Miguel Lázaro, editor of Cabaret Voltaire: “Ernaux tells it all without flourish”

In a spacious apartment in old Madrid is the publishing house Cabaret Voltaire, focused on French literature, although not only. There are only three: the editors Miguel Lázaro and José Miguel Pomares (resident in Paris) and the person in charge of press and communication, Marta Sebastián, who receives with a smile and informs with passion. Lázaro (Madrid, 53 years old) answers questions in the room where they celebrated the recent Nobel of one of its authors: Annie Ernaux.

Ask. How do you receive a Nobel?

Response. It’s not something you expect, but with Annie we had an intuition that it could happen. In recent years, interest has been growing in Europe and America. She was sounding like a favorite, she had received a lot of awards…

P. In other words, they were attentive.

R. Yes. In fact, we had one of our authors, the Moroccan Meryem Alaoui, visiting Madrid, and we put on the Nobel press conference live, to see what would happen. And we all celebrate here, hitting jumps with our other author. It is a tremendous joy.

P. How does it affect your editorial?

R. We already had two works by Patrick Modiano when he won in 2014, but in that case Anagrama was the main editor. In this case, we are the publishers that have published the most Ernaux books in Spain.

P. But I suppose they will have to print more books, attend to more requests…

R. It was work that we were already doing with Ernaux, because since 2015 sales had been growing a lot. From five years to this part we were reissuing all the time. We were prepared.

P. To what do you attribute this growing interest?

R. We’ve talked a lot about it with her. I think it’s due to the type of literature he does, autofiction, recounting his life, with a very naked literary style… In France he had a lot of criticism, they told him that he limited himself to recounting his life, that it didn’t make it into literature. Also from the misogynistic side, both from the right and from the left, a bit divine French, for her lack of modesty, for telling her sexuality without any hesitation. The hatred that she feels towards her parents because of that class consciousness that she acquires, or that castrating education. She tells everything without flourish.

P. And now…

R. Now he has connected with very young readers. It’s your moment. What makes you think that, if she is over 80 years old and connects with people in her 20s, it is that she has been very modern for her time.

P. These are times in which youth is very concerned about their intimacy, their internal processes, their identity, their biography. But it has also been said that the literature of the self is in decline.

R. Well, she’s always been doing it. You can consider all her work as a single book. They are all related, like one life. There is another curious phenomenon: Galba published it in 1976, but immediately large publishers made it known, in Spain Seix Barral began, then Tusquets, but then they gradually abandoned it. Then the smaller and more independent publishers begin to take over. Something similar happened in Italy, as in England or the United States. Thus she came back to life, in the fabric of publishers and independent bookstores.

Mario Lázaro, editor of Cabaret Voltaire, the label in Spain of Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux. JOHN BARBOSA

P. What is Ernaux like in person?

R. We met her in 2019, when she was awarded the Formentor award, and from then on we have had more contact: she has been in Spain, we have seen her in France and we have even traveled together to the Guadalajara Fair (Mexico). A cordial and very fluid relationship. We wonder about things wasap, She is very attentive. A very committed woman: I think she prefers to talk about politics than literature!

P. Where does the Frenchification of your editorial come from?

R. The other editor lives in France, I travel a lot, I really like French literature… Another of our writers, Leila Slimani, won the Goncourt Prize. It is no coincidence, it is that we are very attentive to the news, to what is published there.

P. We speak of French literature almost as a genre… To what extent are national literatures homogeneous?

R. Currently there is no style that you can define as French. Now everything is quite mixed, it is heterogeneous. Before there were dominant styles in France: the symbolists at the end of the 19th century, surrealism, the new novel…

P. How do they run the business?

R. I have the advantage of being an economist and having practiced as such before setting up the publishing house.

P. Oops, it’s usually criticized that when people from culture set up publishing houses or theater companies they don’t have much idea of ​​the economic part.

R. I have seen some publishing colleagues who started with few resources, but went big, renting a place, buying everything. But it is that the books begin to generate when there is already a critical mass (unless you are lucky enough to have a best seller between your first releases). An independent publisher has to start with a very small structure.

P. You have to know numbers.

R. It happens to some that they start very strong and run out of economic lung to survive. The edition has a very romantic point, but it is still a business.

P. Is the romance of reading also lost by being an editor?

R. I have lost the freedom to read what I want. Well, I read what I want, but always thinking about the publisher. I hardly read anything I don’t plan to publish. In summer sometimes I read other things, I feel like I read secretly.

P. Skills of an editor.

R. A certain sensitivity, hunches, intuitions…

P. But in practice?

R. The translation matters a lot to me. That the book is well done: it is still a product that will be in the bookstore competing with others, it has to enter through the eyes. Although the fundamental thing is that the book, the author, be interested. When you have contact with readers at the Book Fair, you see that there are people who look at the book as an object, but many others directly by the author.

P. In Spain little is read, but much is published.

R. It is read more and more, but it is also published more than in other European countries, like France, with more readers. Technology has provided many facilities and lowered costs. This bum is not good for anyone. The bibliodiversity it is favorable, but it can lead to the failure of many projects, sales and distribution are not guaranteed. The market selects, okay, but it’s a shame that so much effort is wasted. For booksellers, rotation is crazy, and books hardly have a presence, they don’t last.

P. It is a very crazy gear.

R. Yes, because then the promotional authors have to come in a hurry… Anyway, in France the books are exposed for a year.

Books begin to generate when there is already a critical mass. An independent publisher has to start with a very small structure.

P. Since the boom of independent publishers, more than 10 years ago, the publisher has gained prominence. We live in the time of the selectors: the editors, the art curators or the DJs.

R. For my taste, too much. When the authors come, they are the ones who show their faces, it is very rare that I present. I like to stay in the shade. There are publishers that are almost better known than the label I prefer the publisher to be known for other things: the authors, the design…

P. Reading seems more and more intimate.

R. You no longer see people reading in public, people on the subway carry their mobiles, reading is reserved for quieter moments. Attention is required that is often incompatible with the world of social networks. Many times we prefer to be looking at the networks, passing things quickly, without concentrating on anything. But I don’t think it will be read less.

P. That mobile addiction, how horrible.

R. I believe that the attachment to mobile phones is going to be a trend. The next generations will not be so hooked, the boom of social networks will pass, everything will be normalized.

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Miguel Lázaro, editor of Cabaret Voltaire: “Ernaux tells it all without flourish”