Anarchy in Mexico – a comic novel about screwed-up families and politics from the author of Down the Rabbit Hole
Villalobos’ first novel, Down the Rabbit Hole, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2011 and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2012
While his father preaches Hellenic virtues and practises the art of the insult, Orestes’ mother prepares hundreds of quesadillas for Orestes and the rest of their brood: Aristotle, Archilocus, Callimachus, Electra, Castor and Pollux. She insists they are middle class, but Orestes is not convinced. And after another fraudulent election and the disappearance of his younger brothers Castor and Pollux, he heads off on an adventure.
Orestes meets a procession of pilgrims, a stoner uncle called Pink Floyd and a beguiling politician who teaches him how to lie, and he learns some valuable lessons about families, truth and bovine artificial insemination.
With Quesadillas, Juan Pablo Villalobos serves up a wild banquet. Anything goes in this madcap Mexican satire about politics, big families, and what it means to be middle class.
- Villalobos’ first novel Down the Rabbit Hole was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2011 and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2012.
- Readers of Spanish may be interested to read more reviews and other thoughts posted on Villalobos’ website.
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Praise for Quesadillas
- ‘Piles absurdity upon improbability with gleeful abandon. Yet the book is as much a coruscating parody of Mexican culture as Villalobos’s debut, Down the Rabbit Hole, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Guardian first book award … Quesadillas, translated by Rosalind Harvey, does for magic realism what Down the Rabbit Hole did for “narco-literature” … The high-keyed domestic comedy is enjoyable for its own sake, but provides cover for a satirical assault on the mendacity of Mexican politics.’ Alfred Hickling, The Guardian
- ‘Off the beaten track, Juan Pablo Villalobos followed up his Guardian first book award-shortlisted Down the Rabbit Hole with a satire of Mexican politics and dysfunctional families, Quesadillas (And Other Stories): black comedy done with a light touch, it’s stylish, scabrous, and hugely enjoyable.’ Justine Jordan, Best Books of 2013, The Guardian
- ‘A raucous picaresque … structured like a memory, elliptical and episodic … The novel’s irreverent tone and brevity bring to mind the satires of Villalobos’s countryman, Jorge Ibargüengoitia; and in its extreme situations and fantastical occurrences we see a concerted attack on literary realism.’ Matt Lewis, TLS
- ‘Short, dark, comic, ribald and surreal … manic-impressive.’ Dwight Garner, New York Times
- ‘Villalobos mines Mexico for its everyday surrealism, even as he mocks how outsiders exoticize his country.’ Rachel Nolan, New York Times
- ‘Villalobos … fuses personal mythologies and political margins in his new novel, a riotous tall tale … Calling it magical realism would be lazy, given the undertone of socially conscious indignation that underlies often-fantastical imagery … With tidy, uncompromised prose, Villalobos has inaugurated a new kind of avant-garde novel, one whose grasp of certain dehumanizing political realities never erodes the power to dream something better.’ Publishers Weekly
- ‘Guaranteed to entertain, from its attention-grabbing opening line to its gloriously bizarre climax.’ Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times
- ‘This book will deliver a much-needed jolt to the Anglosphere cocooned in its realism-induced narcolepsy.’ Neel Mukherjee
- ‘Villalobos’s latest book, Quesadillas, is surreal, and not without laughs – the stoner uncle is called Pink Floyd.’ Sinead Gleeson, Irish Times
- ‘Quesadillas is gloriously absurd, celebrates the fantastical, and plays with notions of magic realism. It is his delight in language that marks out Villalobos as a writer of distinction. He is well served by Rosalind Harvey’s flawless translation.’ Lucy Popescu, Books of the Year, English PEN
- ‘Quesadillas is bursting with Villalobos’ comic invention.’ El País
- ‘The modern novel’s three commands are that it should be “Funny, Brutalist and short”, in our hero B.S. Johnson’s words. Villalobos’ Quesadillas fulfils this perfectly.’ Kiko Amat
- ‘Pure fantastical rapture, a kaleidoscopic story about anger and adolescence.’ Julie Morse, The Rumpus
- ‘An entertaining satire on political corruption in 1980’s Mexico … this picaresque coming-of-age story goes from the absurdist to the totally surreal, engaging the reader without sentimentality.’ Anne Horton-Smith, Whichbook
- ‘Villalobos has come to stay – and to say loud and clear that in Mexico almost anything is possible.’ El Periódico de Catalunya
- ‘Fascinating, thought-provoking and involving’ Empty the Bookshelf
- ‘Quesadillas marks Juan Pablo Villalobos out as a talent to watch … hopefully [he] grows into an important voice coming out of Central America.’ Matt Tod, A Novel Approach
- ‘[a] vibrant, comic novel’ Leigh Newman, Oprah.com
- ‘A rambunctious, energetic piece of writing. Madcap and effervescent, this story of a teenager’s desire to escape his dull, supposedly middle class family home is an education and entertainment. An education because it gives us insights into another country’s way of life … Entertainment, because you’ll laugh out loud from page one till you catch your breath at the end. Rosalind Harvey’s translation captures the exuberance of the original, and this short novel is accompanied by author’s notes, a glossary, and an introduction by Neel Mukherjee which sets the context for this magic realist / absurd / riotous satire of economic and political aspiration.’ Book Trust
Praise for Juan Pablo Villalobos
- ‘A pint-size novel about innocence, beastliness and a child learning the lingo in a drug wonderland. Funny, convincing, appalling, it’s a punch-packer for one so small.’ Ali Smith, Book of the Year in the Daily Telegraph
- ‘Down the Rabbit Hole is a miniature high-speed experiment with perspective … a deliberate, wild attack on the conventions of literature.’ Adam Thirlwell
- ‘That rarest of animals, a book that is, to all intents and purposes, perfect.’ Sarah Churchwell, Book of the Year in the New Statesman
- ‘Juan Pablo Villalobos, channeled Mexico’s drug wars via the voice of a narco-baron’s son in his touching and invigorating Down the Rabbit Hole.’ Boyd Tonkin, in his round-up of the year’s best fiction, The Independent
- ‘If you’re going to have an imprisoned child narrate a novel, then not so much as a word should be out of place. There are no such slips in Juan Pablo Villalobos’s debut novella. We have here a control over the material which is so tight it is almost claustrophobic. [...] This is a novel about failing to understand the bigger picture, and in its absence we can see it more clearly.’ Nicholas Lezard, Choice of the Week, The Guardian
- ‘The cumulative parodic effect is chillingly powerful.’ Edward King, Sunday Times
- ‘Juan Pablo Villalobos brilliantly encapsulates the chaos of a lawless existence in which, under the sway of drug lords, anything might happen and everything goes. [...] Down the Rabbit Hole is an astonishing debut from Villalobos’ Lucy Popescu, The Independent
- ‘Villalobos creates Tochtli’s half-corrupt, half-innocent world [...] with a brilliant, tragi-comic light touch.’ Jane Shilling, Daily Mail
- ‘Refreshingly original’ Ángel Gurría-Quintana, FT
- ‘For anyone interested in point of view in creative writing ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ is a masterclass.’ Kate Pullinger
- ‘Mexican author Villalobo’s first novel offers an original and darkly comic portrayal of Mexico’s drugs scene. Translator Rosalind Harvey seamlessly recreates Tochtli’s distinctive voice – with his flights of fancy and half-understood truths, this is clearly the voice of a child, but one who is losing his innocence ahead of his time.’ Book Trust
- ‘A beautifully realised short novel that narrates the daily life of a powerful drug lord ensconced in his palatial hideaway, seen through the clear eyes of his young son . . . A brief and majestic debut that converts the ‘drug novel’ into a fascinating narrative.’ Matías Néspolo, El Mundo
- ‘Despite the – apparent – naivety with which the story is told, despite the fact that the child speaks as if he were a child telling a story (and herein lies the irony and acid humour of Villalobos) this child is in actual fact the son of an extremely powerful drugs lord and we quickly recognise the nature of his environment… This is the precise point of view with which Villalobos has chosen to view this narco-reality within a Mexican context.’ Javier Goñi, El País
- ‘Don’t miss this refreshing little novel, even if it is only to enjoy the delicious literary comfort that allows us to endure the sordid, cruel reality of the world it describes.’ Enrique García Fuentes, Hoy de Extremadura
- ‘With this book we have discovered Juan Pablo Villalobos, a linguistic virtuoso able to penetrate the elusive world of literature, shedding light on many of its mysteries.’ José Antonio Aguado, Diari de Terrassa
- ‘Down the Rabbit Hole is an dazzling and unsettling literary exercise… Villalobos plays with a double-edged sword: the horror of our reactions as readers is contrasted with the almost trivial way the narrator describes his daily existence… Down the Rabbit Hole could well become a classic of the genre. A novel that breaks our hearts (which we knew were already broken, but which still hurt) and invites us both to laugh and inevitably to reflect on the political subtext, highly relevant in a contemporary context.’ Ricardo García Mainou, El Economista
- ‘With Down the Rabbit Hole, Juan Pablo Villalobos has made a dramatic entrance into the literary world. It is a book that must be read for its great aesthetic value and darkly humorous tone. A book that throws a clear light on a dark subject.’ Teresa García Díaz, Amerika
- ‘Amidst this boom of so-called “narco-literature”, Villalobos has managed to avoid lapsing into moralism through the voice of his child narrator, which is strange and cruel in its innocence’ Gabriela Wiener, El País