Esther Tusquets and Social Criticism [Month of a Thousand Forests]
Up next in our ongoing Month of a Thousand Forests series. is Esther Tusquets, author of Stranded, The Same Sea as Every Summer, and Love Is a Solitary Game, to name a few of her titles that are available in English translation.
Below you’ll find an excerpt from the interview with her, and a bit from her story, “Summer Orchestra.”
It’s also worth noting that Esther Tusquets’s brother and sister-in-law founded Tusquets Editores, and she used to run the publishing house Lumen. These are some of the most important Spanish publishing houses of the past century, and being a publishing nerd, I think it’s really cool that we were able to include her here.
As with all the other posts in this series, if you order A Thousand Forests in One Acorn from the Open Letter site and use the code FORESTS, you’ll get it for only $15.
Social criticism lies behind many of the plot lines in your stories and novels. But you also often shift between registers and styles, and your texts range from the most experimental to autobiographical stories that display a great sense of humor. What comes first the style or the plot?
I think social criticism does lie behind my novels. It is the fundamental theme in “Summer Orchestra.” I have never considered myself a leftwing radical, but I remember always feeling uncomfortable living in such an obviously unjust system.
As far as changes in style and theme with my writing, I don’t think they are very obvious. I feel, on the contrary, like I am always writing the same novel.
I don’t think I change much between register, style, thematic. For good or ill, I consider myself a monothematic and reiterative writer. Someone once said that, yes there are writers that always write the same novel, Esther Tusquets was always writing the same page. The only notable change is the tendency to greater simplicity.
The ludic element—an important element that has nothing to do with jest or making jokes—is a personal choice in life and in literature. To me it seems indispensable.
Summer was already well advanced—more than halfway through August—when it was decided to begin renovating the smaller dining room of the hotel and move the children, together with their governesses and their nursemaids and their mademoiselles, into the grown-ups’ dining room. Throughout the whole of July and the first two weeks of August the children had formed a wild, unruly and increasingly uncontrollable gang that invaded the beaches, raced through the village on bikes with their bells ringing madly, prowled with restless curiosity around the stalls at the fair, or slipped—suddenly surreptitious, silent, almost invisible—into secret places amongst the reeds. Year after year they built the huts that housed their rarest treasures and where they initiated each other into marvelous, secret, and endlessly renewed transgressions (smoking their first cigarettes, often communal, crumpled and slightly damp; getting enmeshed in poker games played with a ruthlessness that would have astonished the grown-ups—games so intense and hard-fought that the participants often preferred to play on rather than go down to the beach—and venturing into other stranger and more ambiguous games, which Sara associated obscurely with the world of grown-ups and the forbidden, and to which, during that summer, she had reacted with both fascination and shame, eager to be a spectator but very reluctant to take part. She—possibly alone amongst all the girls—had been astute or cautious enough when playing forfeits and lucky enough at cards to get through those days without once having to let anyone kiss her on the mouth or touch her breasts or take her knickers down), transgressions which were doubly intoxicating because they were the culmination of that parenthesis of temporary freedom provided by the summer and would be unthinkable once they were all back in the winter environment of schools and city apartments.
But within a matter of two or three days the summer community had broken up and with it the band of children, some being transported inland to spend what was left of their holidays in the mountains or in the country, most of them going home to prepare for the September resits. And Sara had stayed on as the one female straggler amongst the decimated gang of boys (Mama and Mademoiselle had promised consolingly that, at the end of August, her four or five best friends would be allowed to come up for her birthday) but the atmosphere had changed, it had grown suddenly tense and unpleasant, the general mood of irritability and discontent aggravated perhaps by the frequent rain and the shared feeling that all that remained now of summer were a few unseasonable, grubby remnants. One thing was certain, the boys’ pastimes has grown rougher and Sara had simply had enough of them, of their fights, their games, their practical jokes, their rude words and their crude humour, had had enough of them spying on her through the window when she was changing her clothes, of them upending her boat, of having three or four of them corner her amongst the reeds. That was why she was so pleased about the change of dining room: there, at least during mealtimes, the boys would be forced to behave like civilized beings. And they must have had the same idea, for they protested and grumbled long and loud, complaining that, now there were so few of them and the rain deprived them not only of many morning at the beach but also of almost every afternoon previously spent among the reeds, it really was the end to be expected now to sit up straight at table without fidgeting, barely saying a word, eating everything that was put in front of them, being required to peel oranges with a knife and fork and, to crown it all, wear a jacket and tie to go into supper.
But Sara was radiant and so excited on the first night that she changed her dress three times before going down—opting in the end for a high-necked, full-skirted organdie dress that left her arms bare and which her mother did not much approve of, saying that it made her look older than her years and was inappropriate for a girl who had not yet turned twelve—and then caught up her long, straight, fair hair with a silk ribbon. What most excited Sara that first night was the prospect of getting a good look at the adult world, until then only glimpsed or guessed at, since during the long winters the children’s lives were confined to school, walks with Mademoiselle, and the playroom. There was hardly any contact between children and parents during the summer either—not this year nor in any previous year. (Sara had overheard Mademoiselle making a comment to one of the chambermaids about the delights and charms of the family holiday, at which they had both laughed, only to fall silent the moment they realized she was listening, and the whole episode had filled Sara with a terrible rage.) For the fact was that while the grown-ups slept on, the children would get up, have breakfast, do their homework or play table tennis and be coming back from the beach just as their parents would be finishing breakfast and lazily preparing themselves for a swim; and when the grow-ups were going into the big dining room for lunch, the children would already be off somewhere, pedaling down the road on their bikes or queuing at the rifle range at the fair. It was only occasionally, when Sara—quite deliberately—walked past the door of one of the lounges or the library, that she would catch sight of her mother sitting, blonde and evanescent, amongst the curling cigarette smoke. She would feel touched and proud to see her here, so delicate and fragile, so elegant and beautiful, like a fairy or a princess hovering ethereally above the real world (the most magical of fairies, the most regal of princesses, Sara had thought as a child, and in a way still thought), and for a moment her mother would stop playing cards or chatting to her friends to wave a greeting, call her over to give her a kiss, or pick out a liqueur chocolate from the box someone had just given her. At other times her father would come over to the children’s table and ask Mademoiselle if they were behaving themselves, if they did their homework every day, if they were enjoying the summer. And, of course, they did coincide at church on Sundays because there was only one mass held in the village and the grown-ups had to get up early—relatively speaking—but even then they would arrive late and sit in the pews at the back, near the door. Although they did wait for the children on the way out to give them a kiss and some money to spend on an ice-cream or at the rifle range.
(Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)