How far would you go to astonish the world with a masterpiece? What would you be willing to do to have your exceptional talent recognized? These questions are at the heart of this fast-paced and riveting story, which begins in a cemetery and unfolds within the context of a writing workshop.
Mercedes Abad (Barcelona, 1961) studied journalism at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. In 1986, she gained recognition with Ligeros libertinajes sabáticos, which was awarded the VIII Premio La Sonrisa Vertical prize. Following this, she authored several short story collections: Felicidades conyugales (1989), Soplando al viento (1995), Amigos y fantasmas (Mario Vargas Llosa Prize for best short story collection, 2004), Media docena de robos y un par de mentiras (2009), La niña gorda (2014), and the novella Casa en venta (2020). She also published two novels: Sangre (Tusquets, 2000) and El vecino de abajo (Alfaguara, 2007). Her books have been translated into English, German, Dutch, Italian and Finnish. Since 1996, she has been a contributor to the German magazine Ecos. She currently teaches fiction at the Ateneu Barcelonès Writing School.
Mercedes Abad’s latest novel, Escuela de escritura, published by Tusquets Editores, is a tale of intrigue about a writer who appropriates the work of a deceased student. In it, no one is who they appear to be, not even the narrator. The novel underscores that despite how perceptive we think we are, our interpretations of the world and its curious inhabitants are frequently nothing more than fictions that a taunting reality works to discredit, humbling us in the process. Escuela de escritura is a brilliant reflection on our need to create, the illusions of art, and individual talent.
What prompted you to write this novel?
The trigger was tragic. A student suddenly passed away in the middle of the academic year. She died of a heart attack. When we learned the news, we could hardly believe it – we had reviewed her novel just five days before. That’s when I began to think about what could happen if a student were to die leaving behind brilliant, unfinished work. I thought about the temptations involved in such a situation. That was the beginning of Escuela de escritura.
Why a novel on literature?
I’ve been teaching literary fiction for nearly twenty years at the Ateneu Barcelonès Writing School. I always knew that sooner or later, I would write about what I’ve been observing in myself and in everyone else during all that time: the different reasons for writing; how the ego is one of the most powerful forces in the creative process; vanity, recognition and fame, and the cruel absence thereof; and the creative process itself. But this is also a novel on fiction, not only literary fiction, but also lies, the lies we tell the ones we love, and the lies we tell ourselves. In Escuela de escritura, everyone is hiding something. The characters openly lie, or simply get confused, and no one is who they at first seem to be.
This is a novel about writers – which writers have influenced your own writing?
I’m a very eclectic reader. I loved The Iliad, and I also loved The Killer Condom by Ralf König. I even enjoy reading – I’m no longer ashamed to admit it – the magazine Hello! Of course, over the years I’ve also had many pet writers, from Graham Greene, who I read almost exclusively for more than a year and a half, to Stefan Zweig. My favourite authors are those writers who capture not only the tragicomedy, irony, and absurdity of existence, but also its beauty: Lucia Berlin, Saki, Georges Pérec, Boris Vian, and of course, Elena Ferrante, a true master at depicting and exploring the profound ambiguity that governs human behavior. Listing my favorite authors always seems unfair to me because I have the impression that I forget many of those who have captivated me with their writing.
Could you tell us an anecdote related to the gestation period of this novel?
The gestation period was smooth, with no labor pains. Writing the novel was a pleasure. The anecdotes have to do with what happened afterwards, when my students and former students rushed to read it, many of them driven by morbid curiosity to see if any of the characters were based on them. One student requested a meeting with me, genuinely hurt because he identified himself with the most negative character in the novel. It was impossible to make him understand that he was not the model. In fact, the character he thought was based on him did not have just one model, but many.
What would you tell our readers to spark their curiosity about this novel?
I think it’s a novel full of surprises. It has the tension of a thriller and a gallery of everyday characters who are nonetheless unpredictable. Beyond the mystery of the plot, the book delves into the psychological mechanisms that come to play in literary creation. In short, it’s an engaging and thought-provoking novel.
Mercedes Abad will be in Geneva to present Escuela de escritura at the MABE art gallery (25 Grand Rue, 1204 Geneva) on Wednesday 13 December 2023 at 7 pm. The event will be moderated by Gemma Capellas Espuny and Jesús Guerrero Buitrago and is sponsored by the Association of Spanish International Civil Servants (afie.es/abad).