Negotiating these strange days | Marina Espasa

We speak to the Catalan writer Marina Espasa, who will be among the many international authors visiting the island as part of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, which will this year focus on the global economic recession.

Catalan novelist Marina Espasa:
Catalan novelist Marina Espasa: "We are facing a truly moral crisis".

Writing about the recession

'La dona que es va perdre' (The woman who got lost) has been my first novel and I have been writing it, or thinking about it, for many years, so when I first started it, the economic crisis was merely a vague threat on the horizon.

When I finished it, last winter, I realised that the whole book was imbued with economic recession, whether I had wanted it or not. It is interesting to think about it as a reflex of what has happened with the economic situation itself: it has almost completely eaten our structure as a system, quietly at first, then roughly.

We feel as if walking on thin ice, and the novel itself has a scent of an 'end-of-the-world' society, which is what we, especially young people, feel every day when we try to get a job, or talk to our friends and colleagues who have no jobs at all, and, moreover, have to think about new jobs to do in the future, as most of them (journalists, architects, and so on) seem to have reached a dead-end and have to change completely their professional approach to life.

Not just an economic crisis

The economic recession has, of course, an emotional side to it. We are facing, I believe, a truly moral crisis, more than an economic one. What have we been doing all those years (the 90s, the first 2000s), while the bankers and the brokers were getting more and more rich, and while some politicians were starting to have strange behaviours?

We, as a whole society, were not vigilant enough, we got relaxed, we wanted comfort, nice cars and nice houses (the people who could afford them, of course), and that, in a way, has exploded in our faces.

On the other hand, the recession brings along a sense of despair, of confusion, which is very interesting to work with, as a writer: characters who don't know where to go or what to do are the characters in my novel!

They are forced to investigate more inside themselves to find out who they are. And they are more likely to connect with other characters, as well, who are as lost as themselves: after all, love is always the last salvation board.


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Uses of sci-fi

The whole setting, a dystopia which takes place in my own city, Barcelona (which is not named but is easily recognisable) had the scent of an 'end-of-the-world' society that I wanted to write about. I think the science fiction books written during the 50s, which I love, have a similar approach, even though the historical reasons behind them were different, of course.

I chose this approach not to escape from reality but, on the contrary, to talk about it more fiercely and acutely, as if stepping back a little would help me to see things in a clearer light.

Besides, so many new and strange things are happening every day, so many new words and worlds that we didn't suspect that even existed are being taught to us every day on the news, and we have to accept them without saying a word, that I felt that a science-fiction book with Moles and Sex-Exchange-Machines as election campaign promises, would not be received as a strange book at all.

Strange is what is already happening.

Breaking out of geographical confines

I'm not sure I want to break out from my geographical confine when I write. I'll try to explain myself: I have the feeling that writing about the most local reality (my own city, the people of my generation), is the best way to reach out for readers from other cities and generations, because being specific is one of the big challenges of any writer.

Of course, the economic crisis we face today is so global, that writing about it will automatically connect me with any reader, who will probably have similar problems my characters have, and the cross-cultural dialogue will raise from it, and it will be a very interesting one.

That is why the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival seems so interesting: because it will put together writers from countries that share a cultural background (the Mediterranean is too important for us to forget about it), but very different political situations, and it will allow us to exchange experiences, even to give and receive advice.

The internet paradox

I come from a small culture, the Catalan one, where, unfortunately, not many books are sold, so the economic loss due to internet is not huge, at least for me. Having said that, it's not that I think that everything must disappear.

The whole equation between author-publisher-reader has to change: the old world, with librarians, distributors and so on is almost gone, and the new one is barely comprehensible, but it would be nice that it is more clean and direct between the author and the reader, with less intermediaries. This doesn't mean that the author doesn't have to be paid, or that the editor has to disappear: they are, both, too important to be left out.

Of course, our world is going very fast, and the internet is a powerful tool to inspire change, but let's not give it too much credit, as it is also a world with controllers (Facebook, Twitter, Google are not public, they are private companies), not so democratic as it seems: let's not dive into it as if it was going to save us from the Evil Real World, because, for the moment, and not until the Higgs Bosom folks tell us it's ready, we have only one world to live in, and it's starting to rot, so we'd better start doing something about it.

Espasa's visit was made possible thanks to the Institut Ramon Llull.

The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival will be taking place on August 30 and 31 and September 1 at the Msida Bastion Historic Garden, Floriana, and will commence at 20:00 each evening.

The festival will also feature video clips by Shadeena and music from Brikkuni and Renzo Spiteri.

For more information and a full programme, log on to:

The festival is organised by Inizjamed in collaboration with Literature Across Frontiers.