Furia, by Mexican writer Clyo Mendoza (born in Oaxaca in 1993), is a whirlwind of a novel that sucks the reader in from the opening lines. Its violence shocks and perturbs, before leaving you lying in the middle of the desert, disoriented, dehydrated, and not knowing what to do or how to explain what just happened. It is a difficult novel to define or summarise in a synopsis; the plot consists of a deranged spiral of abuse, violence, and savagery that seems to have no end. Like a sandstorm, the narrative jumps from character to character, switching between different timelines and registers. In the process, it reveals layer after layer of intergenerational damnation, shot through with a thread of curdled blood that meanders through the story before fatefully intersecting with the lives of the unfortunate characters. The desert is central in this work, not only as the setting where the narrative takes place, but as an interior and emotional space: an irreducible state of affairs that lies at the story’s core. Furia was originally published by Almadía in Mexico and then by Sigilo in Argentina, and won Amazon Mexico’s First Novel Award in 2022. Mendoza had previously been known as a poet, having authored the collections Anamnesis (2016) and Silencio (2018). With Furia, she has burst onto the narrative scene, where her prose has won her many admirers; the novel continues to leave a devastating impact on all who encounter it.
Pablo Concha: How did the idea for this novel come about and how long did it take you to write it?
Clyo Mendoza: I wanted to write something about schizophrenia and (German author and artist) Unica Zürn, about Zürn’s relationship with Hans Bellmer, about war and its long-term effects on humanity, and about how neurodivergence is the only way of accessing the divinatory, the premonitory, the artistic. But where there is beauty there is also horror: in that liminal space one can be a sorcerer, a visionary, or a savage, horrible being with an inexhaustible desire combined with a potent fecundity that is like nothing else. It’s about all of those things, and also about love, basically.
P.C.: Was there a particular work or author that guided you during the writing process?
C.M.: Unica Zürn, Alejandra Pizarnik, Pascal Quignard, Henri Michaux, Toni Morrison, Héctor Viel Temperley, Marosa di Giorgio, to name a few. You can’t write without having other books to guide you.
P.C.: The story in Furia is like one of those desert whirlwinds, spinning and destroying the lives of these unfortunate characters, and sometimes returning to attack again… Did you need to use some kind of plan or map before or during the writing process?
C.M.: I tried to work out formulas, and I made maps, but they were more like cartographic maps that related to the geography of the place; more like rough approximations, really. In the end, it seemed too pretentious to try to impose a preconceived order on things when my writing is all about playing with experience and the act of living, and about how life is all contingency and chance without any clear meaning. So, I gave up. I ended up surrendering to my own intuition, and to the web of events into which the book drew me over the course of my quests, expeditions, and pilgrimages.
P.C.: How was the transition from poetry to narrative?
C.M.: In poetry, the dream is to be able to live off your work. In that sense, I feel like a bit of a cheat: what I am writing is still poetry, but using conventions that allow it to go by a different name. I’m an infiltrator, and it’s win-win: I get to do poetry, but now I also get royalties. And I get to make people who say they don’t read poetry, read poetry. It’s my dream and also poetry’s dream: to stop being the genre that’s always perceived as aloof, always being romanticised, always so poorly paid. It’s not my job to identify the formal properties separating poetry and prose in my work. I’ll leave that for academics to decide.
P.C.: Animality is an important theme in Furia: the beast that lies dormant inside everyone, waiting for something to set it free. How did you become interested in this side of human nature?
C.M.: It’s because of the bond I have with my dogs, and the bond I have always had with dogs in general. All my life, they have been my guardians and my companions. They have taught me about common sense, instinct, and tenderness. Dogs accept their animality, but we humans can’t come to terms with ours. So much of what we try to repress, socially and societally, eventually blows up in our faces. I believe that becoming aware of our animality so that we can work on taming it is an essential step towards creating a less violent society.
P.C.: The desert is key in Furia, not only as a setting, but as an interior state of mind. It’s like something elemental and irreducible at the core of the story. Can you write about such a place without having been there? How much of that writing comes from first-hand experience?
C.M.: I do rely on experience as a crucial point of reference for my writing. I love the desert. I used to go there religiously; that’s what I mean when I speak of my pilgrimages. It is a harsh, terrible place, full of ghosts and death, but it is also, as you say, an interior, emotional state. For me, it serves as a necessary reminder that not everything is barren. Even in the desert, a seemingly inhospitable place, there are spirits everywhere. When you realise that, you never feel alone again.
P.C.: Furia has a final blow in store for the reader, a twist like something from one of Shyamalan’s early films. I don’t think any of your readers saw it coming. Without giving anything away, how much work did it take to come up with the idea and then to successfully pull it off?
C.M.: I had finished the book, but I wasn’t satisfied with it. I went to the desert with a musician, a boyfriend at the time, now a friend, whose obsession with the desert continues unabated. It felt almost religious to us, and the trip ended up being a major influence on the book: all of the strange things that happened to us, our conversations, the journey itself. On the way home, I saw the missing piece in a dream. It had been there all along, I just needed to create the right conditions for it to materialise before me. We celebrated the revelation together with a warm beer on the side of the motorway.
P.C.: What are your favourite novels where the reader is floored by a surprise ending?
C.M.: Mapocho by Nona Fernández, Anima by Wajdi Mouawad, Indignation by Philip Roth, various stories by João Guimarães Rosa and by Amparo Dávila; Fernanda Melchor’s Hurricane Season. To be honest, though, film has been a greater influence on me in that regard.
P.C.: The following line appears several times in the second half of the novel: “Blue roses do not exist in nature, but they still exist.” Is this something that could be applied to the book itself? Stories like this don’t exist, but Furia exists…
C.M.: That’s a line from Twin Peaks, season one. The “real” or “objective” world is being attacked by some strange agency, something that doesn’t exist in nature, but that exists just the same, and has now taken shape. It starts to impinge on the world from which it had previously been completely separate. In a way, the world now belongs to this agency. Two realities (or more) combine to make a new one.
P.C.: The narrator’s voice shifts register when we get to the final—and hardest-hitting—part of the novel. It is a more mature, measured tone. How did you work out the different registers traversed by the novel?
C.M.: I think it was the stages he was going through on a personal level that defined the rhythm. That, and the fact that I read my work aloud as I was writing it; I read it to others too—anyone who would listen. The question of orality was on my mind. I was thinking of Rulfo and of the Thousand and One Nights, an infinite story that someone listens to in order to better understand themselves.
P.C.: Who are the authors that you consider to have most influenced your storytelling?
C.M.: It is very difficult to say with any degree of precision. On top of the literary influences already mentioned, I also watch cinema (films like A Year with Thirteen Moons by Fassbinder, Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders, and A Woman Under the Influence by Cassavettes were very important to Furia). I read graphic novels and manga by authors like Junji Ito, Alan Moore, and Garth Ennis. I also listen to a lot of music by artists like Los Cardencheros de Sapioriz, Brian Eno, Hermanos Gutiérrez, Ennio Morricone, Kujipy, and so on. Above all, I listened to many different people who tell me things: my Afro-Mexican family from the coast with their accents and their raw viscerality, my witch friends, my godmother who was like my grandmother and who told me stories of deep passions in her native language, my grandfather with his saxophone, my grandmother with her stories of bloody murders. These are all influences.
P.C.: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
M.: I’m writing a novel and a book of essays. It took me almost two years to understand that there is no rush with these things. I’m in no hurry.