FROM THE SHADOWS by Juan José Millás


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A nicotine- and porn-addicted Spanish misanthrope secretly lives in the closet of a family of strangers.

This novel by celebrated Spanish author Millás, his first to be published in North America, is spectacularly bizarre. The protagonist is Damián Lobo, age 43, and after a 25-year career as a maintenance man, he’s recently been fired from his job. He’s addicted to cigarettes and internet porn, specifically the Asian variety, as we learn that his formational sexual experiences were with his Chinese adoptive sister. Our boy masturbates a lot, as you might have guessed. To balance out his other habits, it’s also pretty apparent that he’s mentally ill, to the point where half his waking day is spent in hallucinated interviews with Sergio O’Kane, a Spanish journalist, which are broadcast around the world in Lobo’s imagination. After nicking a stupid tie clip from an antiques market in a fit of pique and nearly getting caught, he takes refuge in a smelly old wardrobe that winds up being delivered to a family’s home. Hidden most of the time, he secretly insinuates himself into the lives of Federico, who owns an electronic-toy store, his unhappy wife, Lucía, and their troubled daughter, María. As he begins to clean up their home, Damián (also naked most of the time and occasionally masturbating under the parents’ bed) reimagines his role as “Ghost Butler,” posting about his exploits on internet forums and achieving a bit of anonymous fame. There’s certainly a change here between Lucía's blossoming, María's trying to conquer her teenage troubles, and a troubling revelation about Federico, but readers will need to surmount a lot of hurdles to embrace our eccentric leading man despite Millás’ obviously imaginative style and literary weight.

A Kafkaesque story about transformation and our collective human desire to connect with one another.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-942658-66-5
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2019


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