'Peluquería y letras': A happy novel about happiness
In his new novel, Barcelona-based Mexican author Juan Pablo Villalobos questions whether it is possible to write a novel while being happy.
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Is it really impossible to write a happy novel about happiness, a novel that is both profound and frivolous, transcendental and banal, a joyful tale that is not purely a selfish evasion?
Mexican writer Juan Pablo Villalobos displays his characteristic intelligent humor and observer's insight in Peluquería y letras (published by Anagrama in 2022), an optimistic novel about love, family life, money, professional success, routine, the future, health and the meaning and usefulness of literature in times of resentment and hatred.
The protagonist is a Mexican writer named after him (Juan Pablo) who also lives in Barcelona, has the same hairstyle, the same family situation, the same digestive problems, which will make him undergo a colonoscopy, and makes a living as a teacher of writing workshops. What differentiates the writer from his protagonist is that the latter is obsessed with the consequences of happiness: he fears he has fallen into the typical stupor of gentrification, and wants to discover if it is possible to write a story with a happy ending, without conflict, that is also considered authentic literature.
"It's false to believe that you can't write anymore if you've become gentrified. If I am in comfort, my place in the world is to explore that, to write from there, not to impost suffering or injustice, which do not correspond to me. I see a lot of impostors in contemporary literature," Villalobos said in an interview with Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia.
The writer, winner of the Herralde novel prize in 2016 with I don't expect anyone to believe me (English version available), explained that he has written the book against the idea that happiness is "banal, superficial, frivolous and without conflict'' and that, therefore, a literature "happy about happiness" is not good literature.
"In frivolity, lightness and apparent banality there is depth and things to say," said the Mexican author, who has lived in Barcelona for years.
Peluquería y letras is his third novel set in Barcelona, where he has lived with his family since 2003, and, as in the previous ones, it is a direct and amusing work that starts from the everyday to imagine stories that are sometimes delirious.
Villalobos explains that his character, installed in the middle class, fears one day returning to poverty.
"It is something very accentuated in Latin America, where the middle class becomes reactionary very easily because it sees the danger of losing its situation and steps on those at the bottom," he said.