If the Ministry of Culture is thinking of launching a new campaign to encourage reading, perhaps you should phone Juan José Millás. "To all those people who tell me about the dissociations they have suffered with LSD, with acid, I say: 'Come on, you don't know all the dissociations I have suffered while reading and still suffer.' Reading is brutally disturbing because it disassociates you. You are outside, with the book in your hands, but at the same time you are inside it living a crazy experience: that you are invisible to the characters. You are next door, you see them undress, get into bed, get married, get divorced, commit suicide. You say: 'Don't get divorced, don't shoot yourself', but it's the same. The fantasy of being invisible is lived by a reader every day ”, he says fascinated.
Millás (Valencia, 1946) has just published Just Smoke (Alfaguara), a novel in the form of a story about the enormous power of fiction in our lives. In it, Carlos, who has just turned 18, discovers that the father who abandoned him as a child has just died. A shady man in whose house he finds a strange manuscript about the neighbor and many books. The one who was at his bedside table, very battered, ends up leading him down a path where reality and fiction lose the border: the tales of the Grimm brothers, from Cinderella to Hansel and Gretel. Tales whose harshness has little to do with Disney fantasies.
And it is a problem. Because Millás believes that if we need fiction in our lives, despite that of people who already exist in the world, “it is because in it we recognize ourselves and experience ourselves. Fiction is good for what it was good for when the first stories began to be told. They met at night around the fire not to have a good time, but to explain what life was like, the stories were maps of life. Life is in Sleeping Beauty, in Cinderella”.
And, he adds, “literature is very important in the construction of identity in adolescence. At the same time that the adolescent learns to read, he learns to read himself, because he identifies and recognizes his emotions in those of the characters and differentiates which ones are suitable for him and which ones are not. He sees the difference between being good or bad and understands that the bad, the evil, lives in him, but that is not necessarily bad, it is not knowing what is there and not knowing how to control it. By reading you have learned that everything can be imagined, but not everything can be done”.
“But right now – he points out – an image of the child is circulating as something angelic, whom we should not touch with impurities, terror, and we cover everything. A young woman has come to tell me how well I have adapted the Grimm tales for my interests in the novel, like that of the pigeons gouging out the eyes of Cinderella's stepsisters. "It's just that in the Grimm it's like that," I told him. 'The version that I know is not like that,' she told me. Children cannot see the reality of life in society, it is denied to them, as if there were no evil thoughts in them. Since they exist, they come out somewhere, and suddenly you see in real life that 11-year-old boys have raped a 12-year-old. If perhaps they had been able to read these evil things in a story, they would have been able to recognize and subdue them. We have spent a lot with the Disney world, no cruelty, no blood, no parents who abandon their children in a forest.
In this sense, the writer admits that, for him, "the imaginary life has been more important than the real one", but he also believes that "reality is nothing more than a consensual delusion. We pretend that everything is normal, that the metro is normal, that money is normal, that it has no other support than faith”. “If we lost faith in the dollar, it would collapse in a week, because it is crazy. This occurs with all imagined realities, which work while the consensus works. If this one breaks, reality collapses ”, he concludes.