reality in the world of fiction | Entertainment | The USA Print

just smoke

Narrator and columnist, Juan José Millás was born in Valencia in 1946 and in 1952 he moved with his family to Madrid. He worked for many years as an administrator at the Iberia airline and, after the good reception of his first novel, Cerberus are the shadows (1975), decided to dedicate himself exclusively to writing. Owner of a narrative universe, reading it is always familiar and always surprising. His work includes titles such as vision of the drowned (1977), Wet paper (1988), The disorder of your name (1987), loneliness was this (1990), T.onto, dead, bastard and invisible (1995) or The world (2007)

May humor and creative fertility not mislead us. All that is absurd is nothing but a disturbing inquiry into reality. And it is, of course, just smoke. The seemingly magical arises from a need: to go beyond everyday reality, carefully observed here, to penetrate the depths of our existence. “I am very interested in the subject of possible lives”, which is “connected to the deepest areas of reality”, he has declared. And now he will add a new dimension: how disturbing the reading experience is.

Carlos’s father is a shady man who separated from his wife and did not want to know about his son, who barely remembers him

Carlos’s father is a shady man who separated from his wife and wanted nothing to do with his son. Carlos barely remembers what he was like. He will know everything, always shrouded in mystery, when he dies at the age of fifty-eight in a car accident and discovers a notebook in which he narrates his life.

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In what seems like a novel, he talks about his relationship with the neighbor from the next floor, Amelia, and about the birth of Macarena, who at the age of ten grows a white butterfly out of her ear that her father will pin into a cork with a pin, thus killing his daughter. Upon her death, Carlos discovers, among other things, the girl’s corpse and, above all, a volume with Grimm’s tales.

Cover of ‘Only smoke’

The boy, who as a Business Administration and Management student has little interest in reading, now immerses himself in the book. Thus, we witness the peculiar relationship that is established between Carlos and the different stories, and the curious version or recreation that he makes of them: from Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty or, very especially, the tale of the homunculus on the wall. This is how the logic of the stories arises, where reality is mixed with fantasy and the imaginary with the real, and it is explained that Carlos enters them as a ghost, surprised by “the ability of the story to take him out of his own life, forcing him to to enter as a witness. There are, then, two sides, the one here and the one in the story, two realities in which the ordinary and the extraordinary merged”. Perhaps that explains why “we need unreal people.” And if Carlos penetrates the stories, it is because he is capable of reading as children read, that is, of returning to the origin of reading.

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To the unfolding of reality through reading, we must add a frequent theme in Millás: that of complex family relationships. We doubt if the father is dead or incarnated as “uncle Ignacio” or if Macarena is the daughter of Amelia, the father’s lover, and Carlos. And, above all, the space in which they live. They are two floors that communicate wall to wall, houses with a soul in which we move from one to the other, we live them simultaneously, in a new doubling. Until they decide to remove the partition that separates them.

A union that is an outcome that should be happy, the same one that Grimm readers live, they live happily until the end of their days. Well, Millás has done nothing but turn reading into a life experience, where the most real is unreality.

Juan Jose Millas
just smoke
Alfaguara. 192 pages. €19.90