And it makes a parallel with potatoes because obviously a ripe potato does not mean that it is the best, there are those who like new potatoes. This is a bit what happens to me, I don’t want to repeat what I have already written but I do want to preserve many tones and ways of observing the life that I had in the previous ones “.
The Barcelona of Simon it is polyhedral, as it is in real life. There is the face of the lumpen who stays inside the bars when they lower the closure at night. That of the endogamous high bourgeoisie that reproduces itself to continue combining honorable surnames. The one of the working class that pulls forward without luxuries and avoiding miseries. And, of course, that of the wealthy outcasts who play to forget their privileges. Among other. The obvious comparisons with Juan Marsé or Eduardo Mendoza that already sounded about Ray, now come almost standard in the columns of literary critics.
“I do not understand myself without reflecting on money, on what type of person generates having many or few privileges. Each writer and each person I suppose they have some issues that concern them especially and that appear again and again with the aspect of new characters and with an evolution of what he thinks at all times “, he answers the question of why this interest in reflecting the differences in Barcelona society. “It is not only that I defend the social novel per se, but personally I defend having a constant class consciousness and this creeps into my novels.”
Those who know him a little – it does not have to be in person, again by reading his columns you know – will recognize details of his biography in his last title. Galician descent, childhood in the Sant Antoni neighborhood and his love for the Sunday book market, his own readings. And the term ‘autofiction’ emerges from which some writers deny.
Otero does not belong to that group and it does not bother him to be asked about the subject: “It doesn’t bother me at all except that they insult me directly (laughs). Also, you write books for that, so that people use them as they please From fitting a table to reading them in a literal and biographical way to imagining other possible readings in the novel. But hey, I also know how I wrote it, why, and I consider that perhaps it is the one in which I have most emotionally overturned but on the other hand it is the least autobiographical of all my novels “.
It does clarify: “You end up working with materials that you know that appear disguised in one way or another. I always give the main character a physical feature of mine and it does not necessarily mean that it is me. In Centella’s case I had a diastema, the teeth were separated like mine. This one, for example, has a freckle on the upper lip that is mine. I always put a physical feature of mine to remind me that this character matters a lot to me, but not necessarily to mark that it is me “.
What was and what will be
That city that Otero explains in Simon It has changed a lot in recent years. The one in the novel ends in 2017 and since then the current rhythm has been frantic in this city that in October 2019 had already received 9 million visitors compared to the previous year. What perception does he have of what happened in Barcelona in this period of time? “The city has continued the gentrifying, denaturing inertia of getting rid of some of its features that it already had and has followed. Then a municipal government has entered that has tried to reverse or, at least, attenuate this inertia. And there has been an elephant in the very clear room that has been the process that, at a time when opinions are very polarized, has polarized them even more “.
He links these observations with his book: “The same image that I use in the novel to talk about the economic crisis would also serve to talk about the health crisis, which is a reflection that Estela makes [personaje] that says that certain crises are like that liquid that is injected in a medical test to see what is really inside an organism and that does not jump at first sight. Well, certain crises are like that liquid. The processist was and is, the pandemic is, it was and still is, with its blows, the economic one, and so on. ”
Certain crises are like that liquid that is injected in a medical test to see what is really inside an organism
This interview takes place in the midst of a pandemic that does not know when or how it will end. A moment in which uncertainty is eaten every day but in which making temporary projections is inevitable. Will the culture sector come out of this situation gracefully? For Miqui Otero “it is difficult to know and I believe that each part of the sector the debate is different. I do not think that the world of the book can be applied to the world of cinema, for example. It is not the same to raise an audiovisual production, which is a more industrial work, more collective, than writing a book “.
He is moderately optimistic about what this will mean for the publishing industry: “in the case of literature, unless the economic crisis is even more brutal than we already intuit that it will be, that it will be. a lot, as long as there is a corner to be able to buy those books. A less public type of life is not necessarily going to be more harmful “although it does not leave aside the most decisive aspect:” I consider that reading, culture in general, is something very essential in the sentimental and emotional education of someone but a book is not a loaf of bread. You have to give a more or less tolerable economic situation so that people think about buying and then reading books, going to a concert or whatever. to be”.
There is a related question that arose during lockdown and remains on the table. Are too many books being published? The Editorial Errata Naturae, for example, raised it in the notice which he released last May in which he explained why they were going to stop their production for an indeterminate period of time (they have been back in operation for a few weeks): “More or less one out of every three books that reaches bookstores ends up being returned and ultimately guillotined. It is not clear how long publishers and the planet will be able to continue to afford this situation (…) Isn’t now really the time to stop and reflect? Does the priority really remain to get news at the end of this month of May? “. The coronavirus forces publishers to rethink their model: “To continue as before is to sink the ship”, said Rubén Hernández, editor of Errata Naturae, to this newspaper.
Culture is essential in sentimental education, but a book is not a loaf of bread: a tolerable economic situation has to be given so that people think about buying and then reading books
For Miqui Otero, speed and overproduction is transversal to all markets. “There is talk in the world of the book and in everyone, about whether some inertia will slow down. With travel and frenzied tourism or with food. It’s funny because in the novel, which was already written when the pandemic arose, they make a a lot of reflections that have later been placed on the table, such as Estela’s on the agri-food industry and turbocapitalism. I think there is an opportunity here or at least voluntarily to rethink certain speeds that our society carried. it is a sign of good health, but of precariousness. Sometimes many books are highlighted to cover certain holes and that person who eats or consumes fashion in a responsible way is not the most needy. Not everyone can make responsible decisions voluntarily ” .
Accustomed as you are to portraying reality in some way in your novels, are you already taking notes for a book about this kind of apocalypse that is being lived? “The truth is that you are worried not only if novels will exist but life. I think that things are better to quarantine, never better. In the last part of Simon I’m talking about the year 2017, which for me is the limit. You can set a novel today and absolutely nothing happens, but at the moment when you not only explain the vicissitudes of a character but also try to analyze what is happening in society, a little distance is good. ”