International Bestsellers: Comebacks and Debuts

After a four year sabbatical from novel-writing, the prolific and provocative Juan José Millás returns this month to sweep the Spanish bestseller lists. A slim novel at just 135 pages, Laura and Julio takes place in the author’s unusual world of the Borgesian double, exploring the idea of the original versus the copy with the levity of his earlier work that has made critics call him the Buster Keaton of Spanish literature. Laura and Julio, a married couple in their mid-thirties, lead a life of order and routine until they become friends with their neighbor, Manuel, an independently wealthy son of a diplomat who lives a chaotic writer’s life. While Julio is at work as an interior decorator, Manuel and Laura get to know each other better at home, so much better in fact that Laura becomes pregnant. As this happens, Manuel is hit by a car and falls into a deep coma. Always fascinated by Manuel’s messy life, Julio enters his neighbor’s apartment and begins living as Manuel, copying his every mannerism, speech pattern, and aspect of dress to perfection. One critic calls it “a very economical novel with no lack and no surplus, no element that does not serve a determined function, and that is precise as a Swiss watch.” Judging from his past success and this exceptional new novel, Millás is moments away from becoming the next big Spanish “discovery.” Since publication in October, rights have been licensed to Italy (Einaudi), Brazil (Planeta), Portugal (Temas I debates), and Greece (Modern Times). Contact Elena Ramirez ([email protected]).

Across the Iberian Peninsula, a Catalan Trainspotting has pulled into Barcelona . Critics are buzzing over Ketchup (Columna), the second novel by reporter Xavier Gual, and one of the first attempts by a Catalan writer to capture not only the street slang of disaffected Barcelonan youth, but their violent frustration as well. Coming of age in the sterile outskirts of Barcelona makes Miguel (Miki) want to do anything but follow the predictable path of school, work, and death prescribed for him. Instead, he starts selling drugs with his friend Santiago (Sapo), another disaffected suburbanite, and along with a group of neo-Nazis, they terrorize the junkies, dealers, and transvestites of Barcelona. Raw dialogue alternates with snippets from all the people and places that influence Miki’s life decisions: his teacher, the nation’s president, a police officer, the directions for a video game, a partier from Ibiza. Gual named the novel after the American condiment because he says ketchup is “an unnatural, manufactured product that, on top of being a symbol of America that suggests a certain kind of life, is a sauce that distorts food and makes everything taste the same.” The unprecedented novel even warranted a new marketing ploy from Columna which sent out a CD book trailer to reviewers for the first time. For rights information, contact Ella Sher at Sandra Bruna Agency ([email protected]).

Further south in Italy, an unlikely novelist has taken up residence in the top 20. Silvio Muccino, the 24 year-old heartthrob who became a movie star when he co-wrote and starred in Come te nessuno mai with his brother Gabriele, made his fiction debut last month with Tell Me About Love (Rizzoli). He found another winning writing partner in Carla Vangelista, an Italian screenwriter. Sasha, the 20 year-old son of drug addicts, meets Nicole, a 40 year-old ex-psychologist housewife with marital problems, when their cars crash in the middle of the night and they discover a dog has been hurt in the accident. At the veterinarian hospital, they feel a mutual platonic attraction and exchange phone numbers, but don’t talk again for many months. Meanwhile, Sasha falls in love with a girl he met at the rehab community where he grew up. When Nicole calls Sasha to check on the dog, she also gives him advice on how to seduce the girl and Sasha finally wins her over. Much time passes before Nicole contacts Sasha again, but when she does, she finds out Sasha’s girlfriend has been a bad influence, leading him to play poker and run with a bad crowd. Both Sasha and Nicole realize they cannot live without the other. Written in chapters that alternate the perspectives of the lovers, the novel has sold over 180,000 copies. Contact Anna Falavana (An[email protected]).

Stories told by two narrators from opposite sides of the track seem to be all the rage in Europe these days. Muriel Barbery uses the device to look at social issues in France in the follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut The Craving. The Elegance of the Hedgehog takes place in a chichi Parisian apartment building whose residents span the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds. The building’s 54 year-old autodidact caretaker, Renée, clearly finds herself at the bottom of the economic hierarchy, but her intelligence and perceptiveness place her far above the wealthy residents and she must be careful not to offend them with her knowledge. The other narrator, Paloma, must also deal with an unexpectedly developed intellect. A brilliant twelve-year-old girl with an unappreciative family, she tells the readers her thoughts on such grown-up topics as art, literature, philosophy, and relationships in the vernacular of French kids her age. She is so disturbed by what she observes of the vacuous adult world that she makes the decision to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday with her mother’s barbituates after setting their apartment on fire. However, when a new Japanese tenant, Mr. Kakuro Ozu, moves into the fourth floor apartment, both Renée and Paloma find the status quo irrevocably changed. Rights have been licensed in German, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. For more detailed rights information, contact Anne-Solange Noble (anne-solange.noble @gallimard.fr).

Finally, a new writer has arrived on the crime fiction scene in Norway. Jorun Thørring, a gynecologist, is an unlikely bedfellow with Unni Lindell and Karin Fossum to whom critics are comparing her, but she manages to live up to the stratospheric standards of Scandinavian crime fiction with The Glass Dolls (Aschehoug). In the follow-up to her successful debut last year, Thørring introduces her readers to Aslak Eira, a police inspector of native Sámi heritage who lives in Tromsø, a place known for its brutal winters as well as its wild night life. Eira and his son, Niilas, face prejudice for their indigenous ancestry, but Eira’s sharp detective skills keep him at the top spot at the precinct. In The Glass Dolls, he is assigned a new case as the school year comes to an end at the world’s northernmost university. A murderer who offers young female students a ride in his car during the bitter cold has struck twice, torturing and killing them on their way home. As Eira investigates the crimes, he inadvertantly uncovers the underbelly of university life where women post nude post pictures of each other on the internet to defray tuition costs and tension over provocative fashion divides the campus. As one critic puts it: “Academic insanity, skimpily dressed female students, intense suspense and a Sámi investigator who must get on with his life: Thørring’s second book is even better than her critically acclaimed debut.” Rights sold to Germany (dtv) and Sweden (Natur och Kultur). Contact Eva Kuløy ([email protected]).