Theodore McDermott: The Obstacles is, in a lot of ways, a coming-of-age story, but it’s also an incredibly ambitious-and achieved-book. How old were you when you wrote it?
Eloy Urroz: I started The Obstacles after finishing Las leyes que el amor elige (1993), my first novel. So I wrote it between ‘93 and ‘95, more or less, while I was getting my BA at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). It was first published in 1996 in Mexico and then reissued in Spain in 2002. For the second edition, I polished it a lot. I guess I was 26 or 27 years old when I first wrote it.
And yes, in a lot of ways it is a coming-of-age story. It resembles, for example, Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, in that the search for love is a central theme, and-again like Flaubert’s novel, as well as Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man-one of the central rites of passage a protagonist undergoes concerns his love for a prostitute who becomes, through that love, the object of a desperate desire. The characters Federico Ross, Ricardo Urrutia, and Elias are all seeking love and not getting it.
TM: I ask because while the book is very close to youth thematically, it’s very mature formally and stylistically. Was this deliberate? An attempt to complicate youth and the concept of "coming-of-age," things that are often treated quite straightforwardly in literature?
EU: I don’t think it was deliberate in that sense. I’ve always loved Vargas Llosa’s The Green House. To me, it’s the best Latin American novel of the twentieth century. I’ve always been captivated by its complex structure. What I wanted in The Obstacles was to have different narrators mixing up their stories, complicating the novel’s narrative. I wanted there to be different voices, and, if possible, different styles for each voice. So each one has a different style, more or less. In total there are five narrators if you look carefully: four are young men (Ricardo, Elias, Solon, and Federico Ross), and then there’s the old priest, August Roldan.
Don Quixote’s intertwined stories and the many narrators who interrupt the main story influenced me greatly. Stylistically, Onetti was very important for me; formally, Cortázar’s Hopscotch and Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers pushed me toward that kind of innovation. But, above anything else, Don Quixote and The Green House stand out.
You can find the interview here