Guillem Lopez (Castelló, 1975) has imagined a Valencia that is coming out broken. First a hole in Marxelenes, then Cadirers street, then Romeu de Corbera street… they fade away and become islands from which nothing comes out and nothing enters, replaced by mirages in which life continues almost the same as on the other side , but not quite. That is the disastrous scenario in which it takes place ‘Arxipèlag’ (Ed. Mai Més), the first novel in Valencian by Guillem López, in which it is proposed to start “a new path of ‘weird’ sci-fi, strange, in Valencian and centered on Valencia”, which demonstrates that “we can write a novel in Valencian and that it is neither crime novel nor costumbrista novel” and to which it wants to give continuity.
One might think that ‘Arxipèlag’ forms a Valencian diptych in the author’s narrative, after ‘Black lake of your eyes’, another also short novel in which the beings imagined by Lovecraft appeared from a suddenly open lagoon in an indefinite town in the Ribera Baixa. Guillem López says no: that specific world will have an expansion in another long novel that will be published at the end of the year or the beginning of the next and ‘Arxipèlag’ wants it to be the beginning of a second differentiated line, “a dark literature with touches fantastic, but perhaps not as fantastic as in Spanish, where there is a wider audience”. Although the passage of López is not understood without the editorial turmoil of fantastic and science fiction literature in Catalan, with the consolidation of labels such as Males Herbes and Laertes and the emergence of others such as Mai Més, Raig Verd, Chronos and Spécula.
While in ‘Lago negro de tus ojos’ the element of cosmic fantasy is much more explicit and evident, in ‘Arxipèlag’ there remains a shadow of a doubt about everything that happens. “As Ricardo Piglia said, each story tells two stories: I use here the strange event that is happening to create a scenario, a decomposing Valencia in a situation of social emergency, that works as a trigger to talk about what I wanted, about the need to feel close to our relatives and close people, about the impossibility of giving ourselves care in this wheel in which we live -explains López-. There is no reason to look for an explanation of what and why of things. This has happened and is happening. How this affects the characters is the most important thing.” And it affects a young woman who hardly speaks to her partner, obsessed with looking for her sister who is no longer on one of those islands. Regarding his previous books, the novelist from Castelló believes that perhaps there is “more tenderness towards the characters; the novel is dark and sad, because this is a signature of the house, but I have had a little more mercy”
Of course, life goes on. And that continuing to live the everyday in an exceptional situation gives ‘Arxipèlag’ an obvious pandemic air. “I don’t hide -responds the author-, really ‘Arxipèlag’ is a novel that is 100% post-pandemic, It totally revolves around the effects that we still suffer from what happened and from things that were put on the table at that time. A feeling that I think we all have, you see the world around you falling apart but you can’t do anything to stop it but watch, and at the same time move on. We are witnesses of a world that falls in front of us.”
If that urban gruyère, and the attitude of Alba and three other women, who try to find patterns and reasons for the inexplicable, and her lack of communication with her partner, works as a covid metaphor, and even of the conspiracy and denial outbreaks that it unleashed, the book does not seek that it is also about the city of Valencia. “It is more general about contemporary urban life, the paradox that we have more and more possibilities to be connected with people, hyper-connected in fact, and at the same time we are also very far away. It is difficult to call someone, ask how they are; it is the central theme of the novel, without falling into a technophobic discourse”.
You have to wait for chapter 13 to reach a “paragraph in which València is explained, because he felt he should end with a description of the setting”, and in which a verse from Zoo slips, “rebel i consentida”. “I’m not a big fan of the group, my son is, but I do consider Panxo an impressive and brutal lyricist and that’s why I’ve taken him there; in addition to another phrase from a Zoo song that I use as a joke with my partner and that I’ve dropped in another dialogue”, he adds.
“Books that I wrote in Spanish but that were in Valencian in my head”
In other books by Guillem López, a linguistic tension can be seen, with the Valencian appearing in expressions in italics, as if the action demanded that the book be in one language and not another. “In my books set in Valencia, from ‘Arañas de Marte’, I have felt this linguistic tension, They were books that I wrote in Spanish but that were in Valencian in my head. In the one that was set in the southern zone of Valencia, it was evident that this had to appear, and the next one that will come out will have many dialogues directly in Valencian. I think it is positive that in the books that I can write in Spanish I can enter entire vocabulary or dialogues as a normalization of reality, because if you don’t feel like you are deceiving the reader”.
Mai Més is a publisher from Barcelona with an increasingly loyal audience but without much penetration in the Valencian market. But, the author warns, one of his priorities was that this not lead him to ‘Orientalize’ his language model. “I wanted to maintain a normative Valencian, but to make it clear that the language is broader than the homogenization to which I think the Catalan reader is too overaccustomed.”