The list of the best young Spanish-language novelists published in the current edition of prestigious British literary journal Granta is the publication’s first. Two writers from Chile—Carlos Labbé and Alejandro Zambra—were included amongst the 22 selected authors, all of whom were born between 1975 and 1981 and selected by a six-person jury. Between them, these two Santiago-based writers have published six novels, two volumes of poetry, one volume of short stories, three screenplays and many articles for major Chilean publications.
“If you put your ears to the train tracks,” says Granta’s editor John Freeman, “you can hear what’s coming, and for the past two to three years some very interesting vibrations have been coming from the Spanish-language world.”
Though the writers included on Granta’s list come from a tradition that has produced some of the 20th century’s greatest literary luminaries, Freeman says they “represent a break from what we’ve come to expect of the Latin American writer,” being more global and varied in their styles and interests than ever before.
Speaking of Chile’s representatives on the list, Freeman draws comparisons not to the great Spanish-language writers of the past, but rather to contemporary novelists hailing from the United States and Japan.
Though he began his career by publishing two volumes of poetry in 1998 and 2003, Zambra achieved his greatest success with his 2006 novella Bonsai, for which he won the Chilean Critics’ Prize as well as an award from the National Council on Literature. Freeman points to the “piercing clarity” of Zambra’s storytelling and his ability to create rich atmosphere using the simplest of tools as the standout features of his work.
Labbé published the first of his four novels in 2001, and most recently released his first volume of short stories, Caracteres Blancos (White Characters), in 2010. “Labbé has a formidable grasp of the way narrative operates,” Freeman says. If it is the delicate simplicity of Zambra’s writing that Freeman admires, it is in Labbé’s case “something mean and a good bit fierce in his writing, a determination to pull back the scrim on how a story is working but an ability to tell a story as he does it.”
Though more than half of the writers on the list hail from Argentina and Spain, it is an overall diversity of style and interest that make them remarkable both individually and as a group. “They are franker, I think, than their Anglophone counterparts,” Freeman says, “and a little more expansive in what it means to tell a story. They’re a very exciting group.”