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Carlos Labbé

GRANTA 113: THE BEST OF YOUNG SPANISH-LANGUAGE NOVELISTS

I like fiction that seems to reinvent itself as it goes along – to change not only its rules but the premises on which those rules are based. This is a fiction that goes beyond metamorphosis and becomes, instead, a kind of seething, perpetual mutation. It doesn’t start from a state of generic-genetic purity; it was hybrid to begin with. Each stage of its development is one of mutation from mutation, outgrowth from outgrowth. And yet, when it reaches an end, dies or slides off out of sight toward further incarnations, it is possible to discern that this creature-of-literature had a consistent form – and an indwelling set of premises that weren’t discernible before. One of these premises may have been, for example, Consistent identity is boring. This would lead to the rule Never repeat a gesture. Another, more extreme extrapolation would be Follow the line of development that promises the greatest instability of identity. This is all extremely unsettling for some readers. But I like it. You could call it headfuck fiction.

Carlos Labbé’s ‘The Girls Resembled Each Other in the Unfathomable’ (at least in my reading) begins to fuck with your head from its very first word – moving through journalese, financial reporting, whodunnit, Joseph Conrad, Raymond Chandler, Nabokov to David Lynch.

The character Boris Real is Francisco Virditti is Boris Real Yáñez, or maybe not – maybe his name is a taunt: he’s a king, he’s cash money, he’s Keyser Söze.

I’m reminded of Jim Thompson’s great quote, ‘There are thirty-two ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot – things are not as they seem.’

Navidad y Matanza is a novel, and I’ve only read what’s printed here; I have no idea where it goes – although I’d be prepared to bet things get extremely, get gorgeously fucked up. – Toby Litt, Best Young British Novelist 2003

Each of the Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists answered a questionnaire on their influences and the role of the writer in public life. Here are Labbé’s answers:

Name the five writers you most admire at the moment (any period, language or genre).

John the Evangelist, Lao Tse, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Heinrich Böll.

Have you published literary criticism?

Yes – a good example of that kind of work is at www.sobrelibros.cl, where I continue to write.

Which languages do you read in?

In Spanish, and a little in Mapudungún, French and English.

Do you have your own web page?

No.

Is your fiction your sole source of income? If not, what else do you live off?

Partly from rights sales of my books, but also from writing films scripts, and editing books – for Sangría Editora, which I co-direct, and also for other publishing houses. And sometimes from reviewing and cultural journalism for print media, as well as academic teaching.

Should writers play a role in public life beyond the publication of their work? If so, in what way?

Of course. The writer has a unique power in the construction of the shared imagination of countries and the social groups in which he moves; only he can design the structure, furniture and decoration of the collective unconscious and this entails an ethical position in the face of these realities. The writer is the person who writes history as a private discourse. In particular, the writer should be his own editor and reader in relation to others; he should freely circulate non-transparent discourse strategies, playful and ambiguous, aimed at justice and rich in interpretative potential, whether in the form of books, film scripts, the texts he edits, public literary criticism or conference rhetoric. But above all, the writer should be the one who, in the heart of his work, facilitates the dialogue between multiple diverse individuals to provoke the symbolic, social, cultural and metaphysical enrichment of his habitat.