Refusing to mince words since 2001 | Guze Stagno

With over 700 copies sold in just over a week, Ġużé Stagno’s latest novel What Happens in Brussels stays is Brussels is sure to be the literary sensation of the year. But what makes this perennially satirical author tick?

Guzé Stagno:
Guzé Stagno: "It takes so little to be an enfant terrible in Malta."

The impact of Ġużé Stagno's acerbic quartet of novellas on the local publishing scene can't be overlooked - if only for the fact that they got a sizable chunk of the Maltese public to consider local literary produce as being more than just a historical curiosity to be pored over by linguists and Melitensia nuts.

And the numbers speak for themselves: at the time of going to print, sales figures for his most recent release - the 'Maltese in Brussels' satire What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels - amounted to over 700 copies sold. Not bad for a Maltese publication, and even more impressive for the fact that it's been barely out for a week.

Upon the release of Inbid ta' Kuljum in 2001 by now-defunct independent publishers Minima - the book would go on to be reissued by Merlin publishers in 2009 - the young author from Marsaxlokk (b. 1976) began to establish a reputation as a no-nonsense literary personality. Emphasis on 'personality': he admits to contriving a bit of a rough-hewn image, posing for press photos with a cigarette in his mouth, liberally sprinkling his interviews with 'rude' sound bites... The easy tag to apply to Stagno would be that of 'enfant terrible' (particularly in the placid literary terrain he landed in), but it's a reputation he'd be glad to shrug off.

"It takes so little to be an enfant terrible in a country like Malta. I mean, Mario Azzopardi was an enfant terrible too, wasn't he? And what did he do exactly, to deserve the title?"

READ - Noel Tanti's review of 'What Happens in Brussels Stays in Brussels'

Despite the fact that he is four novels in - Xemx Wisq Sabiħa (2003/13) and Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti (2008) followed Inbid and preceded Brussels - and currently embedded in the Brussels milieu he deftly parodies in his latest novel, Stagno is keen to scale back on attention-grabbing self-promotion. But he does retain an acid tongue when discussing his peers and Malta's cultural milieu.

Back to Mario Azzopardi: "...and what did he do exactly, to deserve the title of enfant terrible? Did he ever do a 'Jan Palach'? Did he protest much about what was going on in the 1980s? Then again, the engagé posturing of the Moviment Qawmien Letterarju has always been ridiculous. For example, the time Mintoff closed down the Faculty of Arts. Mintoff closed down their faculty and what did they do? Did they go on a hunger strike? Did they pelt Castille with Molotov cocktails? No. They just went home and did nothing about it... lest they lose their jobs. Solzhenitsyn, ħej."

MORE - Jimmy Grima speaks about illustrating Stagno's latest novel

He remains equally disillusioned with local academics, partly owing to the way his novels have been received over the years (he claims his work has been "dismissed as lightweight stuff" in favour of self-important "Great Maltese Novel" fare).

"I don't expect kakkademiċi to spill too much ink analysing What Happens in Brussels. They're probably too busy writing papers about Bonamico's Mejju gie bil-Ward u Zahar, I guess. F**king Professuri tal-Bigilla. There are academics I admire, believe it or not... but the rest, a f**king waste of space."

All signs seem to point towards Stagno's future novels remaining firmly within the autobiographical mode. (Given his previous output, it's no surprise that he began penning Brussels following his first trip to the Belgian capital.)

"I agree with John Lennon: good stuff that is self-referential can and does transcend that level and achieve a higher resonance. We're all human at the end of the day, and what I feel and think is what many, many other people feel and think.

"Someone once told me how they loved the scene in Xemx Wisq Sabiħa where one of the characters smells his fingers after a sexual encounter. It's the sort of thing everyone does in real life, but no one ever writes about. That, more than the humour and the rest, is what makes my books so popular, I think."

The book is published by Merlin Publishers.