Alberto Olmos [Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists]
As we mentioned a couple Fridays ago, we’re going to spend the next 7 days highlighting all of the authors selected for Granta’s _“Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” special issue. All past and future posts related to this issue can be found by clicking here.
For today’s update, Emily Davis interviewed Alberto Olmos, whose “Eva and Diego”—the first chapter of his new novel—appears in this issue in Peter Bush’s translation.
Today’s post is brought to you by the number six.
Segovia native Alberto Olmos is one of six Spaniards on the Granta list of Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists. He is also one of six writers on the list who were born in 1975, and he has written six—count ’em, six—novels. At age twenty-three (!) he published his first novel, A bordo del naufragio (1998), which was a finalist for the Herralde Prize. His more recent novels are Así de loco te puedes volver (1999), Trenes hacia Tokio (2006), El talento de los demás (2007), Tatami (2008) and El estatus (2009). He is also the editor of the volume Algunas ideas buenísimas que el mundo se va a perder (2009), compiled from internet-based texts. Olmos taught Spanish and English in Japan for three years. Currently he can be found in Madrid as well as on the interwebs.
He generously agreed to answer some questions about the writers who have most influenced him, technology and contemporary literature, and the effects of the Granta honor.
Emily Davis: What writers have influenced you?
Alberto Olmos: I will name three: the Spanish writer Francisco Umbral has shown me the way of style, in the preoccupation with the sonority of words; Henry Miller clued me in to the fact that one could say anything in a novel, and be aggressive and solipsistic; and William Faulkner will continue always to be the great master of narrative structure, of the zeal to tell a story in a different way.
ED: Do you have a favorite writer from among the others on the Granta list?
AO: To name one, Alejandro Zambra.
ED: Among your novels are the titles Trenes hacia Tokio (2006) and Tatami (2008). Where did your interest in Japan come from? And the experience of having lived in Japan, has it influenced your work in some way?
AO: I believe that a large part of my literary vocation comes from my desire to leave my mark in writing, that is to say, to write autobiography. Because of that, everything that happens to me in life is susceptible to becoming literature. I lived in Japan for three years and it was inevitable that some pages came out of that experience. But nothing is further from my intention than to become one of those authors who only write about a country in which they lived for a short time.
ED: Where did the desire to be a writer originate?
AO: It’s a mystery, but I believe that solitude has created more writers than all the writing schools in the world.
ED: What are you working on now?
AO: I should be reading over the first draft of my new novel; I am somewhat dazed by the reverberations of the Granta list and I am looking for the calm necessary to read my own writing with objectivity.
ED: In “Eva and Diego” the iPod appears as the product itself and also as a symbol of the epoch in which we live. How would you say that technological or consumerist motifs fit into the literature of today? Is it something unique to twenty-first-century literature?
AO: Those motifs (technology, consumerism) will always be current, given that, as we know, Facebook has changed the human species in greater measure than all the literature written in all the world in the last fifty years. It is a shame, but there it is. However, as central themes, consumerism and technology are somewhat out of fashion.
ED: What does it mean to you to have been named one of the best young Spanish-language novelists by Granta?
AO: It’s an important recognition that has given me new encouragement to write. As Cyril Connolly said, the “menopause” of a writer comes at 35 years (my age) and it consists in losing in certain measure the youthful passion for writing, the faith in your own talent and in the talent of readers. In that way Granta has made me about ten years younger.
The current issue of Granta features “Eva and Diego,” the first chapter of Olmos’ new novel and translated by Peter Bush. Here is just a snippet of it to get you interested:
The day I bought my iPod, forty-five people died in a terrorist attack. When an important piece of news breaks, part of my section collaborates with the ‘affected’ section (National or International Affairs, usually); additionally, the Culture pages are reduced in number and, as the one in charge, I’m left with almost nothing to do. I’m bored and look out of the window.
The bombs exploded at 8.56 a.m. in a Madrid shopping centre. They were hidden in the changing cubicles on the women’s clothes floor. Thirty-two victims were women; twelve were children. Only one man died. Several dozen more were injured, in a similar ratio in terms of sex and age to those who had died.
Responsibility for the attack pointed to Arab terrorist groups.
I saw one photo and refused to look at any more. A dummy clad in human flesh. The bomb had completely wrecked one individual’s body and her skin, bones and organs had splattered all over the front half of a dummy.
Journalism is essentially pessimism. I left the office before lunchtime.
To go spending.
I like buying new technology because it takes me quite a long time to realize it is pointless. I read the instructions, hit the keys, connect a cable here and another there, and feel as if I’m confronting a huge mystery I have to solve. And I enjoy it. Then there is no mystery, only a useless gadget I jettison in any old drawer.
I bought my iPod because the sales assistant was very handsome. The shopping centre was strangely devoid of people (or not so strangely: forty-five dead, after all). I’d decided to use the morning to pay Diego a visit, so I opted for the ground floor rather than the sixth. I take less time to buy a microcomputer or PDA than to buy a pair of shoes and the result would be the same.
The sales assistant was very handsome.
I spotted him within five minutes. He was reading a magazine on the counter of his Apple stand. I have thousands and thousands of CDs at home and the last thing I’d have thought of would be to purchase a gadget that would force me to get rid of them all.
I assumed his drive to sell had been deactivated by the lack of customers. The least he could do was offer me a fucking iPod.
I walked past the young man again, much more slowly and nearer this time. He ignored me.
I finally went over to him.
‘Hello,’ I said.
The young man took off his headset (I’d not noticed it) and smiled.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
His mouth was very sweet.
‘How can I be of help, madam?’
‘I’d like one of those.’
I pointed to the most expensive iPod on display. Indeed, I pointed at the price tag, not at the gadget itself.
The sales assistant headed over to the display cabinet. I gave him a good look up and down while he unlocked one of the glass doors.
He turned round and stared at me.
‘What colour would you like, madam?’
Remember: For the next seven business days—through the end of this “22 Days of Awesome” series—you can get a copy of this issue for free by subscribing to Granta..