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From the Shadows

by Juan José Millás

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4513419,221 (4.17)7
"Part surreal comedy, part dark parable, Millás's wild work brings readers face to face with the mundane facets of middle-class suburban life. . . . A page-turner of the strangest order, Millás's debut stuns and entrances. It's impossible to put down." --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "[From the Shadows is] about alienation, loneliness, voyeurism, and the power of fantasy to transform claustrophobic, humdrum lives. Written by one of Spain's most original and important authors and set in contemporary Madrid . . . [it] pays tribute to a very Spanish tradition, embodied by, among others, surrealists like Luis Buñuel [whose] 1962 film, The Exterminating Angel, [is] another claustrophobic allegory that turns middle-class comfort into a desert island." --Public Books "The narrative of Juan José Millás, our literary Buster Keaton, is inimitable and unique." --La Vanguardia Laid off from his job, Damián Lobo obsessively imagines himself as a celebrity being interviewed on TV. After committing an act of petty theft at an antiques market, he finds himself trapped inside a wardrobe and delivered to the seemingly idyllic home of a husband, wife, and their internet-addicted teenage daughter. There, he sneaks from the shadows to serve as an invisible butler, becoming deeply and disastrously involved with his unknowing host family. Every thread of the plot is ingeniously tied together, creating a potent admixture of parable, love story, and thriller. Millás masterfully reveals the everyday as innately surreal as he renders the unbelievable tangible and the trivial fantastical, and full of dark humor. Juan José Millás is the recipient of Spain's most prestigious literary prizes: the Premio Nadal, Premio Planeta, and Premio Nacional de Narrativa. A regular contributor to El País, Millás has also won many awards for his journalism. He is the author of several short story collections and works of nonfiction as well as over a dozen novels, including From the Shadows, the first of his novels to be published in North America. He lives in Madrid.… (more)

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» See also 7 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is so hard to review. A man shoplifts, then hides in a wardrobe to avoid detection, the wardrobe is packed up (with the man still in it) and delivered to a suburban home. The man remains hidden. He hides in the house and does housekeeping chores while the family is away. He gets involved in the family dynamics. Will he be found out? It's so improbable and yet so fascinating! Weird, but I loved it!
Free review copy. ( )
  seeword | Oct 27, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Damian is an unemployed middle-aged man when he steals a tie clip and hides in a wardrobe to escape. When the wardrobe is purchased, he becomes the Ghost Butler, and by the end it is even creepier than this already sounds.
  EverettWiggins | Aug 26, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Entertainingly disturbing and thought-provoking. Recommended!

One obvious reason to read foreign literature is to learn about other places. In this particular novel from Spain, I discovered a VERY recognizable world largely focused on media and the Internet and the idea of fame. Yet precisely because the main character has the ongoing habit of interviewing himself in his head, I was more than once disoriented by his cold-blooded past-tense narration of events still unfolding suspensefully in the present.

To begin with I found our antihero, Damián Lobo, fairly off-putting, particularly in his fetishizing of his “Chinese sister.” But his imaginary interviews show that he wants more than anything to be known, to be understood. So it almost seems a victory of sorts that even as his actions become more and more extreme, he gets better at explaining himself and the world around him. Somehow he SOUNDS saner the more insane he clearly is. Sure, the guy is crazy—AND it’s a crazy world. ( )
  noveltea | Aug 22, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh Weird!
[From the Shadows] draws the reader immediately into the mind (which is the world) of Damián Lobo, a maintenance supervisor recently laid off and lost in the mundane life of modern Madrid. Lobo's internal monologue is, in fact, a dialogue between himself and his creation, Sergio O'Kane, host of his own television talk show. O'Kane's ratings rise when Lobo is trapped in a huge wardrobe and moved from the antique mall where he entered it into a suburban home. Lobo is intrigued by the life of the strangers, whose unseen guest he is, and makes himself a hidey-hole in a built-in wardrobe behind the one in which he arrived. He spends his time alone in the house cleaning, making repairs, and reading books about the paranormal, and his time when the occupants are there in his roomy coffin in the master bedroom listening to the husband and wife and reporting to O'Kane and his audience.
The tone is low key; the translation is admirable. The reader follows Lobo deeper and deeper into his dissociation from the world and obsession with this family, especially the wife. It's funny. It's appalling.
My thanks to Early Reviewers and Bellevue Literary Press for the opportunity to read it! ( )
2 vote LizzieD | Aug 11, 2019 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
FROM THE SHADOWS is a strange, hard-to-categorize novel. It's presented as real events in the real world, but often stretches credulity to the point that it has the feel of fantasy. It's written in third person, but the majority of what we learn about Damián Lobo comes via interviews he conducts with the TV personalities he converses with in his own head. Therefore what we know about him comes to us through his own first-person voice, challenged and prodded by ratings-eager interviewers who, we remain aware, are also himself.

As Damián insinuates himself into the lives of a family whose members never see him, his situation becomes less and less probable, but also more deeply, voyeuristically interesting. FROM THE SHADOWS courses along steadily. I found the story intriguing and the translation smooth; it is not a "difficult" novel in any typical sense — neither emotionally taxing nor stylistically convoluted.

Certain aspects disturbed me, though. Damián's adoptive sister comes up repeatedly — his first sexual experiences were with her, hinting at profound familial dysfunction, but the topic is never explored. She is never referred to by name, only as his "Chinese sister," over and over and over again, a strange act of othering which may be true to Damián's character but which never gets resolved or even acknowledged. At no point could I forget that everything happening in the book is wildly, ludicrously unlikely (although that didn't keep me from enjoying how it unfolded). The ending, which I won't spoil, leaves a vast question mark dangling over the whole novel.

Ultimately, this is a light-hearted book with some twisted ramifications that remain unexplored. Readers who want every detail accounted for and every implication followed up on will grind their teeth at how much author Juan José Millás leaves unsaid, but I enjoyed myself and find this a refreshing, worthwhile piece of odd fiction. ( )
1 vote Xiguli | Aug 11, 2019 |
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