Juan Manuel Gil, novelist: “There is a mistaken pomposity around the figure of writers”

Two years ago, Juan Manuel Gil received a call from a very long number. He doubted whether to take it or not, but in the end he did and there, on the other side, they told him that Clean wheat had been done with Brief Library Award 2021, which is awarded annually by the Seix Barral publishing house. Then she could no longer write for a long time. The first is true; the second, lie. Or vice versa, she doesn’t care. The narrator of the novel confesses that he experienced a very difficult creative block and that literature ended up driving him crazy; the author, however, assures that none of that happened, because he had already been weaving the book that has just come to light for a long time. Juan Manuel Gil unfolds into two characters in a writing in which reality and fiction converge, where the important thing is not to find out what was true and what was not, but to understand that literature resides precisely in that abyss between truth and lie.

The coming literary 2023: smoke, blood and flies

The coming literary 2023: smoke, blood and flies


What is completely true is that the lightning flower (Seix Barral, 2023) is Gil’s first publication after the award, which is one of the great survivors of contemporary picaresque and which seems to show that humor is also one of the most solid tools to talk about the essential things of life. The novel stars a nervous, maniacal, clumsy Juanma, possessed by the euphoria he feels at having finally managed to write the first notes after a crisis of creativity conditioned by media and public pressure that came after winning the award.

With fear inside his body, the narrator spends his time looking madly for new topics to write about, until in the most common events of everyday life, such as a walk through the neighborhood with Boludo, a mongrel who ends up being the image From reasoning in the face of its owner’s madness, he finds the great story: a house that seemed abandoned and the woman who lives inside.

I don’t feel the need to tell my life, I need to resort to that magnificent thing that has accompanied me for a long time: fiction

But in reality Juanma explores much more than the interior of a mysterious house: he addresses pain, loss, fear of loneliness, death, obsession, the couple, error, pride, regret and love. In a conversation with this outlet, Gil reflects on literature and real things. That house that appears in the book is the central space of the story and also exists in her neighborhood, but Gil manipulates it, turns it upside down and turns it into literature. He recounts that one day he looked at her from the car window and the frequently repeated question that journalists asked him over and over again about the award came to mind: “Can you handle the pressure?” With her gaze fixed on that facade, she turned and went directly home. Write.

Literature and delirium

“It would have been more comfortable for me to write about my life if I felt the need to tell my life, but no, I don’t feel it, because my life is very similar to the rest. I need to turn to that magnificent thing that has accompanied me for a long time: fiction. Whether it is fiction or not, with this novel Gil wanted to investigate the subject’s self-destructive immersion in writing through a character who “lives literature as if it were life, and lives life as if it were literature.” The story is not so far from its own reality.

The hours that the novelist from Almería dedicates to writing, in some way, are also inside: “At the end of the day I reflect on how to write, on my job, on the blockades and on how my family can face my way of understanding the literature. All that ends up falling there. When I talk about fiction, in reality, I’m also talking about my life.” But the difference with his story perhaps lies in the fact that “the character in the story confuses where he has to live and where he has to tell stories,” says Gil, something that is far from the order of his life as a teacher at IES Cruz de Caravaca in Almería — whose experience in teaching and career as a philologist are easily detected in his texts—and as a seeker of parallel stories in the time he has left after work.

Gil takes reality with his hands and transforms it, reinvents it, breaks it into parts and rebuilds it at will. But the character raves, raves and clumsily undoes the only ties that until then kept him tied to sanity and the certainties of life. That is why the story is also a story of the character’s relationships and the limits and extremes of creative work: his partner, his dog, his psychologist or his neighbor are very well constructed characters in the story, but in reality they are also the most important tools. opportune to understand the way in which one moves away from human ties as one is irreversibly caught up in the tide of work, creative demands or the inner world. “The character changes the priorities that he should have in life, changes the keys to interpreting what the couple should be, the relationship with the family and the profession of writing”: The result: a fresh story of remarkable depth.

True or false?

Actually, all of them really existed. And they exist. But what Gil does is he gives the people around him the opportunity to say something they would never say or do things they don’t really do. “I continue to strengthen things that are real and that appear in the book, and all of that gives a greater entity of reality to what I am telling. But everything is distorted with the way of interacting with the book: the narrative techniques, the tone, the events. Everything real is distorted and a different dimension is generated”, explains Gil.

The intention is not for fiction to appear to be reality or for lies to appear true, because the truth is that there is neither truth nor lie in the work of Juan Manuel Gil. “No one is right. The only thing I want is for there to be a unique experience between the novel and the reader, whatever is created is created”. For the writer, much of what one reads “is made up as a reader”, and that is why the game between contrasts is so interesting in literature. “This book is a love letter to fiction, which is what has helped me make my life better.”

Andalusia we are a scar and we write from oblivion

As for whether it would have been easier to write about his life, the man from Almería is clear: “I no longer find things in me or in my life that can last 400 pages or that may interest other people.” What Gil has, he says, “are things that take me to other worlds and to tremendous fabrications.” His native Andalusia, for example, permeates the work in the landscapes, in the interactions and even in the humor, inherited from his father, according to the writer. “Andalusia we are a scar and we write from oblivion,” says Juan Manuel. “We take longer to get to the sites, and that is there. But there is also the orchard, the greenhouse and the irrigation ponds”. Even in a fictionalized writing, it is impossible to escape.

With a sharp style that is especially reminiscent of Zambra and Tabucchi, Juanma achieves a story with curious influences from Lazarillo de Tormes: “The mythical novel begins by saying ‘I, Lázaro de Tormes’ and you think it’s a story told by him, but it’s not . That’s where that ‘I, Juan Manuel’ comes from”. Lázaro does not recount his life, nor Juan Manuel Gil his. Although everyone thinks so.

A critical parody of intellectual superiority

“We look at writers solemnly as if they were people with a special gaze, but I don’t believe in that image,” says the author of the novel emphatically. “The book is a critique or a parody of all that mistaken pomposity and solemnity that is behind the world of literature. We writers are not special”.

Against intellectual superiority, Gil makes a comical and almost desperate portrait of the search for inspiration of literary figures, which in reality ends up becoming a tale of the absurd that confronts the reader with the tricks of appearances, moral categories and pre-eminence. of knowledge. In the novel, the writer is an “obsessive, hypochondriac, timorous and cowardly” character, Gil describes, and perhaps all this does have a lot to do with reality.

“It seems that everything is very brainy, very thoughtful, very thoughtful, but I think that in the writer’s life there is also a lot of discipline, work, intuition and passion. Not everything is inspiration. The Andalusian writer, who was part of the first generation of the Antonio Gala Foundation and that he also has a long journey in poetry, he does not feel different from the reader or from anyone: “The main narrator looks a lot like me, but to be a writer I am also a reader. This is a critique of everything in the world of literature”.

The problem is with the writer who takes himself too seriously

Perhaps the final purpose is to put an end to the deeply rooted elitist conception of literature, or at least it is the background of a novel that plays with the perception of the public and with that of the writer himself, capable of questioning through the story not only the mechanisms used throughout the history of literature but also the way in which writing intercedes in life and manipulates the relationship with the world. The flower in the beam it is, in short, a revelation of contemporary creative work, which focuses on the writer but which speaks, after all, of everyone. “The problem is in the writer who takes himself too seriously.”

Juan Manuel Gil, novelist: “There is a mistaken pomposity around the figure of writers”