In ‘Los besos’, the narrator explores and celebrates the liberating effect of passion that was increased during confinement. “In any catastrophe the only way to truly stay alive is to feel love”
Manuel Vilas (Barbastro, 59 years old) continues to be mired in existential optimism. He returns with ‘Los besos’ (Planet), a song of love and passion in maturity whose effects will be invigorating and liberating for the protagonist, a knight errant of love, and also for its creator. Vilas celebrates carnal and romantic love with a novel that is not autobiographical, unlike ‘Ordesa’ and ‘Alegría’.
– Are you still in the vital and optimistic tone of ‘Alegría’?
– I continue in a literary adventure that pursues the salvation of the best human feelings. In looking for what makes us the best and the truest passions. Instead of charging against life, I have chosen to exalt it.
– Does it have to do with age?
-Of course. At 59 years old, I see that life is short and I want more to say that it is wonderful than to sink it and denigrate it, as they have done with the coronavirus.
-‘The kisses’, is it a dissection of the beginning of love?
-Yes. It looks at the high at the beginning of falling in love, that moment that makes you feel like a hard drug, that makes the loved one unique, cancels out the surrounding world and illuminates life. The bitch is that the high doesn’t last long. The protagonist, Salvador, a professor in early retirement, becomes obsessed with making this high last longer.
-The passion ends and …?
-The melancholy appears. When desire and sex are no longer so intense, they turn into friendship, complicity, trust or tenderness; other things that are very important. Salvador is a kind of accountant who measures the balance between tenderness and passion. Like so many humans, he would want passion and sex to last forever.
-Live a loving explosion in maturity, when everything declines.
-Loves at 65 or 75 are called ridiculous and pathetic, and they are not. The primary message of the novel combats the idea that passionate love only occurs at age 20. It is unfair. More, in a society in which we grow old, and with an ailing body, we continue to love life.
-Does Manuel Vilas live his maturity with more passion than youth?
-Now I know it’s possible. The novel wants to show that it is possible to desire and live in maturity. That no one should give up falling in love with whoever and whatever age they are.
-The pandemic, has it been an opportunity for love?
-It is a love story in confinement, but it could happen in a war, an economic or political crisis … It tells us that in a catastrophe the only way to truly stay alive is to feel love in any circumstance. I saw it as a refuge from the arrival of the virus. It is a simple, elementary and even topical message, but it is necessary to remember.
– Your climax is that love makes us free?
-That in love we also find a territory of freedom in the face of any type of alienation. It is another central idea of the novel. The virus, in addition to attacking our health, poisoned political and social life, changed the aspect of democracy and the State acted consistently. I looked for a space of freedom, a gap where that could not reach. What do we have left in front of that? What territory of freedom is possible? I wondered. The only possible was romantic love, where intimacy, desire, passion appear and where socio-political life does not enter. It was a kingdom of freedom: two beings loving each other passionately, telling each other their lives. It was a kind of personal salvation against sadness, anguish, grayness and political aggressiveness that we lived through.
-Do you speak more of more carnal or romantic love?
-From both. I invite the reader to be human. To seek the best of life together. If in other novels I explored the family as a utopia of human relationships, here I explore love as another utopia, so that the reader is excited to live something truly human. Romantic love is important, but if carnality and sexuality are not accompanied by idealism, an elevation, we feel incomplete. Another obsession of the narrator is to elevate the love of genitality to a spiritual region. And he resorts to Cervantes and Don Quixote’s idealization of Dulcinea. He does the same and calls his beloved Montserrat, fifteen years younger, Altisidora to elevate her carnality by giving her an air of spirituality. The narrator knows that life is very hard and that it crushes and destroys illusions, but it becomes very quixotic. Persevere, like Don Quixote, to maintain an ideal world in the face of aggressive reality.
-A deliberate homage to Cervantes?
-It’s not literary. It is vital. It is not an intellectual passion for Don Quixote. It is a claim to that wonderful invention of life according to Cervantes. It is very Spanish to vindicate Don Quixote and forget about Cervantes, whose vision of life I vindicate and want for myself.
-Is there more fiction in ‘Los besos’ than in ‘Ordesa’ and ‘Alegría’?
-The head of a writer does not discriminate between fiction and autofiction. It does not matter whether or not you have lived the events that it narrates. With ‘Alegría’ and ‘Ordesa’ they did happen to me, but they are also an invention. They are the same: the exploration that literature makes with different strategies and the ultimate goal of unveiling the mystery that is life. In this novel I am Salvador and Montserrat, as Flaubert said to be Madame Bovary, and Don Quixote comes out of the entrails of Cervantes. For a writer everything is autobiographical.