Damián Lobo is a fix-it man who’s unable to fix his own life. Middle-aged and just laid off from his dead end janitorial job, he wanders Madrid’s streets alone, imagining himself as an interview subject—and figure of ridicule—on a saucy talk show. But then an act of shoplifting accidentally lands Damián inside of an old wardrobe that is relocated into a middle class family’s apartment. Damián’s misadventures fuel Juan José Millás’s dark comic novel From the Shadows.
Just like the moray eel he often compares himself to, Damián lives hidden from sight. As his latest predicament unfolds, though, he opts to be an agent of change. Growing obsessed with the family who unknowingly shelters him, he ventures out from the wardrobe when no one is around, cleaning the house. In the process, he discovers a newfound purpose as the family’s guardian angel, even as he figuratively becomes a “ghost butler”—a perception he encourages by posing as a poltergeist in an online forum.
Millás finds both the hilarity and pathos in Damián’s situation, freely flowing between the quotidian and the existential. While Damián creates painstaking new routines to clean up his host family’s home and lives and preserve his secrecy, his internal musings run rampant, from the profane (is it wrong to want to sleep with one’s adopted sister?) to the sweetly innocent (should one look under the bed before going to sleep every night?). Throughout, the overriding question nags: Is Damián’s strange new life sustainable?
A compelling stew of comedy, philosophy, and even tragedy, From the Shadows maintains a light touch, even as sinister undertones bubble underneath. Damián’s risky existence leads to unexpected twists and a climax that lingers long after Millás’s absurd lark comes to an end.
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