Eighteen days after the state of alarm was decreed that confined all Spaniards to their homes, Almudena Grandes opened a new notebook on April 1, 2020 and started what ended up being Everything is going to get better. The posthumous novel by the writer from Madrid arrives in bookstores on Tuesday, October 11, —when the first anniversary of her death, on November 27, approaches— with a concise last chapter and some final notes from her widower, the poet, writer and director of the Cervantes Institute. In those last five pages, Luis García Montero explains the process of the book, how Grandes worked on it, and his final contribution after his death to finish telling the story, according to the plan carefully detailed by the novelist in her notebooks, something he did with each of his books.
The pandemic is at the forefront of this new novel in which the writer turned with the same passion and enthusiasm as with her previous books, although this time she projected herself into the future and imagined a dangerously close science fiction plot. There is the applause, the successive confinements and restrictions, the tips, the regularization and control of trips and transfers, the obligation to cheer up and be happy —almost as a national obligation— the forced separation of families. But also a new body of State security agents made up of nightclub bouncers, a division of spy psychologists or a strong push for the increase in birth rates, limiting access to contraceptives for young women over 32 years of age. “To understand the present, Almudena decided to go to the past in the novels of the Episodes of an endless war, and with this book he thought of imagining a future allegorically and pointing out two possible dangers. On the one hand, that care was an attack on freedom. On the other, that an imperative economy be developed that would turn society into a large company, into a gigantic supermarket”, explained García Montero on Thursday morning in Madrid.
The world lived in 2020 a strange moment as if it were a dystopian reality, and that uncertainty and fear set the novelist’s imagination in motion. She “she liked to read mysteries and science fiction novels, especially The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a book that she has been recommending for decades”, explained Luis García Montero. “The 2008 crisis also made him interrupt the episodes And wrote The kisses on the bread. This time something similar happened, and he wrote about what was going on and imagined the manipulation of good ideas”.
During the hardest months of the pandemic, he went to the headquarters of the Cervantes Institute and Grandes stayed at his home. The promotion of Frankenstein’s mother, the fifth installment of his series of novels about the Civil War and the post-war period in Spain that had been presented in February 2020, was abruptly interrupted by covid. “The tour had to be cancelled, but we continue to hold meetings through the networks and interviews and reading clubs,” recalled this week its editor in Tusquets, Juan Cerezo, adding that the initial print run of that novel of 120,000 copies has multiplied this year up to 300,000 including the paperback edition.
Meticulous and applied planner, the author of the Episodes of an endless war had researched and well defined Mariano in the Bidasoa, the last book that would close that saga of six historical novels. “I had a lot of material and I told that novel in great detail, but I never started a new story. Episode without having finished the promotion of the previous one”, explained Cerezo. And in that, he crossed Everything is going to get better. “He told me ‘I’m going to see if I have a story’. And although it is set in the near future, this book is not so far from the series, it is its world, its characters, Madrid, with resistance, who are normal people, with enough courage to face what no one faces, heroes modest”, defended the editor.
Like his admired Galdós, Grandes grounded historical events in his characters, full of affections and everyday problems. “Almudena wanted to turn history into life”, underlined García Montero. Thus, from rural depopulation to hyperconnection to electronic devices, our old and new normality is appearing in Everything is going to get better. And the novelist fabled and imagined different scenarios. For example, an important arm of the resistance against the regime that dominates Spain settles in Morocco, where a war has given the Saharawi people the winning side. “She wrote before the last crisis with Morocco and there is the sympathy that she always had for this cause. She also thought about the attempts that were made before the Civil War to enter Spain from North Africa”, explained García Montero, adding that there is another tribute to those soldiers and police officers who were loyal to the Republic in 1936.
At the end of July 2020, he had already written 104 pages, as the poet states in his final notes, and in August he sent the first chapters to Cerezo. On October 15, he recorded in that same notebook, where he was preparing the novel and poured out his ideas and plans, the first chemotherapy session. In a routine check-up in September, they had detected cancer. big clung to Everything is going to get better with a growing sense of urgency. She always talked about his characters and his plots with his family and friends. “At home we sometimes joked and said that we were living, for example, in Madrid in 1940 ″, her husband recounted. This time everyone asked her to take care of herself and park her work for a bit, but she insisted that nothing made her happier than continuing to be passionate about writing this story.
About 70 characters appear in the novel in which a businessman, the Great Captain, decides to take control of the country after the successive pandemics that devastate Spain. Grandes is sowing his novel with winks and tributes to friends and family, lending their names to the protagonists of Everything is going to get better and resorting to familiar settings such as Becerril, the town in the mountains where he spent a lot of time in his childhood, or Los Peñascales, the urbanization in Torrelodones where a couple of good friends live. The speech and customs of the Central American women who work in the houses of the new ruling class that emerges with the triumph of the Great Captain’s plans was consulted with poet friends, and in the technical details about the hackerswhich create a system to disconnect the majority of citizens from the Internet, had the advice of his son Mauro, who knows the subject in depth through his profession.
There are also nods to a Sabina concert, to the town of Rota where he spent his summers, and even to former president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the only real character who appears in the plot, refusing to enter into the plan proposed by the Great Captain. “His first term of office was the government with which Almudena most identified”, pointed out García Montero. Illness and the care that a man in love gives to his wife also appear.
There was one last chapter left to finish the novel and Grandes’ weakness was palpable when he asked García Montero to finish it and they reviewed together the four ideas he had outlined for the end in his notebook. “Almudena reviewed everything she had written before starting a new chapter and I did the same. I read it three times and had that last chapter ready at the end of May”, he confessed. The title that she left written for the closing was The transition. “Almudena wanted the hero to understand that transitions are not made without blood, that there are sacrifices to achieve reconciliation.”
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