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A meditation on beauty, joy and gratitude. Manuel Vilas picks up where he left off with 'Ordesa'

At Joy, the follow-up to Manuel Vilas bestseller Ordesa, the protagonist is searching for himself and for little sparks of joy. In his rather barren and difficult existence, this is not yet easy.

It must have been a double feeling. With his personal novel Ordesa (published in 2018, a story about the death of his parents and the existential emptiness that resulted, author Manuel Vilas achieved his biggest literary success of his career up to that point. The book became a bestseller in Spain, won several prizes and, through its many translations, also gained high acclaim abroad.


Joy is a sequel to Ordesa and contains the same ingredients: a divorced writer in his late 50s who has lost both parents and hardly sees his sons, and who has overcome his alcohol addiction but still relies on pills to manage his agonising fears and thoughts and low self-esteem.

With this difference: due to the success of the novel about his parents, the writer now travels all over the world for lectures, interviews and performances. On all work trips, he says yes because he is in a permanent state of restlessness. 'That's why I travel, to forget that I have a name, to avoid tormenting myself.'

Although the writer is married again, he still has no real 'home'; they shuttle back and forth between both her homes in Spain and the United States. He is no longer a son, but not really a father either. He wanders through the world as he wanders through his memories. He cannot escape the constant stream of memories of his parents in particular, nor can the reader.


Joy is a poetic and philosophical, plotless book about love, grief and loss, about time and memory, which gives life meaning and depth. Vilas has a precise eye for detail. It is precisely in the details that life reveals itself, he believes. That is why he finds joy in a microwave oven and an empty freezer container, because the lasagne that was reheated in it pleased his son so well. And he sees 'vulnerability and tenderness' in a toiletry bag.

Written in a compelling rhythm and with formulations full of repetition, like an incantation, the short chapters together form, as it were, a meditation on beauty, joy and gratitude.

Although Vilas takes the reader to dark places where loneliness, fear and suicidal thoughts are not taboo, this allows a little light to constantly peek in. Beauty gives a sense of joy - in this, the author is absolutely right.

Manuel Vilas, Joy (384 p.), translated from the Spanish by Trijne Vermunt, Podium, € 29.99

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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