Antonio García Ángel’s third book, Animales domésticos (Domestic Animals), released in May 2010, has received high praise from Latin American critics – a sign, García Ángel hopes, of healthy book sales to come, and perhaps even a translation offer.
During his year of mentorship under Mario Vargas Llosa in 2004/2005, García Ángel learned to write regularly, usually eight hours a day. One of the results of this acquired practice is Animales domésticos, his first exploration of the short story genre. He sent a copy to Vargas Llosa who was pleased with the collection.
Published by Norma Colombia, and currently in distribution in Latin America, the 190-page book is a series of short stories and a novella, or short novel. Here, García Ángel speaks about Animales domésticos in an interview recorded in July 2010.
How would you describe Animales domésticos?
This book has six stories and a novella. I tried to make a wide spectrum of voices, styles and characters.
What is the meaning of the book’s title?
Animales domésticos is the title of the novella. The main character is a middle-aged maid who works in a mansion caring for two dogs, a parrot, an iguana and a fish. She, in some way, is another one of them. She starts to distance herself from people and identify with the pets, specially the fish. A lonely fish that looks sad in a plain jar.
What prompted you to focus on the idea behind the book? Was there any specific inspiration?
I wanted to make a book of stories. But each text responds to a particular inspiration, a singular mood, or distinct idea.
What part of the research for the book was particularly interesting to you?
The interesting part of the research was about the Latin illegal immigrants who work as maids and nannies in wealthy houses.
How long did it take you to write? Were there any major obstacles along the way?
I took approximately three years. For me, the major difficulty in writing these stories was to craft a plot and start, or “break the ice”. In a novel you start once, but I had to start seven times.
How is this book different from your previous novels?
I think my style and writing has become more mature. Also, this book is sadder, more somber than the previous two.
Have the reviews of the book been positive?
Yes. One of the critics that reviewed the book said that Animales domésticos, the novella, is a masterpiece. And he is known for being very rude and hard to please.
Is the book challenging to the reader in any way?
I really don’t know. Maybe there are some passages that appear crude.
If a Book Club were to read your book, what do you hope they would find most interesting to discuss/debate?
The form and structure of the last text might be very interesting; also the variety of voices that this book has.
Who would enjoy this book?
Everyone, I hope. But there are a few things that people from my generation would enjoy.
Do you continue to write for magazines? What else has kept you busy?
I still have my monthly column and I am currently creating a graphic novel with a couple of friends. I have also just begun a new novel, but have nothing to say about that just yet.
What authors are you reading these days, and why?
I just finished Tom Hiney’s biography of Raymond Chandler because I always return to Chandler, one of my favourite writers. I am also reading Shakespeare’s tragedies.