Jon Bilbao, Como una historia de terror 248pp. Salto de Página. 978 84 936354 1 1
“The young Spanish writer Jon Bilbao has so far published three well-received books. Como una historia de terror (Like a Horror Story), his third, is a short-story collection that encapsulates his interests and techniques. Like Dicken’s fat boy, he wants to make your flesh creep.
In each of the seven tales, civilization is shown to be a veneer which is easily removed. In “Rata” (Rat), an office party, and the successful running of the office itself, are ruined by the introduction of a rat: a single traumatic event which reveals deep faultlines running through supposedly solid friendships. This is the moral of many of the other stories: “Después de nosotros, el diluvio” (After Us, the Deluge) shows a seemingly well-adjusted group of people on a road-trip through California finding themselves capable of immense cruelty towards members of their party. “Prolegómenos” (Prolegomena) is a story which leads up to what the reader imagines to be a horrific act of consensual sexual violence: the camera pans away at the last moment (“estos no son más que los prolegómenos” – “this is only the warm-up”).
As the book’s title suggests, the collection deliberately engages with some of the tropes of the horror genre, but it uses them not simply as a way to shock the reader, but to offer a grim commentary on broader aspects of modern life. In “La Fortaleza” (The Fortress), a couple meet what might or might not be their doubles, and the insecurities this causes have a threatening effect on their marriage. In the title story, a haunted house is where a wife becomes plagues with damaging visions of her husband being devoured by squirrels. Bilbao describes such terrors with chilling calm.
Given the country’s importance to the history of the horror genre (many novels, from Matthew Lewis’s The Monk to Jan Potocki’s Manuscript Found at Saragossa, are set there), it is strange that Spain has a relatively minor tradition of domestic horror writing. Bilbao’s collection is a significant and subtle addition to Spanish horror, which, like all the best writing in this genre, uses the macabre to focus on matters beyond the immediate business of provoking shudders”.
published 9th october 2009, The Times Literary Supplement