By Carmen Anderson
“I realised I was not like the others” – Gooseman
Publishing under the name of M. G. Sanchez, Gibraltarian author Mark Sanchez spoke to The Gibraltar Magazine about his latest work of fiction. “Gooseman is about a young Gibraltarian loner (Johann Guzman) who goes to the UK in the 1990s and finds himself ostracised by, and alienated from, those around him,” Mark explains, “I wanted a title that sort of encapsulated the way he is misunderstood by his British co-workers and acquaintances – so I ended up going with ‘Gooseman’, which is the way that the people in the UK mispronounce his surname.” An experience which might resonate among many Gibraltarians who have spent time in the UK is that of the mispronunciation of their names, an almost subliminal dilution of their identity, a subconscious push towards the margins of native British society.
The novel takes a look at numerous issues from the margins in which its protagonist exists, touching on complex themes recognisable in everyday life. Mark elaborates: “Gooseman is about many things – it is about growing up in the Gibraltar of the 80s and 90s, it is about drug addiction and alcoholism, it is about the legacies of colonialism, it is about life in contemporary Britain, it is about racism and xenophobia, it is about mental illness, it is about the Brexit mindset, it is about sex and sexism, it is about the discrepancy that exists between the mother country that you learn about at school and the mother country that you actually encounter when you go to live in the UK.” These themes form part of the protagonist’s world, and Mark uses Guzman’s reactions to his experiences to define Guzman’s character. At the same time, he also exposes some of the conflicts and consequences that make these issues so pertinent to modern life.
“Outsiders are baffled by Gibraltar.”
Johann Guzman stands shoulder to shoulder with some of Mark’s other characters as a loner, a social misfit, someone who struggles to live in the mainstream of society but exists at its edges, resonant of characters such as Jonathan Gallardo, in the eponymous novel, and John Seracino in Solitude House.
Mark explains his choice of character, saying: “Would you be interested in reading about a squeaky-clean, sedentary, wealthy Gibraltarian businessman who leads a privileged life, or would you rather read about someone who’s on the margins of society and who’s led an embattled life full of incident? I think that – usually, not always – people on the margins are more interesting than those at the heart of the establishment.”
This leads, inevitably, to a question about just how much of Mark and his own life experiences is written into his novels. “My novels are a big mashup of influences,” he says, “I mix all sort of things in them – what I’ve heard, what I’ve read, what I’ve been told about, what I’ve experienced myself, what others have experienced. I call it ‘the blender effect’ – chuck it all in and see what comes out.”
“What fascinates them is our hybridity.”
Mark’s writing has brought him success at home and abroad, earning him an award in 2020 as Cultural Ambassador for Gibraltar, a worthy recognition of how his non-fiction books, collections of short stories and his four novels have garnered international readership and interest from literary critics and academics in countries such as USA, New Zealand, Spain and Germany as well as UK. “Outsiders are baffled by Gibraltar,” Mark observes, “and we don’t exactly make things easy for them by pretending to be more British than Marmite or Big Ben. What fascinates them, above all, I think, is our hybridity, the fact that we are neither fish nor fowl, as the saying goes. Our code-switching, our bilingualism, our cosmopolitan roots: these are the things that foreign readers are interested in.”
Gooseman is as compelling a read as it is dark, as dryly humorous as it is shocking in places, making Mark’s latest novel the perfect winter read.