Marcos Giralt Torrente is the author of three novels, a novella, and a book of short stories. He is the recipient of several distinguished awards, including the Spanish National Book Award, in 2011. The End of Love, a quartet of mesmerizing stories that explore the confounding, double-edged promise of love, out now from McSweeney’s, is his first book to appear in English—“with luck, the first of many” (Booklist). His translator Katherine Silver and I sent a series of questions to him in Madrid; his expansive, bewitching answers offer a hint of the collection’s riches, both lucent and deep.
—Andi Winnette, managing editor of McSweeney’s
McSWEENEY’S: Your prose is careful, precise, nuanced, and complex. Do those long and gorgeous sentences pop out of your head like Athena did from Zeus’s, or do you rewrite, sculpt, winnow, and hone a lot?
MARCOS GIRALT TORRENTE: My books are born from a constant process of rewriting. Other writers write a first draft that later they dedicate themselves to polishing. I advance slowly, rewriting as I write. My literary style was shaped by reading James, Proust, Faulkner, Bernhard…, all of them writers of long sentences. Due to that influence, it’s in a way normal that my syntax is complex. However, like James, I firmly believe in the unity between subject and form, theme and style. By this I mean that I don’t write long sentences deliberately, just for the simple desire to write them. That’s for Pharisees. My sinuous syntax is intimately linked with the topics I occupy myself with. My literature feeds itself from nuance, from marginal notes. My narrators are often witnesses, in general cultivated and very reflective, for whom doubting their perceptions, questioning them and clarifying them, is their way of being in the world. The language they use to express themselves has to reflect, therefore, the undulations of their thoughts and their mimesis of details and exactitude. Furthermore, although I wouldn’t define myself as a stylist, I think that just as important as the story is the language in which it is expressed, and I like the writers who attend to it and who, without falling into artificiality, are able to mold it for artistic ends.
McSWEENEY’S: The collection’s stories, for all the “ends” they contain (death, the break-up of friendship, divorce), seem to begin and end in moments of ambiguity and possibility. What does the title, with its decisive finality, mean to you?
MARCOS GIRALT TORRENTE: The four stories from The End of Love do not constitute my vision about love. They are only four open windows to some of its many nuances. To me, the expression “the end of love” is a metaphor of love itself. The reason is that it is impossible to think about love without thinking of the possibility of its end. All lovers do it, even if it’s only for mere realism. Some try to avoid it, others seem to encourage it… Love rarely remains the same across time. It goes through different phases, it transforms itself or it ends. What do we talk about, besides, when we talk about love? Only of romantic love? It would be too much of a simplification. The saccharine idea of love in commercial movies and advertising is too meager. It is based on the courtship phase, and it is responsible therefore for many frustrations. Sometimes it is the excess of love that ends a relationship. We can also end a relationship out of love, if the relationship is harmful to the other person. These seem like paradoxes but they aren’t. At the other extreme, there are couples that last that nevertheless do not have any love for one another. In my stories I attempt to reflect on the different faces of love. As a matter of fact, it’s true that in none of them there’s a clear ending. In a way all of them point to an end of love, but, if we pay attention, it’s more what endures than what ends. For instance, the couple in the story called “Captives.” It’s clear that they are unhappy being with one another, but, contrary to what common sense would dictate, they remain together because of the love they have for each other.
McSWEENEY’S: The stories are longer than typical short stories, which allows you to explore your characters at exceptional depth—they feel rather like four short novels. Did you set out to write pieces of this length?
MARCOS GIRALT TORRENTE: The stories that I had written before The End of Love were in general much shorter. Stories this long are common in American literature, but not in Latin American literature. However, I think it’s an attractive length, because it allows the development of characters and of the atmospheric element with some profundity while maintaining at the same time the same tension that’s characteristic of shorter stories. It was this stimulating versatility that attracted me at first. That they are so long isn’t accidental. I began from a desire to make stories of this length; that was my personal challenge, and I wasn’t wrong, because I enjoyed writing them very much. I felt very free, with more room to improvise. In shorter stories one is more constrained by the weight of the structure, which has to fit perfectly for the plot to work. In these kinds of longer stories, there’s a bit more room. One can stray a little bit from the plot and in that way make it breath through unexpected channels.
McSWEENEY’S: For me, the strength of these stories comes, in part, from what is not said, à la Henry James, so the reader is actively engaged in piecing together the emotional, interpersonal mystery, sometimes in conjunction with the narrator, sometimes one step ahead of or behind him. Did you know everything when you started to write each of these stories, or were there aspects you discovered or figured out in the process of writing them?
MARCOS GIRALT TORRENTE: Most of the time, when I start to write fiction, I only have an approximate idea of the story. I begin from an image, from a sensation that I want to transmit, or from an almost musical inkling of structure. In The End Of Love, only in the case of the story called “Joanna” did I know the end before beginning to write it. The reason is that it is, in part, from a real story a friend told me. The real part is condensed in the last paragraph and my job consisted in imagining what had happened previously. The rest of the stories began to grow as I wrote them. The first one, which takes place in Africa, was born from a trip I went on in the north of Kenya, and when I began to write it, as a starting point, I only had at hand that remote and somewhat intimidating environment. The second one is an improvisation based on an idea that arose from a story by Willa Cather, and the last one is a recreation of some anecdotes from my childhood that I set out to shape and find an adequate end for. I think the four stories exemplify very well my way of working, in which literature is just as important as life.
McSWEENEY’S: Which English-language authors do you think have influenced you, and/or did you have in mind while writing these stories? Also, do you read those authors in the original or in translation, and do you think that matters as far as how they influence your own writing?
MARCOS GIRALT TORRENTE: All the stories in the book are casually related with writers in the English language. For the first one, the African one, I was inspired by some stories with tropical atmosphere by Somerset Maugham and, of course, Conrad. In the second one, I’ve already said it, there’s my reading of Willa Cather. In the third one, I had very much in mind those stories of adolescent girls that Alice Munro writes so well. Also a bit of Jean Rhys, more than anything because of the familiar origin of her female protagonist. And in the fourth, Richard Ford. There’s a story about an only child who is about to become an adult in a middle class family, a bit unstructured, and Ford has written much and wonderfully about it.
Literature in the English language has been fundamental in the formation of my literary taste. I believe, for instance, that today American narrative continues to be, as a whole, one of the most vigorous in the world. It’s natural that I feel attracted to it. One of the characteristics of my literary generation in Europe is that the weight of the national literatures has diminished. Before, French writers would read mostly French literature, Spanish writers Spanish literature, and Germans German literature. Now, thanks to translation and more information, a young writer has more possibilities to choose what he likes from here or there. He doesn’t feel obligated to read mostly writers from his country. I have read Spanish authors, of course, and some of them have been pivotal to my formation, but I have also read many Latin Americans, Austrians, French, Portuguese, Italians, British… Aside from Spanish, I only read in English and Italian, and anytime I can, I prefer to read an author in his original language. Now reading in a foreign language is by necessity slower and I don’t always have the required time.
Answers translated from the Spanish by Mauro Javier Cardenas. He is a novelist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Antioch Review, Guernica, Witness Magazine, Bomb, the Believer, and the San Francisco Chronicle.