Mirlo blanco, cisne negro

Rara Avis, Black Swan | Espasa, 2016

Alejandro Ballesteros, an aspiring novelist newly arrived in Madrid, meets Octavio Saldaña, a veteran and brilliant writer banished to oblivion following a meteoric rise in his youth.

Alejandro soon falls prey to the dazzling personality of Saldaña, who takes the young “black swan” under his wing, determined to transform him into the latest “rara avis” on the Spanish literary scene.

However, what started out as a relationship of mutual enchantment ends up becoming a toxic, destructive friendship. It is not long before Saldaña reveals himself to have a genius for psychological manipulation, and Ballesteros is soon a puppet in his master’s hands.

In his lust for power, Saldaña seeks to sow discord between Ballesteros and his girlfriend Paloma, and even allows the young man to flirt with his wife Nieves. Ballesteros begins to lose control over his life and work, but is he as innocent as he seems or is he in fact looking to take advantage of Saldaña’s wisdom and talent?

In Rara Avis, Black Swan, Juan Manuel de Prada offers his most heartfelt, personal work. An unsettling reflection on masters and their disciples, on the desire to possess and the yearning to succeed. A novel that begins as an unflinching satire on the literary world only to become a poignant drama on the literary vocation, “which devours its finest children”. Midway between farce and tragedy, Rara Avis, Black Swan is also (for those who can read between the lines) a no holds-barred confession by its author, who rewards us here with one of his most complex and powerful characters, his most dazzling dialogue and literature in spades on each and every page.