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A debut worth waiting for

Late starter Jesús Carrasco's 'Out in the Open' is the literary debut of the year

The writer Jesús Carrasco.
The writer Jesús Carrasco.CLAUDIO ÁLVAREZ

At age 40, and with his first novel, Jesús Carrasco looks set to join the select band of internationally read Spanish authors. Out in the Open, titled Intemperie in its original Spanish, was the surprise hit at last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, where publishers Seix Barral sold the translation rights for 13 countries, among them Germany, Italy, France, Britain and the United States.

The book tells the story of a young boy on the run who is befriended by an elderly goatherd. Very much in the tradition of the hero's quest, the 220-page novel's characters are archetypes: the teacher, the villain, the gatekeeper, etc. It is not set in any particular place or time, but suggests the barren interior of Spain in the post-Civil War years.

The author, born in Extremadura but a long-time resident of Seville, is already being compared to literary giants of the stature of Miguel Delibes, who captured rural life in Franco-era Spain in novels such as Los santos inocentes (The holy innocents) or Las ratas (The rats), and even Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men ).

Carrasco says he is still coming to terms with his sudden success and acclaim.

Carrasco has been compared to the likes of Miguel Delibes and Cormac McCarthy

"I don't take the comparisons seriously. If I were 19 then perhaps I'd buy the line but at 40, you are just grateful and you understand that having no track record means the praise is a way of getting people to take a look at the book. But I think it's all been a bit over the top," he says sipping a beer in a bar on Madrid's Gran Vía. As he glances over to the two marketing women organizing his agenda, he adds: "The publishers have done a great job in selling the book, and I'm very happy with them."

Carrasco, who was born in Olivenza, near Badajoz on the border with Portugal, started writing eight years ago after having given up working for an advertising agency: "Well, to tell the truth, they gave up on me. Writing was a hobby, something I did in my spare time, the way that other people paint watercolors. I didn't see what I was doing as learning my craft, because that would mean waiting to eventually achieve something and I never bothered entering any competitions," he says.

"Everything changed when I wrote something that I thought was good enough to be read by somebody else: so I sent it to the publishers and they agreed to edit it. Before that I had taken the step of being professional about writing - about moving from short stories to accepting the challenge of writing a novel."

Telling a story about somebody in a city who owns a phone doesn´t interest me"

His style is traditional, and he has even described himself as being from an earlier age. "It's strange, it is something that is starting to pursue me. I didn't say that in a formal sense, but in thematic terms. I am interested in the human condition. And that is something that goes right back to the origins of storytelling, and it is something that still interests us. That is what I am interested in anyway; in things that are transcendent. That is my way of understanding life.

"Telling a story about somebody living in a city who owns a cellphone doesn't interest me. But what I write isn't about attacking any other kind of writing. Whether what I write is classical in form is something for other people to judge: readers, critics, or whoever."

He says much of the inspiration for Out in the Open came through lengthy discussions with a friend in Seville who runs a news kiosk. "We talk for hours: he writes, but because of his long working hours is lucky if he gets a page done a week. We are both fantasists, in a way, but after a while, beer after beer, your dreams can take on a life of their own. Sometimes we would talk about this, about what might happen," he says, referring to his newfound fame, and the demands of interviews as his novel goes into its first reprint.

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