Santiago Lorenzo (Portugalete, 1964) comes from the world of cinema, where he won the Goya for the best animated short with Caracol, col, col in 1995, and was nominated for the FIPRESCI Award at the London Film Festival in 1999. But he abandons the big screen to successfully break into the subgenre of the novel with Los millions (2010), Los huerfanitos (2012) and Las ganas (2014).
Los nasty (2018), his latest narrative, has surpassed previous ones in public acceptance; It has eleven editions and has been the winner of the second edition of the Los Libreros Recommend 2019 Award for the best work of fiction awarded by the Spanish Confederation of Guilds and Associations of Booksellers (CEGAL).
In The Disgusting the author criticizes a certain part of society clinging to consumption, forgotten about the value of their time, enslaved by their work, vulgar and ready to pretend; the one who loves nature, but allows her own to destroy it; It looks like culture, but it is only ostentatious verbiage (p. 136). Although what is relevant is the presentation, in reaction to this class of people, of a protagonist who is self-sufficient and loves solitude per se – without this being a means to connect with a supreme Being. This individual, compared to the Aristotelian zoon politikón (political or civic animal), is clearly asocial.
The isolated and self-sufficient protagonist also appears in other contemporary Spanish narratives such as, for example, in Antonio Muñoz Molina’s recent novel, Your steps on the stairs (2019). Thus, a character emerges in the contemporary narrative imaginary that deviates from the human condition proposed by classical philosophers, such as Aristotle, or current ones, such as Byung-Chul Han, who advocates a “hospitable listener” or a friendly ear that alleviates isolation. typical of today’s hypercultural society (Han, 2018, p. 119).
But the author, Santiago Lorenzo, goes further in this novel. Not only this group of people clinging to appearance and expense (“the filthy”) are detectable, but also presents (through the narrator) the possibility that the same protagonist, Manuel, could become a “disgusting” if lives in society. He suggests, therefore, that Manuel prefers solitude to “blur” his disgustingness, as this type of unscrupulous people usually do. Thus, the defense of isolation by the protagonist and its justification is total. This is how the narrator puts it (who is Manuel’s uncle in the plot):
«For many men and women, the Manuel of exile closed and blind will be an asocial, an undesirable. Not a disgusting one, but the most disgusting. They will not be wrong. But he will be the filthy singular whose disgust [sic] no one will have to suffer. Manuel, locked in his sealed cell, will not suffer from anyone [author’s emphasis] »(p. 217).
With this, the essential condition of Aristotelian man, his sociability, is altered, since this would harm himself and the group. In the plot the symbol of this reviled society is Joaqui, Manuel’s neighbor, and her kindred (“the filthy”).
The text of Los asquerosos is divided into twenty-seven chapters that, depending on the theme of its plot, can be grouped into three parts.
(1) In the first part, from chapter one to fifteen (pp. 9-115), Manuel arrives in an abandoned town, Zarzahuriel, located in central Spain. He is on the run from justice for having injured a civilian guard who was suffocating a demonstration (with which the recent “gag law” is criticized) on the portal of a hostel on Calle Montana in the city of Madrid. He had just moved there to become independent from his parents, who had ignored him during his teens. The protagonist is used to loneliness –according to the narrator, he is an example of «the generation of the children of the key» because they enter and leave his house with it hanging around his neck. Manuel only related to his uncle (who is the narrator of the story). The latter, after his fight with the police, advises him to flee, as he believes that he has killed him; He provides him with a mobile phone, which is not registered, and is in charge of sending the town an order from the supermarket so that he can survive.
This first part of the plot has a slow rhythm that, perhaps, can bore a reader who has already accepted that Manuel’s survival in the deserted village is possible (in the fictional world). Despite this resigned assumption of the reader, the narrator forces himself to demonstrate his daily life in too much detail (this is how he describes how Manuel gets electricity or makes fire, among other achievements). Explanations that are sometimes too long and can become heavy.
In this stage of total isolation, Manuel begins to need fewer and fewer things: “[Manuel] said that there is no better guarantor for satiety than needlessness” [author’s italics] (p. 114). The protagonist derives, then, towards misanthropy; He begins not to change clothes, not to need body hygiene, to eat herbs and to give up everything that is not doing what he wants. He feels liberated from his former bosses, who had exploited him in “perishable jobs” (p. 104), and from “the living forces” (p. 104). He values his free time to such an extent that he partially refuses to teach conversation classes to foreigners (a job his uncle wanted to earn a living); Thus, Manuel, after calculating the amount of the supermarket shipment he receives, prefers to dispense with products and accept only some of the calls from foreigners that the academy diverted.
(2) In the second part, from chapter fifteen to twenty-six (pp. 117-204), Joaqui (the filthy matriarch) rents the neighboring house to Manuel’s in Zarzahuriel. Manuel has to hide so that they do not discover him since, as his uncle warns him, “perhaps he had killed the riot police” (p. 119).
Here, as in other parts of the text, terms of the cultured language are combined with those of the vulgar language. Among the first we have: «Manuel would go up [to the attic] on Fridays at five o’clock, carrying [of the pack-saddle, loaded] with water and food» (125). Or also “eject [eject] from his golden Zarzahuriel” [emphasis and parentheses mine] (p. 121). Even the narrator uses a Garcilasian tone, typical of the bucolic atmosphere of the plot. Thus, before the arrival of his neighbors, “Manuel was left in pain, of deep pain” [author’s emphasis] (p. 119). And also, among the latter (vulgarisms) colloquial words with suffixes appear that change their category, which supposes a certain verbal creation: «[…] Christmas appeared. In which Manuel predicted [in the neighboring house] an orgy of dismay, bullshit and Santa hats »[emphasis mine] (p. 155).
There is even a creation of words like «La Mochufa» (p. 127) (the filthy ones), to name their new neighbors who
«They arrived in three or four big big cars, out of scale, parking ostentation in zarzahuriense paten. And with briefcases of considerable volume, to carry out three or four changes of wardrobe a day during the stay of only two »(p. 127).
Manuel criticizes the noise that La Mochufa makes (p. 129), his attachment to mobile phones – to communicate how well they were in a rural solitude that they could not bear (p. 129) -, their hackneyed language (p. 132), their unnecessary expense of electric light – when installing “a treadmill” (p. 131) – as well as how to have fun – always repeating the same jokes (p. 130) or reading the pink press (132) – Anyway Ironic criticism is ruthless (128-133).
“La Mochufa” (Joaqui and his family and friends) so upset Manolo that he decides to spoil their house so that they abandon it. For this he clandestinely enters it when they are not there; It breaks the boiler, puts glue on the switches and leaves food remains everywhere so that the house is flooded with bugs, among other damages.
One day, when Manuel was chopping wood, Joaqui surprised him and, due to an oversight caused by surprise, wounded himself with the ax. They decide to call the ambulance, but she alleges that she cannot accompany him because she must prepare the food. Here the author could have “humanized” Joaquí, if she had taken him in his car or accompanied him. Nor does he “humanize” Manuel, who is unscrupulous when he lets his neighbors’ boiler explode because of him. Thus, we find two types (Joaqui and Manuel) who represent the opposite and act in a blunt way; without remorse, without nuances of doubt in their performances: they are simply opposite prototypes, not characters. The narrator, therefore, abuses the “resource of the recharged inks”, typical of popular literature, to present these protagonists (Fragero, 2017, pp. 145-146).
For this reason the reader misses the tenderness and complexity of the characters that have been great in the History of Literature. That is to say, of those who have stopped being prototypes to be characters, who make the reader fall in love because their feelings are contradictory and empathize with their opponents; as in the narration Bartleby, the scribe of Herman Melville, where the lawyer, compassionate towards his apathetic subordinate, proposes all kinds of jobs to him to avoid his doom, although his character got him out of his mind (Melville, 2019, pp. 92- 94). Or that kindness of Sancho Panza with which he encourages Don Quixote on the deathbed to a new bucolic adventure or claims guilty of the chivalrous defeat of his lord so that, thus, he is excited again with life (Rico, 1998 , pp. 1219-1220) -.
In chapter twenty-seven (pp. 215-221) as an epilogue, the narrator explains how Manuel, after attacking the riot police, had outwitted the police who were looking for him and reports that the attacked agent recovered after a few months of hospitalization. Also, it narrates that Manuel definitively retired to Zarzahuriel to live in total solitude (since even when he, his uncle, went to visit him, he hid).
In conclusion, if we consider Los disgusting from a literary point of view, the following considerations can be seen:
- the negative or positive inks appear too heavy in the description of the characters (by Joaqui and Manuel, respectively), characteristic of popular literature. The positions of the antagonists are extreme and their attitudes predictable, so, as we have suggested, these prototypes do not reach the category of characters (humanized, that is, affected by relationships with other characters in the plot).
- However, there is a verbal richness in the text – creation of new words through derivations or incorporation of vulgarisms into the literary language.
- Likewise, intertextualities (such as those cited with Garcilaso’s poems) enrich the text.
From a sociological point of view, Los asquerosos de Santiago Lorenzo invites us to reflect on the man who fights for his individual freedom to the point that he prefers isolation to losing it; he renounces his social character because he does not want to suffer the “grossness” of others or spread his own. Thus a character emerges who chooses isolation and the relationship with nature (instead of working or friendly), because this choice does not oblige him to give anything in return. This is the new man of the 21st century; individualistic, disbelieving, tired of society and deeply sad, because he only shares his existence with himself: «The thing was to live cornered, with no other guidelines than your own. All debts are with people. There are no people, there are no debts »(p.105).
FRAGERO GUERRA, Carmen (2017). “Recurso de las tintas recargadas” [Subcapítulo]. En Fragero Guerra, Carmen. Del azul al rosa: la narrativa de Carmen de Icaza (1936-1960) (pp.145 -146)-. Madrid: Sial Pigmalion.
HAN, Byung-Chul (2018). La expulsión de lo distinto [primera edición en idioma original en 2006]. Traducción de Florencia Gaillour. Barcelona: Herder.
MELVILLE, Herman (2019). Bartleby, el escribiente [primera edición 1856]. Traducción de Enrique Hériz.
Prólogo de Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Barcelona: Navona-Ineludibles.
RICO, Francisco (1998). Don Quijote de la Mancha de Miguel de Cervantes. Edición dirigida por Francisco Rico con la colaboración de Joaquín Forradellas. Estudio preliminar de Fernando Lázaro Carreter, Barcelona: Instituto de Cervantes.