Ernesto Garratt Viñes (Santiago, 1972) is a Chilean writer, journalist and film critic. He writes regularly for the newspapers La Tercera and the “Wikén” cultural supplement of El Mercurio, as well as the magazine Qué Pasa. In 2011 he was awarded at the Santiago International Film Festival for his film coverage in the local media. In 2016 and 2017 he won the National Magazine Prize for Best Interview, and in 2017 he was invited to participate in a book celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Cannes Festival. His novel Allegados (The Live-Ins) won the Marta Brunet Prize in 2018. Recently he published a follow-up novel called Casa Propia (A House of One’s Own).
A woman and her adolescent son live shut away in the room of an apartment in Villa Frei, Santiago. She suffers from panic attacks and her lungs are inflamed from cigarettes, but no doubt her greatest damage comes from her long years of work as a housemaid and the ill treatment she has received from her brother’s family and many others who previously welcomed her with enthusiasm. These are the “live-ins” at the heart of this painfully beautiful novel, which combines realism and gothic fantasy in a completely natural way. Here the Chilean landscape of the ’80s overlaps with another more feverishly demential world, in which a vampire is capable of anticipating the future. This story, a kind of novel within the novel, is the one the young narrator writes and draws during his sleepless nights, as a method of evasion from his harsh reality or a projection of his own condition as a “live-in”: someone who survives at the expense of others and at the same time struggles to become invisible, cast no reflection, make no sound, go totally unnoticed.
“I don’t hear anyone, just go in,” my mother whispers next to the door. She turns the handle carefully, without making a sound. It’s a technique refined over the years. Her slender wrist moves to the right and in an act of magic that silences the rasping mechanism of the lock, she nudges aside the shield that separates us from anguish. The horror is so discreet and invisible that it could be interpreted as the invention of a feverish mind. But my old lady and I have spent years picking up on it. Years learning to live with it. Afraid".
In the pages of A House of One’s Own, Ernesto Garratt brings the characters of The Live-Ins—his award-winning debut novel— back to display that exquisite combination of overflowing fantasy with relentless realism.
The plot begins with an old and dirty house of Rodrigo de Araya (a humble neighbourhood in Santiago de Chile), where the young protagonist and his mother arrive after successive changes of rooms, waiting to obtain the subsidy for a house. The waiting for this event constitutes a central element in this volume where the anxiety and the desire to find a refuge are intermingled with the the protagonist's first trip to the sea, his preparation for college entrance exam, the pregnancy of his girlfriend and the hallucinated writing of Mihai—the captivating story of the vampire who can anticipate the future. However, his daily life is interrupted by an unexpected and dramatic event, which is undoubtedly the most challenging test that destiny has ever given him.
“When you are a live-in, you lose courage, dignity, privacy, and even your own name. The only thing that one does not lose, I think, is the ability to have more and more. Fear grows proportionally to the lack of certainties in a better future. And there I was. With my terror growing healthy and strong.”