Mateo García Elizondo: ‘I get a little bored by having to talk about my grandfather’

The writer – and grandson of Gabriel García Márquez – on Mexican folklore, his early love of horror and learning to live with the family’s literary legacy

Mateo García Elizondo, a 34-year-old writer from Mexico, may come from literary stock – his paternal grandfather is Colombian heavyweight Gabriel García Márquez and his maternal grandfather is Mexican literary giant Salvador Elizondo – but he is carving his own path at the forefront of a burgeoning scene in Spanish language literature. He has published a novel as well as written scripts for films and graphic novels. His writing is also included in Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists 2, which was published last month. He was born in Mexico City, where he still lives.

How do you see the overall health of literature in Spanish?
I wouldn’t try to compare it with anything before, but Spanish-language literature is doing so well, with so many people doing interesting things, especially here in Mexico but also in South America, Spain, and even in Africa, as we are learning from the Granta selection. I love the literary horror of Mariana Enríquez, I am also a big fan of Fernanda Melchor and the way she uses “dirty” Mexican language and depicts the darker side of Mexico. I’m a big reader of Juan Pablo Villalobos as well and love his use of humour.

Gabriel García Márquez is literary royalty across the world. Do you feel that burden?
I get a little bit bored by having to talk about Gabo. It’s always difficult to talk about my work without it just becoming about him. He’s a strong magnet for attention and I understand that because I do admire him. He was an amazing writer and grandpa, but I think that the present and the future of Spanish-language literature is bright enough without needing to always bring it back to him.

Your first novel, Una cita con la Lady, tells the story of an addict who is reflecting on his life in Mexico. How much of your work is informed by drugs and the drug war in Latin America?
I would actually say very little. I’ve written about narcos and other stuff that might be tangentially related to the social unrest in Mexico, but it’s not so much about that in the novel. It’s more about an inner journey. I’m more interested in the user than the seller. Often, fiction nowadays focuses on the seller because it’s a very western thing - you can write thriller novels about it - but it’s not what I was interested in.

How does your home country affect your work?
When I was a teenager, I moved to Europe for 10 years. Coming back to Mexico, I was able to see it with fresh eyes. I rediscovered the culture, but even more than that the richness of the language. The Spanish that we speak in Mexico is very interesting, very playful. It has a lot of room for humour and irony, but also sentimentality. Mexico is an unsettled place and in Latin America in general we are in a process of becoming. There are so many cultures and it would be a shame not to drink from them [all].

What books are on your bedside table?
I am a very haphazard reader and aside from reading novels with similar subjects at times (family stories lately), there is really very little logic to how I read. I recently read The Vegetarian by Han Kang, which I think is an awesome horror story. Since then, I’ve been reading Ricardo Piglia (Plata Quemada, a crime story) and a book by a young Mexican author (Furia by Clyo Mendoza) as well as starting to reread Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. So as you can see, very little rhyme or reason. I just read what falls into my hands, books that I like and I think will help me write my own: literary horror, crime, sci-fi, psychological novels, etc.

As well as a novel you have written scripts for films and graphic novels. How does your process change for each format?
I’ve jumped around formats and media and I’ve tried to learn the rules for each one, but in the end it’s all about storytelling. Getting the story out is the hard part. Of course, writing a novel is in many ways the easiest, because you don’t need to rely on so many other people for the process to go ahead.

What kind of reader were you as a child?
As a kid, I was a big reader of horror, from the Goosebumps series to Poe. The first “serious” literature that I remember reading was a collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and they struck me so hard that I’ve never really got over them. Kioga novels were also big for me as a kid and Stephen King. Mystery novels and science fiction novels too. I liked anything that was fun, before getting into the beatniks and weirder stuff.

What are you working on at the moment?
I got a scholarship from the Mexican arts council to write a novel, which I’m working on now. Without saying too much about it, it’s a family drama, which is why I’m reading so many family stories. It centres on a family gathering at the funeral of the patriarch of the family who’s this really eccentric guy. It’s about what everyone has to go through. I want it to be a horror story about family, but there will be some humour in there. Death, family and humour are obviously universal themes, but you see them very strongly in Mexico. I think Mexican and Latin-American culture in general have a very folkloric approach to the theme of death. I think Mexican folklore, its relationship to death and witchcraft, is fascinating and somewhat unexplored in contemporary Mexican literature.

Which is your favourite of your grandfather’s works and why?
My answer will be very uninteresting, but I actually loved One Hundred Years of Solitude. When I read the last few pages of that book I understood what all the fuss was about and what a masterful storyteller he is/was.

Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists 2 is published by Granta (£14.99). To support the Guardian order your copy at Delivery charges may apply


Joe Parkin Daniels

The GuardianTramp

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