Best Untranslated Writers: Guadalupe Nettel

Santiago Roncagliolo

Guadalupe Nettel has a wonky eye. It can make you a bit nervous when you talk to her. When I met her, I kept thinking: is she looking at me? Or rather, is she looking inside me?

One way or another, her novels are always about that eye: El huésped is about a girl with a fear of blindness. El cuerpo en que nací begins with a teenager going to the ophthalmologist.

Yet despite this connection, the two books are vastly different. El huésped is a gothic novel set in México City’s subway system. It has plenty of dark, scary moments, that border on fantastical literature. When that book was published, it was a major surprise to me. No Latin American writer of my age, I thought, would dare to do that. Most of them openly hate fantasy, and especially horror novels. During the sixties and seventies, the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar was famous for exploring this genre, particularly in his short stories. But he is, bizarrely, probably the least influential writer of that generation.

However, fans of realism found in El huésped a political metaphor for Mexico’s current situation and a psychological portrait of Guadalupe herself. And a very rare jewel she is indeed. So, after establishing herself as the gothic girl, she turned to political realism. El cuerpo en que nací is a story with autobiographical flavour, about the daughter of a left-wing Mexican family looking for her place in the world. One day she is surrounded by political exiles from Chile. The next day she studies at an immigrant school in France. All while her parents introduce her to increasingly avant-garde ideas about politics, life and sex.

Guadalupe herself has changed countries many times. From Mexico to France, then to Spain, then back to Mexico. In her books, she also explores different territories. But a few things always remain: prose as sharp as a razor, a dark landscape, and a very unique sensitivity. I am sure it has something to do with her eye.

Interview: Granta Sweden
Best Untranslated Writers: Kettly Mars