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The ages of Lulu, the journey at the end of the night by Almudena Grandes

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The novelist’s debut changed the history of eroticism in Spanish literature

Almudena Grandes, in 1993.LARRY MAGINO

An almost funny contradiction: according to data taken from a doctoral thesis by Estrella Díaz Fernández on the La Sonrisa Vertical collection, only one out of every six books published by the pink label was written by women. However, all his best sellers they were female: Wilhelmine Shroeder-Devrient, Mercedes Abad, Elizabeth McNeill, Pauline Réage … And, above all, Almudena Grandes. The Madrid writer, who died today in Madrid at the age of 61, debuted in 1989 with The ages of Lulu, an erotic novel that reached 25 editions (that’s not counting their later lives in Tusquets, already out of the collection) and that changed the culture of eroticism in Spain.

What was understood by “culture of eroticism in Spain” before The ages of Lulu? Two things: on the one hand, the great vein of uncovered cinema, vaudeville, comical and a bit uncouth. On the other, the elitist and Frenchified literature of all the admirers of Bataille and Sade who had come out of the Spanish universities of the 60s and 70s. In front of them, The ages of Lulu it was a historical leap: Through eroticism, Grandes spoke of the society and politics of Spain in the 80s, drew a novel of initiation to adulthood alien to all topics and, in his realistic zeal, renounced figurative language, more or less less painter: Lulu talked about pussies and cocks and not about clappers or cat flaps.

The word realistic has come out and it is fair to say yes, that The ages of Luluhas something deeply realistic about his story, but he’s not conformist like much of the literature of that time back to order. Therefore, 32 years after its publication, it is still disturbing.

A summary: at the beginning of the novel, Lulú is also called María Luisa, Pato and Marisa and she is a teenager whom assails as revealed truth the certainty that sexual pleasure, love, humiliation and pain are rooms that are communicated through secret doors, just like it happens in the mansions of horror movies. One night, Lulú was going with Pablo, the friend of one of her brothers, to a concert by a singer-songwriter in the old Real Madrid Pavilion, north of La Castellana. She was wearing her school uniform and a parka because the exit had come suddenly; I had acne and I was a little sad in life because nobody paid attention to him in his family of eight siblings. He was 15 years old and Pablo 26. In the tumult of the queue, the two accidental friends hugged each other, held hands, kissed and left tangled without entering the concert. Later, Lulu crossed the border of kissing and discovered, like an epiphany, the relationship between vertigo and pleasure, between sexual play and power play. In several scenes of the novel it happened that any very slight change in the density of the air it made the subject queen and, a second later, the queen subdued.

For the next 15 years, Lulu will investigate his discovery. First with Pablo, who became the husband / teacher / brother who guided and cared for her in her transgressions. And then alone, because Lulu wanted to push her journey to the end of the nightEven if that meant humbling and hurting herself often. What is said a journey of self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge was also social and political. Lulú and Pablo, as much from Madrid as Almudena Grandes, probably chamberilleros (she more of the apolitical middle class; he more of the university bourgeoisie), began the novel as progressive children and ended it as rather disbelieving and individualistic adults. Pablo, who was a poet and university professor, who lied with grace and played cruelty and tenderness with joy, who presented himself to the world as a thing but was not sure what he really was, could be a portrait of the decade from the 80s and, probably, an evocation of the author’s father. There is no reason to be severe with that talkative, friendly and, today, a little anachronistic man. But the real heroine was Lulu, the woman who, in search of something true, went down to the basements accompanied by Ely, Mercedes and company, her companions in transgression.

Lulu, 1989: transvestites, gay pornography on VHS tapes, bar fights, divorces, gentrification, political disenchantment, female emancipation and vital reevaluation… If they had passed from paper to life, Lulú and Pablo would be in their 60s and 70s today; it is funny to think that they would be gentlemen of a certain age of whom no one would suspect the kind of wisdom that they would be bearers of.

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