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Beyond the Realm of Gutenberg: Bruno Lloret on Nancy

Bruno Lloret offers some notes on the making of his Nancy, including his discovery of the typographical markings that serve readers simultaneously as Rorschach test, time-keeper, and pacemaker.

On April 13th, Two Lines Press will publish Nancy, the English-language debut of the Chilean writer Bruno Lloret, in an awe-inspiring translation from Ellen Jones. The novel, which offers “a new, unexpected, dissident realism” (Alejandro Zambra) and is considered “beyond rewarding” in a starred Kirkus review, observes Nancy in the days before her death. Nancy tells us about her youth in Chile, her absent family members, and the creepy Gringo “filmmakers” and Mormon missionaries who play big parts in her life. But the first thing a reader notices upon opening the book is Lloret’s unconventional use of typography: bold Xs intervene with Nancy’s story. These mysterious crosses offer a kind of doomed chorus that shuffles alongside the novel’s narrator, closely tracking her every breath, even in the moments she is most alone. In his note below, Bruno Lloret describes writing Nancy and creating these mysterious markings that serve simultaneously as Rorschach test, pacemaker, and metronome. —Chad, Sales and Marketing Manager


During the winter of 2014, I attended a self-publishing workshop in Santiago. I was determined to write and publish a fictional delirium about a third war between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia set in a near future. The work I set out to complete was finished and rewritten several times, but the result never met my expectations. I decided not to abandon the workshop, however, and remembered a forgotten character from an earlier text I had written: a forty-year-old woman who wanders through an industrial port city, dying of cancer, almost totally alone. In the original work this character was just a ghost, a repulsive apparition for the narrator—since nobody wants to be close to death, and even less to someone who’s dying. I started to explore the possibilities of Nancy’s existence, which were determined almost entirely by remembrance and her loneliness in an uncertain present. The writing process was short and intense. I knew I wanted to explore some parts of Chile, especially northern landscapes like the Atacama Desert, as well as towns and cities, the coast and the mountains. 

I was also determined to construct a voice, a rhythm, outside my own physical boundaries. It was critical to me that readers could engage with the text in different ways. I wanted to get their attention and to avoid quick, superficial skimming of the text (though of course, readers have the final word on how they engage with the work). The text relies neither on constant, fluid sentences, nor on transparent, cinematic language, and at first I used a dash to separate sentences rather than the usual punctuation (full stop, comma, colon, and so on). Those standard symbols didn’t give Nancy the right rhythm, and I wanted a spoken, fluent, intermittent transcription of her voice. In Spanish, angle quotation marks (< >) are often used, and as I worked I started to see Xs emerge in between sentences framed as quotes (><).

“I was also determined to construct a voice, a rhythm, outside my own physical boundaries. It was critical to me that readers could engage with the text in different ways.”

It was visually interesting, since in separating sentences, these marks added a sort of visual enigma, an invitation to interpret what is happening on the page. Then the X started, almost on its own, to gather other functions than rhythm—silences, white noise, gaps, breathing—as if the world depicted in the novel emerged from the many meanings of this ubiquitous sign. Working with the book’s editor, Francisco Ovando, in front of a huge computer screen, we began to make visual elaborations. Cruceo, the use of Xs in the novel, became a common, shared activity, since it was clear to him and to me when it worked and when it didn’t. It seemed like this virtual document had more possibilities than Gutenberg’s realm could offer.

“It seemed like this virtual document had more possibilities than Gutenberg’s realm could offer.”

For all its evocative power, there are limits to the account fiction can give of reality, especially of certain places, communities, and subjects. Physical and symbolic violence, precarious lives, poverty, and the rise of Christian denominations, where no state nor any other sense of community exists, are problems to be faced, not to be idealized or framed like picturesque problems of the third world. Reading Nancy is no substitute for justice and dignity in the lives of Chileans.

Learn more about Nancy, available April 13th in translation from Ellen Jones, here.