En el programa “La Dispute”, también de Radio France Culture, el pasado día 18 de octubre, los críticos Daniel Martin et Natalie Crom, han comentado Comme les amours.
A woman presses her ear to a door. On the other side, her lover and a strange man are talking. She has reason to suspect they’ve committed a murder, and realizes that it’s foolish to eavesdrop. What if she hears something conclusive, proof that her lover has killed someone? She’ll become a witness, responsible for what she knows. She’ll have to hide her knowledge from her lover. If he guesses that she knows, she may become a target. Yet she continues to listen, as any of us would. “The temptation,” she says, “is irresistible, even if we realize that it will do us no good. Especially when the process of knowing has already begun.”
The woman is María Dolz, the narrator of Javier Marías’s sprawling and spectacular new novel, The Infatuations. Marías is wildly successful in Spain, often called Spain’s greatest living writer, and critically venerated throughout Europe, but he remains relatively unknown to U.S. readers. Published in Spain in 2011, The Infatuations is a hefty and patience-requiring book that also seems capable of flying off the shelves. Marías has long been described as a cerebral writer, meaning that his prose showcases his intelligence, but also meaning that it satisfies a desire for sophistication thought to belong particularly to brainy readers. The opposite of cerebral, in this context, might be accessible, as we tend to call writing that aims for simplicity, which is a form of inclusiveness. This book, it turns out, is accessible. It hooks into a kind of desire that is all but ubiquitous. All men by nature desire to know, says Aristotle. To enjoy this book, and to get into trouble because of this book, all you have to be is curious.
This is in no small part because The Infatuations is a murder mystery. Who can resist a good one? We learn on the first page that a man has been stabbed to death. María Dolz happens to know this man. For years, she’s seen him and his wife at the café where they habitually breakfast. She admires their elegance and camaraderie and calls them, privately, the Perfect Couple. When she finds out that the man, Miguel Desvern, has been murdered, she approaches the woman to offer her condolences. Soon she’s invited to the couple’s home, where she meets the lush-lipped, enigmatic Javier Díaz-Varela, who was Desvern’s best friend. She becomes his lover, and their entanglement gradually sheds new light on the murder. The final plot twist begins by seeming so ludicrous as to be insulting and ends by being chillingly, thrillingly persuasive.
The image with which The Infatuations opens—a newspaper photo of Desvern “stabbed several times, with his shirt half off, and about to become a dead man”—is a glinting, unmistakable hook. Satisfying our curiosity about Desvern’s death—finding out how it was that his murderer attacked, how many times he was stabbed and in which parts of his body, how long he took to die—is a thoroughly pleasurable sensation. Of course, that’s the thing about murder mysteries: Unlike murders, they’re pleasurable, and they’re pleasurable because they’re safe. They provoke and then satisfy our desire to come face to face with the worst that could happen. At the same time, they reassure us that the only possible place for such an encounter is in a work of fiction. Close the book, and the danger goes away.
As we’re racing to find out the gory details of the stabbing, we are, of course, in the company of María Dolz, our narrator. It’s she who’s doing the investigating, Googling “Desvern murder” and scanning online newspapers. Dolz is in her late 30s and works at a publishing house in Madrid. She’s an acerbic, even supercilious narrator, prone to severe judgments of others, particularly of their sartorial choices. Good taste is the thing in the world that most impresses her. Whenever she thinks of the photo of the dying Desvern, “with his wounds on display …lying sprawled in the middle of the street in a pool of blood,” she’s disgusted and launches into a rant against people who enjoy consuming images of violence. Dolz takes a scalpel to these “disturbed individuals” fascinated by the tragedies of others and peels back their worldliness to expose their fear. She imagines their self-comforting thoughts: “The person I can see before me isn’t me, it’s someone else. It’s not me because I can see his face and it’s not mine. I can read his name in the papers and it’s not mine either, it’s not the same, not my name.” It’s hard to miss that the fear being exposed is our own.
Being dissected doesn’t feel safe, especially when the blade exposes something we didn’t know about ourselves. Late in the novel, we find Dolz listening to a story of someone’s horrendous misfortune. Her lover, Díaz-Varela, is telling the story, and Dolz, good taste gone to hell, is fascinated by its gruesomeness. But she doesn’t believe the story. Neither do we. For one thing, the suffering of the stricken person is too monstrous to be believed. For another, Díaz-Varela simply isn’t to be trusted. Realizing that Dolz doesn’t believe the story, Díaz-Varela makes no effort to prove its factuality. Instead, he tells her condescendingly, “Don’t worry, that particular [awful tragedy] is, fortunately, very infrequent and very rare. Nothing like that will happen to you… [It] would be too much of a coincidence.” We understand that he’s speaking not to Dolz but to us. What’s astonishing is the effect his words have. Condescending as his tone is, and baseless as his prognostication is (he can’t know, after all, what will or won’t happen to us), we are helplessly relieved by his words. Thank goodness, says the gut, in the split second before consciousness steps in. Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about it happening to me. Instantly, the story of the tragedy seems more plausible. It turns out that our former disbelief didn’t have much to do with a concern for truth. It was merely selfish, self-protective. For a frightening instant, we glimpse the current of denial on which we float toward death.
If this book were only a murder mystery with a hidden agenda—namely, to expose the messy nature of our relationship to the suffering of others—its project would be interesting enough. In fact, the novel’s scope is more diffuse and surprising than that. One of Marías’s hallmarks is a provocative plot, but another is the way in which plot turns out to be only a hanger for the great, luxuriant garment of his digressions. In this book, the action, crucial as it is, accounts for perhaps 10 percent of the page count. Scenes are rare. Interactions between characters, as well as movements of characters through space, exist to provide triggers—occasions for one character or another to launch into a meditation on human experience, or a response to a work of literature (Macbeth, The Three Musketeers), or a moral thought experiment.
While they’re discoursing, all the characters sound the same. It’s hard not to assume that the voice they share—sharp, erudite, capable of thinking in page-long sentences—is that of Marías himself. The tension of the narrative flags when plot falls away, and as we turn the pages, part of us is waiting for Marías to circle back to the action. Another part, though, forgets the action and becomes interested in the digression itself. We begin to wonder about our own thoughts on the topic Marías is exhausting. We want to know. This wanting to know isn’t curiosity, exactly, but a slower-burning interest; we can feed it as fuel to our patience. The real genius of this book is that it will make you shut the book, lean back in your chair, and consider an abstract and formidable question.
For example: the nature of time. Early in the book, Dolz attempts to console Desvern’s grieving widow, Luisa Alday, by reminding her that his suffering was very brief and is now over. Alday refuses to be comforted. “Yes, that’s what most people believe,” she says. “That what has happened should hurt us less than what is happening, or that things are somehow more bearable when they’re over… But that’s like believing that it’s less serious for someone to be dead than dying, which doesn’t really make much sense, does it? The most painful and irremediable thing is that the person has died; and the fact that the death is over and done with doesn’t mean that the person didn’t experience it.”
The metaphysical land mine here is the reminder that the past, like the present, is real. Think about this, and it will explode your notions of the passage of time. Day to day, we take for granted that we move forward. We’re preoccupied by the future, since we’re moving toward it, and we feel, or are told we should feel, the past drop away and recede behind us. But the past is still real, the way someone who’s far away is still real. It’s feasible that our sense of moving forward through time is only an illusion, attributable to the decay of our memories. If we cease to be haunted by our dead, it’s not because they are not real but because we have forgotten them.
Later in the book, Díaz-Varela contests what seems self-evident about our relationship to past events: that we are capable of regretting them. “What seems like a tragic anomaly today will be perceived as an inevitable and even desirable normality, given that it will have happened,” he says. “The force of events is so overwhelming that we all end up more or less accepting our story.” Surely we can all point to something in our past and say: This I have not accepted;this I regret. And yet it’s also true that everything that happens to us becomes part of our sense of ourselves.
Díaz-Varela invents an example, a man whose father was cruelly murdered in the Spanish Civil War. This imaginary man “is a victim of Spanish violence, a tragic orphan; that fact shapes and defines and determines him.” Had he not lost his father to violence, “he would be a different person, and he has no idea who that person would be. He can neither see nor imagine himself, he doesn’t know how he would have turned out, and how he would have got on with that living father, if he would have hated or loved him or felt quite indifferent, and, above all, he cannot imagine himself without that background of grief and rancor that has always accompanied him.” In a sense, we can’t wish that the past hadn’t happened, because if it hadn’t, a stranger would be standing in our shoes.
Díaz-Varela even claims we are incapable, after enough time has gone by, of missing our dead. “We can miss [them] safe in the knowledge that our proclaimed desires will never be granted,” he says, “and that there is no possible return, that [they] can no longer intervene in our existence.” Alday might counter that if missing a dead person feels safe, we are not actually missing them, but failing to confront the reality of their having died. Though her perceptions and Díaz-Varela’s seem opposed, they aren’t really incompatible. Each of them is arguing that the present is an overwhelming, all-consuming state. It’s simply that each of them is experiencing a different present. Alday is freshly bereaved, and it’s the nature of terrible grief that it feels as if it will last forever. Díaz-Varela’s cold peak of logic can only be reached in the absence of urgent emotion.
The title of this book suggests that urgent emotion is at its center—that the novel has something to teach us about what it’s like to be madly in love. In fact, the titular infatuations (“fallings-in-love” would be closer to the Spanish nounenamoramientos, but would make for an awkward title) are difficult to care about. Dolz is in love with Díaz-Varela; Díaz-Varela is in love with Alday. They exhibit warped behavior, as people in love do, but it’s hard to take their risk of pain seriously. Maybe it’s because infatuation is a physical crisis, and Marías does not trouble to locate the reader in an ardent body. Maybe it’s because he rarely allows his characters to experience conflict in scene.
Attempting to diagnose the problem, of course, implies that there is a problem—that the chief role of characters in fiction is to make us take their pain seriously. Marías wouldn’t agree. At one point in this book, Díaz-Varela claims that what actually happens in a novel “is the least of it … What matters are the possibilities and ideas.” Ideas are what Marías loves, what he works to make us take seriously. In a sense, his characters are themselves only digressions—subordinate to the idea at hand, a way of elaborating upon it.
Essayist Phillip Lopate has spoken eloquently of the digression as a formal prose technique. “The chief role of the digression,” he says (speaking of essays, not of fiction), “is to amass all the dimensions of understanding that the [writer] can accumulate by bringing in as many contexts as a problem or insight can sustain without overburdening it.” Marías’s characters serve exactly the same role. Perhaps The Infatuations is a novel that’s on the verge of being a personal essay. If there’s something unsatisfactory about the book, that’s it.
But forget the characters’ love affairs. The point of reading this book is to have a love affair with it, with the rambling, hubristic, magisterial project of it. If we think of prose itself as the surface of a book and of the ideas conveyed as its interior, then this book, like most infatuating things, possesses great surface beauty. Marías’s prose is graceful, rhythmic, and exact. His longtime translator, Margaret Jull Costa, does smart, elegant justice to his sentences. A description by Dolz of Díaz-Varela in mid-peroration perfectly describes how you’ll feel about Marías if this book succeeds in infatuating you. “While he continued to expatiate,” she says, “I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.”
NINA SCHOLOESSER TARANO
The New Inquiry, September 26, 2013
Balzac’s Colonel Chabert serves as the back story for Javier Marías’ profoundly wrenching and philosophically complicated new novel, The Infatuations. In Balzac’s novella, published in 1832, a woman married to a military officer learns that he has been killed in battle. After ten years (because of numerous complications), during which time she has remarried, her first husband reappears, assuming that the passionate love he shared with his wife has remained intact. In Marías’ own novel, Javier Díaz-Varela refers to Balzac’s novel as he explains to Maria Dolz why he cannot marry her, “The worst thing that can happen to anyone, worse than death itself, and the worst thing one can make others do, is to return from the place from which no one returns, to come back to life at the wrong time, when you are no longer expected, when it’s too late and inappropriate, when the living have assumed you are over and done with and have continued or taken up their lives again, leaving no room for you at all.”
The much larger context is that Díaz-Varela is waiting to marry a recently widowed woman, whose husband he is certain will not return from the dead. Thus, María’s love for him cannot be reciprocated, as he patiently waits for Luisa to forget her recently deceased husband. María knew Luisa and her husband (Miguel) as the “perfect couple.” For several years she ate breakfast in the same café where they did every morning, observed their affections for one another without ever speaking a word to them. “The sight of them…calmed me,” she observes. They became her strength, as she began each day. Then one day, she learned from the news that Miguel has been brutally murdered on the street, killed by multiple knife wounds from a deranged, homeless man. When María puts the story together, she realizes that the last time she saw Miguel was the last time Luisa saw him, as they all departed from the café to go their separate ways on that fatal day.
María did not know the names of the couple from the café but learned them after the brutal murder. She continued to return to the place for breakfast, as Luisa eventually did after a brief hiatus, prompting María to approach the other woman and offer her condolences. María tells the widow that without knowing their names, she had though of them as “the perfect couple.” Luisa says that she and her husband had a name for María also: “the prudent young woman.” The conversation continues and Luisa invites María to visit her, which she does. It is there that she meets Javier Díaz-Varela, who is referred to as Miguel’s best friend. Somewhat later, María and Díaz-Varela meet accidentally and begin a rather casual sexual relationship. It’s no more than that because Díaz-Varela confesses that he has been in love with Luisa for years and is waiting for the woman to forget her husband. As he tells her, “Luisa’s present life has been destroyed, but not her future life. Think how much time she has left in which to move forward, she isn’t going to stay trapped in the moment, no one ever is, still less in the very worst moments, from which we always emerge, unless we’re sick in the head and feel justified by and even protected by our comfortable misery.”
There are lengthy discussions about mourning and recovering from the death of a loved one between Díaz-Varela and María, particularly painful because María is so attracted to him (and willing to have a relationship with him until sufficient time has passed for Luisa to forget Miguel, or so Díaz-Varela believes). The novel becomes more complicated when María fantasizes that perhaps Luisa will die one day soon and she’ll be able to marry Díaz-Varela. And then what has already been a dark narrative becomes much darker when María overhears Diaz-Varela speaking to another man about the way the two of them set up Miguel’s murder. Can she still be in love with him? She confesses to feelings of “utter incredulity and basic, unreflecting repugnance.” How can she love a murderer? When she doesn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, she is both relieved and frustrated by her conflicted love for him. She is bothered by the possibility that her desire for him cancels out what she knows that he has done.
Then—in an absolutely brilliant series of revelations—Díaz-Varela calls her and asks her to come to his apartment, making the situation even more fraught with tension for María because she understands that her murderer/lover has figured out that she overheard the conversation about the murder. Is she going to her own death? If Díaz-Varela has been involved in a man’s death (his best friend’s no less), how easy is it to be involved in a second murder? Will he murder her so he can eventually marry Luisa? Miguel obviously cannot return from the dead as did Balzac’s Colonel Clabert. Will Miguel’s widow want to marry Díaz-Varela? What are María’s obligations to Luisa to prevent the woman from marrying her deceased husband’s murderer? Do strong infatuations cancel our ethical beliefs? At what stage do despicable acts cancel all feelings of love?
The discussions of love in The Infatuations (dazzlingly translated by Margaret Jull Costa) are riveting at the same time that they are horrifying, bordering on the grotesque. Do extreme infatuations destroy one’s moral center? Javier Marías keeps a few tricks up his sleeve for the last third of the novel, surprising both the reader as well as one of his main characters—but which one you will have to discover by reading this emotionally devastating account of crimes of passion. Or maybe they are crimes of infatuation.
No surprise that the novel has been a huge international success.
CHARLES R. LARSON
Counter Pounch, September 27, 2013
Spanish writer Javier Marías’s newest novel, The Infatuations —wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa—is a heady, noir-tinged trip deep inside the consciousness of María Dolz, a book editor who finds herself dragged into the dangerous drama of a couple she is obsessively observes from afar. When the novel begins, María describes how she has come into the habit of watching Miguel and Luisa, “The Perfect Couple,” as she terms them, while she eats breakfast near them in a café. She quickly finds herself dependent on the couple’s presence for her happiness; she needs their stability and the perfection of their distance in order to bear the repetition of her own mundane life. One day, though, Miguel (whose surname alternates between Desvern and Deverne, starting in the very first clause of the novel: “The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time his wife, Luisa, saw him”) is violently and apparently randomly killed, stabbed in the back by a “gorrilla,” a homeless man who helps park cars for tips. Soon after, with the sole source of contentedness in her life stripped away, María decides to speak to Luisa. Thus, she enters into the lives of those who were previously held in the hermetic space of the observed, and slowly learns the secrets behind Miguel’s death.
Marías’s novels are usually narrated by men, if not thinly veiled representations of the author himself. So one of the first things veteran Marías readers may notice about The Infatuations is that its narrator is a woman. In a Marías novel, the narrator is not only a point of view from which “the world” of the text is seen; it is “the world.” While thingshappen to María, the vast majority of the novel “takes place” in her head. She is constantly conjecturing and theorizing about the world around her, taking in experience and transforming it into thought, digression, and invention. These thoughts often take the form of “we” statements, a syntactic mode that dominates many of Marías’ novels. As María tries to understand the world and her place in it, she inevitably extends her interpretations to the actions and motivations of others. It is when the author’s familiar “we” becomes “we women” that the text sometimes produces a certain discomfort—not so much a cringe (the prose remains so smooth, each sentence so well crafted) as a slightly raised eyebrow, as if one is expecting (or hoping for) a misstep. When Marías writes “when a woman is in love and in the early stages of an affair […] she is usually capable of taking an interest in anything the object of her love is interested in or speaks about,” one can’t help but feel a bit uneasy.
But the “we” for most of the novel remains an amorphous grouped subjectivity, shorthand adopted by Marías to note that he will be speaking on experience, abstractly. The narrator of The Infatuations—even though she is a singular person named “María Dolz,” who acts uniquely, and is physically distinguished from the environment around her—ends up appearing as an amalgamated, multiple consciousness. The Infatuations functions not so much as a meta-narrative work—as one that couches stories-within-stories—as a meta-conscious work: it is a novel in which the deepest recesses of the consciousness of individuals are imagined in detail by others. Gaps in conversation are often filled by María’s guesses about what her companion may say next, branching off into entire imagined conversations. Almost an entire chapter is devoted to a conversation that she imagines happening between her lover, Javier Díaz-Varela, and Miguel, at some unknown time before he is murdered. (María’s relationship with Díaz-Varela develops after she meets him at Luisa’s apartment, and she immediately fashions him as a potential usurper of Luisa’s love and suspects that he is behind Miguel’s death). But this chapter, despite its conditional tense, does not appear any less “real” than most of the novel: one must constantly remind himself that what he is reading is an invention. The Infatuations is a novel of minds-within-minds, in which a person’s consciousness is essentially located within others’.
Though this mode of being in the world—one in which conjecture is essential to the individual, and relationships are a kind of probability-informed betting—appears exaggerated in Marías’s fiction, it is perhaps only the awareness of living-as-guesswork that the author pushes past “realistic” levels. It is not that the ways that people act inThe Infatuations is somehow “unrealistic”; rather, it is their awareness of the subtleties, possibilities, and meaning of their action that seems otherworldly. When something like Miguel’s death happens, something that does not “even have a place in the calculation of probabilities by which we live in order to get up each morning without a sinister, leaden cloud urging us to close our eyes again,” one is forced to confront the reality that they do live by approximation, that one determines the course of their lives based on “decisions” that are essentially bets, that human agency does exist but only within a system of play.
It’s hard to pull quotes from The Infatuations. Each of its complex clauses, each of its somehow tight yet sprawling sentences, feed off of what has come before and what will come after, lending the text an incredible expectancy and momentum. One is held in suspense not by the movement of plot points but by the thoughts and theories of the agents involved. The Infatuations seems at times like a collection of aphorisms—produced by María and those around her—bound together into an inexplicably interconnected whole, each formerly atomized thought drawn into a relationship with the myriad thoughts around it, at once multiplying and nullifying its capacity for meaning in itself. Marías’s sentences can occasionally roll on for pages at a time, and discrete ideas are often stretched to a breaking point by unstoppably curious and observant characters.
But beneath all of the cognitive work and theorization, there lurks in The Infatuations a visceral sadness. After the death of her husband, Luisa remarks, “What sense does it make that each person should have to experience more or less the same griefs and make more or less the same discoveries, and so on for eternity?” No matter how powerful our minds are, no matter how keen our ability to intuit, interpret, and prognosticate, there is no end to that process, no stable point at which one must no longer wonder about the world around him. It is only when Marías’s characters—those thinking machines, who relentlessly pursue truth and understanding, searching for predictability above all else—bump up against the unthinkable that they are able to stop imagining, however momentarily.
ZYZZYVA, September 9, 2013
In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, the Spanish novelist Javier Marías objected to the rather well-worn idea of the novel as a vehicle for imparting knowledge. “For me,” he explained, “it is more a way of imparting recognition of things that you didn’t know you knew. You say ‘yes’. It feels true even though it might be uncomfortable.” The plots of his novels, insofar as they can be said to have any real plots at all, often hinge on the revelation of such truths. Someone hears something or learns something or is told something, and the knowledge they’ve acquired sets in motion what one character calls “the incessant beating of my thoughts.”
Rarely is this knowledge welcome. The opening words of Marías’s 1992 novel A Heart So White —“I did not want to know but I have since come to know”—betray a disposition shared by virtually all of his shadowy narrators. In the later Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, a cheating husband away on a business trip in London with this lover learns twenty hours after the fact that his wife has died suddenly and unexpectedly. The thought torments him, and toward the end of the novel he unburdens himself to the narrator (who, as it happens, was with his wife when she died). As he listens, the narrator reflects:
telling a story is tantamount to persuading someone or making oneself clear or making someone see one’s point of view and, that way, everything is capable of being understood, even the most vile of acts … we have to find a place for it in our consciousness and in our memory where the fact that it happened and that we know about it will not prevent us from going on living.
This largely internal process of trying to assimilate an incident or situation propels each of Marías’s novels. He is unique in his focus, not on the external facts of plot (his plots, when summarized, can often sound preposterous), but on the internal action those plots set in motion. As a character in his latest novel, The Infatuations, likes to remind us, it is not the plot of a novel that is important—what happens is so easily forgotten—but rather the “possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.” What happens in a Marías novel is less important than what doesn’t happen—or what happens only in the overburdened minds of his characters. Their looping thoughts and reflections, expressed in Marías’s long sentences with their deferrals and digressions, equivocations and inquiries, constitute the real drama of this preternaturally gifted writer’s urgent fiction.
The narrator of The Infatuations is María Dolz, a disenchanted editor at a publishing house who takes her breakfast at the same café every morning, a habit she shares with a married couple whose outward displays of love and affection have become, for María, a necessary antidote to the monotony of her daily grind. She observes this perfect couple from afar—“the nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company”—and though she doesn’t speak to them or approach them (on a single occasion they exchange nods of familiarity), the life-affirming delight of seeing them has become a necessary part of María’s otherwise tedious day.
As the novel opens, however, the unthinkable has happened: the husband, Miguel Deverne, has been brutally murdered, stabbed to death in broad daylight by a crazed man in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity (noir-like murders and acts of violence abound in Marías’s fiction). María, shocked by this senseless, violent act, follows the story until, inevitably, “the item vanished from the papers completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don’t want to know why something happened, only what happened.”
Months go by before María sees Deverne’s wife, Luisa, again and when she does she offers her condolences and is invited to drop by Luisa’s apartment. The revelation of the widow’s hopeless grieving and unshakeable conviction that she will never recover is a poignant example of what Marías has elsewhere called “narrative horror”: the disruption of the imagined, expected story of one’s life. In the third and final volume of Marías’s opus, Your Face Tomorrow, the narrator reflects: “it’s understandable really that people should hate knowledge and deny what is there before their eyes and prefer to know nothing and to repudiate the facts, that they should avoid the inoculation and the poison and push it away as soon as they see or feel it near . . .”
Luisa, though she obviously cannot deny what has happened, finds the horror that her husband’s death has injected into her life almost impossible to bear:
‘People say: “Concentrate on the good memories and not on the final one, think about how much you loved each other, think about all the wonderful times you enjoyed that others never have.” They mean well, but they don’t understand that all my memories are now soiled by that sad and bloody ending. Each time I recall something good, that final image rises up before me, the image of his cruel, stupid gratuitous death, which could so easily have been avoided. Yes, that’s what I find hardest to bear, the sheer stupidity of it and the lack of someone to blame. And so every good memory grows murky and turns bad. I don’t really have any good memories left. They all seem false to me. They’ve all been contaminated.
At Luisa’s apartment María meets one Javier Díaz-Varela, Deverne’s charming, womanizing best friend who now helps take care of Luisa and her two young children. María embarks on a love affair with Díaz-Varela despite knowing that her infatuation with him is not reciprocated. In fact, she realizes Díaz-Varela is merely waiting for Luisa to move on so that he can take the irreplaceable Deverne’s place. María imagines that something of this sort might have suited Deverne: for his best friend to become a kind of “unhusbandly husband,” to serve as a back-up father figure to the children and offer Luisa the reliability and comfort of a life partner, without any actual consummation of the relationship.
This gentlemen’s agreement is, as far as the reader is concerned, entirely a product of María’s imagination. Like her, we cannot now whether such an agreement or exchange ever took place. But there it is in María’s mind and on the page. It is the seed from which the remainder of the novel—that is, the remaining two hundred and fifty pages—sprouts toward its chilling conclusion. This growth is minutely charted: the rest of the novel is taken up almost entirely with conversations between María and Díaz-Varela—conversations that are more like monologues or lectures, delivered with glacial aplomb by Díaz-Varela while his temporary lover, infatuated, listens and reflects.
In common with all Marías’s narrators, María is an unusually perceptive observer: she seems constantly to be getting at the people she is listening to, reflecting on their word choices, their expressions, and their movements, changing and molding her impression of them. She imagines conversations they may or may not have had, thoughts they may or may not have thought. She’s like a novelist. “I had never thought anyone else’s thoughts before,” Luisa tells María, “it’s not my style, I lack imagination.” María, on the other hand, immerses herself in the minds of others. While listening to Luisa in her apartment she realizes: “I was the one who had spent most time over those borrowed thoughts, albeit incited or infected by her; it’s very risky imagining yourself into someone else’s mind, it’s sometimes hard to leave.”
This clandestine aspect of the narrative give’s the novel an extra layer of fictionality: the reader participates in María’s perception of Luisa, Deverne, and—most importantly—Díaz-Varela, which is to say that the reader participates in the creation of the novel’s characters. Our perception of them, and of their actions, is constantly changed and complicated, sometimes even contradicted. This perception is never resolved, just as our perception of people in real life never is or can be. For María, there is the added issue of Deverne’s death, about which she learns something that contradicts the official account. “Far worse than my grave suspicions and my possibly hasty conjectures was the burden of having two versions of events and not knowing which to believe,” she tells us. The true account does not necessarily efface the false:
You still heard it and, although it might be momentarily refuted by what comes afterwards, which contradicts it and gives the lie to it, its memory endures, as does our own credulity while we were listening, when, not knowing that it would be followed by a denial, we mistook it for the truth. Everything that has been said to us resonates and lingers, if not when we’re awake, then as we drift off to sleep or in our dreams, where the order of things doesn’t matter, and it remains there tossing and turning and pulsating as if it were someone who had been buried alive or perhaps a dead man who reappears because he didn’t actually die, either in Eylau or on the road back or having been hanged from a tree or something else.
The reference to Eylau comes from a novella by Balzac that Díaz-Varela compels María to read, the story of a French officer who is mistakenly thought to have died during a battle only to return many years later to reclaim his old life. Díaz-Varela says to María of this novella: “Fiction has the ability to show us what we don’t know and what doesn’t happen [...] it allows us to imagine the feelings of a dead man who finds himself obliged to come back, and shows us why the dead shouldn’t come back.”
María didn’t want to know but has since come to know something that may or may not be true. It doesn’t really matter, in the end, whether it is or isn’t—it has entered María’s consciousness and there it will remain in some form for good, true or false. “Anything anyone tells you becomes absorbed in you,” she says, “becomes part of your consciousness, even if you don’t believe it or know it never happened and that it’s pure invention, like novels and films.”
All of this is, of course, reflected in Marías’s prose, which curls toward and then away from certainties with a snakelike dexterity. His sentences, long and complex, are syntactically suspenseful; their meaning is deferred and complicated by the accumulation of clauses that qualify or contradict their predecessors. For Marías to write a short declarative sentence, one imagines, would be a violation of a style that, as the novelist Edward St. Aubyn wrote in his review of The Infatuations, is an embodiment of the author’s skeptical worldview. Of course, English-language readers are indebted to the great Margaret Jull Costa for her sublime rendering of this worldview. A serial translator of Marías’s fiction, Jull Costa must surely rank first and foremost among contemporary translators. As with W. G. Sebald, one is rarely conscious of reading a translation—such is the uncanny ability of Jull Costa to inhabit and transmit the author’s voice and style.
The Infatuations is on some level a murder mystery, but it is also, less obviously, an inquiry into the tenuousness of narrative and—even less obviously—a complex display of the inherent truthfulness of fiction. It shows us that fiction writing, consciously or not, is something we do out of necessity; we know so little and construct narratives in an attempt to make sense of our surroundings and our peers, all the while knowing that these narratives are, as María argues, full of “blind spots and contradictions and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness, however hard they strive to be exhaustive and diaphanous, because they are incapable of achieving either of those qualities.”
Because fiction is, in this respect, so lifelike, it is the art form most ideally suited to capturing this facet of human existence and experience. Fiction eschews certainty and solidity just as human experience does—despite what we think and imagine and tell ourselves. “Everything becomes attenuated,” María says, “but it’s also true that nothing entirely disappears.” In other words even fiction, despite its being fiction, is not entirely false. Even a lie, if it is told, exists in the “hazy universe of narratives”—a universe in which Marías has created a world all his own. The Infatuations expands thematically and stylistically on the bold fictional project that began with the 1986 novella The Man of Feeling, but despite its continuity Marías continues to surprise and unsettle. Like his sentences, it is a project with no end in sight.
MORTEN HOI JENSEN
Music & Literature, September 3, 2013
‘Everything becomes a narrative and sounds fictitious, even if it’s true,” thinks María Dolz, the central character in superstar Spanish novelist Javier Marías’ “The Infatuations,” his first since completing the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy in 2007.
The opening pages of the novel are taken up with a narrative — a pleasing one — that María tells herself morning after morning, year after year. Before work each day, she sits in a cafe, across the room from “the Perfect Couple.”
“The world is raggedy,” María thinks, but the Perfect Couple’s “brief, modest spectacle” gives her daily hope. She confides, “You could say I wished them the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting from the start …” They arecharacters in a novel, and María has already undercut her well wishes by telling us in Paragraph One that the man was stabbed to death in the street.
How María moves from her friendly feeling and couple crush to imagining the garish street scene becomes the immediate subject of the novel. “The Infatuations” is a murder mystery, but Javier Marías shrugs off the who-did-what-to-whom format soon enough in favor of existential questions.
As in other Marías novels, the stock plot seems like an excuse to set in motion a line of thought. His endlessly twisting and equivocating sentences are the real treat, as María goes deeper into the psychic burden of knowledge and confronts the contingencies that attach to a crime and its exposure.
In Marías’s telling, the very categories of guilt and innocence, thought and action, intent and fulfillment become as mysterious as a bloody body in the street. What is one’s role in the story of one’s life? Narrator? Instigator? Plaything of a master planner? How does everything connect? Are these connections real, or only in our minds?
Death is the supreme question mark, a provocation to the living. From the moment Miguel Desvern, the dead man, leaves his body, his own story is over. He shrinks and fades, becoming a catalyst for others’ stories.
María, who was only an observer while Miguel was alive, visits Luisa (Miguel’s wife), and begins an affair with Javier (Miguel’s friend, who is in love with Luisa). While Miguel is frozen where he fell, the survivors continue on, suffering “the awful power of the present” to crush and falsify the past.
As dodgy motives and suspicions pile up, Marías’s characters turn where the literary always turn: to books. Three works especially accrue meaning through repetition. Javier introduces María to Honoré de Balzac’s “Colonel Chabert,” a novella about a man who is declared dead on the battlefield. When the man, Colonel Chabert, returns, not as a ghost but as a live man, no one is happy. By undoing what is done, he disturbs the universe.
Another response to death, Macbeth’s line, “She should have died hereafter,” when he’s told in Act V that Lady Macbeth is dead, captures a recurring sentiment in “The Infatuations”: that death is always untimely (Marías, by the way, is a Spanish translator of Shakespeare).
Marías’ third literary mascot is Alexandre Dumas, from “The Three Musketeers,” with the line, “A murder, nothing more.”
Marías so effectively honors his source materials that a crime of passion or calculation begins to seem like an act of chance. The instigator who causes “a murder, nothing more” might have won the action in a raffle.
By the end of “The Infatuations,” Marías has branched far from simple questions of cause and consequence. Instead, he traces the crude force of an action once it’s begun and brilliantly dramatizes moral confusion.
Who has clean hands? Who qualifies to judge? What does one death matter, when everyone dies sometime and no one is innocent ever?
Marías’ brainy detection leads us to a standoff, what he calls a “hazy universe of narratives, with their blind spots and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness.”
The Post and Courier, September 15, 2013
One of Spain’s most widely known novelists, Javier Marías, has another international bestseller out in English for U.S. consumption, titled “The Infatuations.”
The story is told by a female editor at a Madrid publishing house, María, who has breakfast every morning at the same café where a couple is always seen. María fixates on their happiness as a sign of hope in relationships. The couple notices her interests, but nothing is said between them and María.
The husband, on his 50th birthday, suddenly is murdered in a stabbing by a crazed man on a Madrid street, an event María learns about belatedly. When the widow resumes visits to the café, María speaks to her to offer condolences. The widow invites María to her house for a visit, revealing that her husband and her thought of her as “the prudent woman.”
While at the widow’s residence, María meets a friend of the couple, Javier. María eventually falls in love with him, despite Javier’s reputation for having multiple girlfriends and knowing Javier is deeply infatuated with the widow, Luisa.
Nothing should be revealed about the plot after this point except that María learns surreptitiously that Javier knows more about the murder than a family friend should.
From there, ambiguity takes over. The truth becomes blurred in María’s mind. The problem tests María and her “prudence.” It’s a fabulous story, but is it well told?
Marías’ unusual narrative style is challenging at first. Characters speak in long, deeply philosophical soliloquies about the nature of death and grief. It is almost a stream of consciousness, with single sentences running for more than a page sometimes. It seems highly unnatural. When the plot does move, however, the dialogue becomes normal with characters speaking directly to the point.
Marías, to his credit, deepens the novel’s appeal by setting up parallels for the philosophical points of death and grieving to Shakespeare, namely “Macbeth,” and to a short novel by Honoré de Balzac. Marías also makes fun, through María’s job, of the pretentious literary and publishing scene in Spain, even though that seems outside the novel’s main plot.
The novel itself succeeds in its treatments of its themes even though some loose ends remain.
The San Antonio Express-News, September 19, 2013
Widely regarded as one of Europe’s top authors and, it can be argued, the best novelist writing in Spanish today, Javier Marías has, in his latest work, written an arresting story of love and crime. The first-person narrator of “The Infatuations” is a young woman smitten with a man and his wife – the “perfect couple,” in her eyes – whom she routinely observes having breakfast at the same cafe she frequents in an upscale district of Madrid. A discreet voyeur, María Dolz develops fervent, if reserved, feelings for Miguel and Luisa even as she, imaginatively, makes up stories about them for her own private consumption. While she is away on vacation, an act of violence interrupts this placid order of things, and the novel turns into a slowly unfolding tale of perception and detection.
Not your typical mystery, “The Infatuations” features one protracted scene after another. Objects are described and events narrated in the utmost detail. Interspersed within these lengthy passages – brilliant, if at times slightly tedious – are sudden flashes of narrative exhilaration. The plot at times appears to come to a standstill, and the novel itself begins to morph into something else that invokes the meditative pauses of essays, as finely nuanced as anything by Montaigne. But then, unexpectedly, an incident will trigger as much excitement as can be had in the tensest of thrillers.
Indeed, María finds herself more than once in the middle of splendidly crafted episodes of Hitchcockian suspense. Dialogue unfolds intermittently. A passionate utterance is followed by long brooding paragraphs in which she, vividly and strangely, recalls the past in all its minutiae and speculates profusely about the future. Only after these memories and conjectures is the next line of dialogue allowed to be heard.
Likewise, she devotes numerous sentences to describing the lips of Javier Díaz-Varela, Miguel’s best friend, but says hardly anything about the rest of his body. In this tale of envy, “Macbeth” is invoked several times, while long citations from “The Three Musketeers” shed light on the act of murder. Oddly, these fragments and digressions, which in a lesser stylist might act as irritants, whet the readers’ appetite, as we eagerly follow María’s measured progress through a few cafes and apartments in Madrid.
Then again, much of the novel happens mainly in María’s mind – or, obsessively, in what she feels is occurring in the minds of others. After Luisa tells her what Miguel must have been thinking at a given moment, she dreams up her own version of Miguel’s thoughts. She also imagines what Miguel must have felt about Luisa on that same occasion, or what he might have told Díaz-Varela about it; or what Díaz-Varela must have thought that she, María, was thinking.
A literary person who works for a publishing house and believes in literature as a form of knowledge, she even mentally writes her own passages for a novella by Balzac so that it can fit her present circumstances. Almost imperceptibly at first, this relentless inner storytelling comes to occupy a substantial portion of the text. If María is Marías’ creature, one has the impression that she too has enough materials to create a novel of her own – a subjective psychological tale that, in fact, lives in the fabric of “The Infatuations” as dramatically as the actual events in the plot.
Following Spain’s long tradition of fiction about fiction from Miguel de Cervantes to Miguel de Unamuno, Marías introduces (as in some of his previous novels) a character named Francisco Rico, whose fictional persona neatly coincides with that of Francisco Rico, a famous scholar of Spanish literature known for a canonical edition of “Don Quixote.” Providing a rare moment of humor, Rico faults Luisa for having in her own library a lesser edition of the book.
But the self-reflexive workings of Cervantes’ work – what Borges called its partial magic – don’t end there. Like Don Quixote, María is fond of telling herself stories, some of which may not be true; like Cervantes’ proto-novel, Marías’ text bravely unfolds in the boundaries between fiction and reality, where truth and fantasy merge or collide. Uncannily, a cardiologist mentioned in passing happens to exist in real life, as does the “odd-sounding” Anglo-American Medical Unit on calle Conde de Aranda, where he works.
These ambiguous regions, where untruths may confuse readers and characters alike, are also propitious for subtle love stories. Yet the state of falling or being in love – the enamoramientos of the novel’s original title, a concept that according to Díaz-Varela exists as a noun only in Spanish and Italian – does not blind María, who learns the circumstances surrounding the murder and resolutely faces the truth.
But if conventional mysteries normally conclude with retribution and atonement, Marías’ storytelling in “The Infatuations” remains a far more ambivalent space, a narrative realm where a story of murder is not necessarily a tale of crime and punishment.
ROBERTO IGNACIO DÍAZ
San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 2013
A man is cut down in the street by a lunatic. His distraught widow sits in a café, awaiting his best friend. His best friend aspires to take his place as her husband. Translated from Javier Marías’s 2011 Spanish-language novel, “The Infatuations” presents this tangled web of human dealings from the perspective of María, a publisher’s assistant who frequents the same café as the ill-fated Miguel Deverne and Luisa, his widow, and who is slowly drawn into this web.
“The Infatuations” is a profoundly engaging work, although not for the reasons one might think. American press for the book has tended to emphasize the fact that it is nominally a murder mystery. This emphasis is misleading. The plot is so predictable as to be archetypal; one is reminded not of the sharp twists and turns of American or British mystery novels so much as the ritualized forms of Attic tragedy or commedia dell’ arte. In short, there is very little “mystery” to this mystery. Nevertheless, “The Infatuations” is still well worth reading, just as tragedies and commedie are still worth watching—the devil, as always, is in the details.
Marías has not given us a wholly original set of events to ponder; rather, he has given us a reflection on the transience of love and the ultimate insurmountability of death, a rumination of great tranquility reflected in his long, aperiodic sentences, which recall the peacefulness of Camus’s “The Stranger” without that work’s predominant haziness of detail. There are many extended passages on the final quietude of death, none perhaps so clear as an imagined speech that María attributes to the dead Deverne. Speaking of the dead’s indifference toward the activities of the living—specifically his own indifference to the marriage of his best friend and his widow—he says: “You know that everything will carry on without you, that nothing stops because you have disappeared. But that ‘afterwards’ doesn’t concern you.”
There are many such passages, particularly in the first half of the book. In them one finds a Lucretian sensibility of death as final, for the best, and not to be feared. Like Lucretius in “De Rerum Natura,” however, Marías’s persistent dwelling on the theme of mortality to the exclusion of other concerns—including getting the novel’s action off the ground—seems to belie this message; whether this is the intention of the author or rather a flaw is up to the reader. It seems to be his intention, for Marías knows well the ways in which people think, and accordingly the attribution of a flawed rhetoric should be reserved. It must nevertheless be noted that the novel’s constant digressions occasionally flirt with the trite: “There was still the possibility that it wasn’t, according to him, of course (I would never know more than what he told me, and so I would never know anything for sure; yes, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom).” This observation is true, but is so commonplace as to be of questionable value even in a parenthetical statement.
Regardless of any imperfections in execution, “The Infatuations” is a remarkable book, not least in that it accomplishes the very difficult task of holding a reader for half its length before introducing any sort of dramatic conflict. Its ambition of scope is admirable, directly addressing as it does the two most looming themes of human thought, love and death; and yet it still manages to avoid entirely the overwrought tone that almost inevitably plagues such books. Indeed, here perhaps we find the greatest virtue of “The Infatuations”: it brings a peaceful reflection on mortality to our daily lives.
JUDE D. RUSSO
The Harvard Crimson, October 6, 2013
Javier Marías: ce qui se passe après la mort
Javier Marías ne fait partie de ces écrivains prolixes qui publient un livre par an avec la régularité d’un métronome. Plus de trois ans se sont écoulés depuis le dernier volume de sa trilogie, Ton visage demain, dont la publication s’était étalée sur sept années. Mais chacun de ses ouvrages compte, et ce n’est pas sans raison qu’il est considéré comme une figure majeure de la littérature espagnole et européenne, déjà plusieurs fois cité sur la liste des nobélisables.
Fait rare, la narratrice de son dernier ouvrage est une femme. Chaque matin, l’éditrice María Dolz prend son petit déjeuner dans le même café, et chaque matin, elle observe à la dérobée un couple qui irradie de gaité, de complicité et de tendresse. Ce rendez-vous matinal avec des inconnus se met à prendre de plus en plus de place, non pas dans sa vie puisque la “rencontre” ne dure que quelques brefs instants, mais dans sa tête ; le couple représente en effet pour elle comme une promesse de bonheur, comme la confirmation que la félicité à deux, pour rare qu’elle soit, est néanmoins possible. María attend donc avec impatience de les retrouver à la même table, à la même heure, et elle puise dans le spectacle de leurs échanges du réconfort et de la quiétude. Jusqu’au jour où la femme attend son époux pendant vingt minutes, étonnée mais sans crainte ; puis son téléphone sonne et le monde s’écroule. María apprendra plus tard – car jusqu’à cet instant elle ne sait rien de l’identité des deux personnages – que son mari, Miguel Desvern, riche héritier d’une compagnie de production cinématographique, a été sauvagement assassiné par un déséquilibré sur un parking. Bouleversée, elle décide de prendre contact avec sa veuve, dévastée par la tragédie stupide qui a détruit son monde de façon accidentelle, puisqu’à l’évidence, il n’y avait aucune raison particulière que l’homme s’en prenne à Miguel Desvern, et que seul un funeste hasard a voulu que ce soit sur lui que le fou s’acharne avec son couteau. Dans l’entourage de Luisa – l’épouse éplorée – il y a le meilleur ami de Desvern, Javier Díaz-Varela, dont María tombe amoureuse, bien qu’elle se soit rapidement aperçue que les liens de ce dernier avec la jeune veuve sont des plus ambigus. María va progressivement être amenée à envisager différemment le passé du couple idéal et à remettre en cause le rôle du hasard dans la mort de Desvern.
Comme souvent dans l’univers romanesque de Marías, on retrouve les thèmes qui lui sont chers : la fonction du secret, le doute comme moteur narratif, le mariage et la mise en tension de l’amour qui en résulte, le rôle central de la trahison, la tromperie et la lâcheté dans les rapports humains. On retrouve aussi sa phrase ample et complexe – fréquemment rapprochée de celle de Proust – avec sa qualité particulière, à la fois introspective et digressive, qui a pour fonction de sonder les infinies nuances des mouvements de l’âme à la manière d’un sismographe ultra-sensible. Le roman avance par vagues d’hypothèses successives, et chaque étape dévoile un peu davantage les ressorts de l’histoire racontée, tout en jetant de nouvelles ombres sur les personnages et leurs motivations. C’est cela qui, après un début un peu lent, et par moments trop bavard, finit par accrocher le lecteur et le tenir en haleine jusqu’au dénouement final. Dénouement qui toutefois ne lève pas complètement les incertitudes, puisqu’à l’évidence, comme il arrive souvent dans la vie, il faut que le lecteur choisisse entre plusieurs interprétations possibles des événements.
Dans ses romans, Marías dialogue fréquemment avec Shakespeare et certains de ses ouvrages sont comme des hommages à l’immense écrivain. Ici, c’est avec un autre géant de la littérature qu’il instaure le dialogue, puisque Le colonel Chabert de Balzac tient une place de choix dans Comme les amours. La figure du disparu exemplaire que l’on pleure longtemps, mais dont l’absence finit par être si bien comblée que sa réapparition devient terriblement encombrante pour les siens, est ici le fil conducteur du récit. “Les morts ont donc bien tort de revenir”, écrit Balzac, et Marías déploie avec brio tous les plis contenus dans cette affirmation pour en offrir une relecture moderne. “Ce qui se passe dans les romans n’a pas d’importance et on l’oublie une fois qu’ils sont finis. Ce sont les possibilités et les idées qu’ils nous inoculent et nous apportent à travers leurs cas imaginaires qui sont intéressantes, on s’en souvient plus nettement que des événements réels et on en tient compte” dit Díaz-Varela à María au cours de l’une de leurs rencontres. On restera longuement imprégné par les possibilités et les idées que nous a inoculées Marías dans ce roman dense et troublant, qui aborde la mort par son versant sud.
Le Huffington Post/Le Monde, 11 octobre 2013
Reseñas en papel:
Le temps retrouvé selon Javier Marías
Le Figaro Littéraire, 18 septembre 2013
Mentir de bonne foi
Le Monde, 4 octobre 2013
Avec de faiblesse
Transfuge, 13 octobre 2013
Lire, 13 octobre 2013
EL narrador anónimo de Todas las almas (1989), que muchos confundieron con el autor incitándolo a escribir Negra espalda del tiempo (1998), hallará un nombre variable Jaime, Jacobo, Jacques, Jack Deza, muchos años más tarde en Tu rostro mañana (2002-2007). Las tres novelas componen un ciclo claramente distinguible en la obra de Marías, unidas no sólo por personajes recurrentes y Oxford como uno de sus escenarios, sino por algunas de las inquietudes que recorren toda la obra de Javier Marías: el revés del tiempo como ese lugar donde se ocultan las vidas que no hemos vivido y las consecuencias de lo que decimos y quizá deberíamos callar. Esta es la razón de que hayamos querido reunirlas por primera vez, acompañadas por una antología inédita de textos del autor relacionados con este mundo, de diversa índole y procedencia, para que los lectores puedan recorrer largamente ese Oxford ensimismado, un lugar extraño hecho de «otro elemento, el agua»; una ciudad «conservada en almíbar» cuyos habitantes «no están en el mundo» porque ni siquiera «están en el tiempo».
Chaque matin, assise à une terrasse de café à Madrid, Maria Dolz, une jeune éditrice, regarde avec admiration un couple assis à une table voisine. Miguel Devern est un quinquagénaire élégant. Avec sa femme Luisa, ils forment un couple resplendissant. Ils rient, sourient, murmurent et affichent leur complicité. Leur seule vision réjouit la narratrice pour la journée. Mais, un matin, Marie lit dans les journaux que Miguel Devern a été assassiné, le jour de ses cinquante ans, par un fou errant. Le couple idéal s’effondre alors du paysage fantasmagorique de Maria. Le poison mortel du désespoir s’infiltre dans les veines de Luisa et Maria cherche alors, parfois malgré elle, à découvrir les dessous de cette histoire.
Une plume précise et drôle
Javier Marias, auteur espagnol né en 1951, livre après sa trilogie « Ton visage demain » qui connut le succès entre 2004 et 2010, son nouveau roman, « Comme les amours ». Sa plume précise, perspicace, drôle et spirituelle décrit la relation de Maria, la narratrice, avec Luisa Devern et Javier Diaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel.
Après la mort de Miguel, le ton du roman change. Maria Dolz tombe dans les griffes du séduisant Javier Diaz Varela. avant de découvrir la face cachée de son amoureux et les liens diaboliques qu’il entretient avec les autres. « Par moments, je pensais ne pas avoir entendu ce que j’avais entendu, ou bien me revenant l’idée fragile qu’il devait y avoir une erreur, un malentendu, voire une explication acceptable », écrit-elle.
Javier Diaz Varela crée une sorte de monologue avec Maria pendant une grande partie du roman. Il parle comme un acteur de théâtre, avec une certaine pédanterie par de grandes joutes verbales en citant Balzac, Dumas et Shakespeare pour illustrer ses théories. Maria est subjuguée par son élocution et par cette bouche voluptueuse d’où sort toute cette littérature. Plus placide et sans grande envergure romanesque, elle continue à vivre sa vie normalement et à travailler dans l’édition alors qu’elle déteste ce milieu. Elle n’est pas la dernière à critiquer ces écrivains autoritaires et orgueilleux, qui imaginent recevoir le prix Nobel et écrivent déjà leur discours de remise du prix à Stockholm. Ce qui n’est pas dénué de drôlerie, sachant que Javier Marias lui-même figure souvent sur la liste des prétendants.
Après avoir tourné avec délectation les pages du livre de Javier Marias, la substance du roman s’infiltre doucement dans les tréfonds de la conscience en laissant retomber petit à petit une particule de vérité.
GAËTANE DE FRAMOND
Les Échos, 1 octobre, 2013
El primer aviso fue hace un par de años. Hacía una gira de promoción de un libro por Alemania, y en Fráncfort (si no me confundo, los escritores somos a veces como viajantes de comercio) me metieron en un hotel “original y supermoderno”. Mi sorpresa fue tan grande como desagradable al descubrir que la habitación, cómoda y amplia, carecía de cuarto de baño propiamente dicho. Sólo había un minúsculo gabinete para los menesteres más prosaicos, a los que un caballero no debe referirse ni tampoco una dama; bien es verdad que ya no quedan apenas caballeros ni damas, ni siquiera en las columnas de opinión de los periódicos. Como desde la infancia tengo por costumbre bañarme por las mañanas, y no ducharme (un baño rápido, no crean, necesito sumergirme entero para darme cuenta de que estoy vivo y despejarme), busqué con aprensión, como loco, una bañera, pero no la había. Sí, al menos, un lavabo en una esquina de la habitación misma, como si hubiéramos vuelto a los cuartos de pensión antigua, sólo que aquel hotel era más bien lujoso y “a la última”. Y luego, en medio de la estancia, muy cerca de la cama, se erigía una especie de cabina telefónica que era una ducha. No sólo quedaba fatal allí plantada, sino que le hacía a uno temer que, de hacer uso de ella, acabaría mojándolo todo: suelo, muebles, sábanas, un desastre. Supuse que habría algún medio de cerrarla herméticamente, pero la mera idea me causaba claustrofobia. ¿Y si conseguía que no se saliese el agua pero luego era incapaz de salir yo mismo de la cabina? Llamé en seguida a recepción y solicité que me cambiaran a otra habitación, con cuarto de baño separado y bañera. Debí haber imaginado la respuesta: “No tenemos ninguna así. Lo moderno es prescindir de esas cosas”. Si no recuerdo mal, a la mañana siguiente “fingí” que me daba mi imprescindible baño en la espantosa cabina telefónica que rozaba la cama, y desde luego, al salir de ella, y pese al cuidado que puse, empapé parte del suelo estupendo.
Cada vez me encuentro con más dificultades para encontrar habitaciones –en hoteles buenos e incluso en alguno buenísimo– que reúnan las condiciones que antes ofrecían casi todos, hasta los regulares. Por un lado está lo del fumar, ya me conocen. Este verano, en España, he debido descartar no pocos por ese motivo, y algún empleado ha tenido la osadía de decirme: “Es que por ley no podemos”. Falso. La ley permite que los hoteles, si así lo deciden, dispongan de cuartos para fumadores. Pero como muchos son serviles con sus talibánicos turistas americanos, alemanes y nórdicos, han resuelto prescindir de ellos. Y claro, es ridículo que un autodenominado hotel de lujo prohíba el lujo de fumar a quien tal vez va a pagar más de 300 euros por noche. Lo de la ausencia de bañera empieza a extenderse. Algunos brindan un jacuzzi circular en medio de la habitación (no en el cuarto de baño, reducido siempre a la mínima expresión), que le roba espacio e indefectiblemente la afea, y con el que uno se tropieza en cuanto se mueve. Ya puestos a suprimir comodidades, también se sacrifica el bidet a menudo. Como ustedes saben, esa pieza es desconocida para los bárbaros del norte: no la hallarán en Alemania, en Gran Bretaña, en Holanda ni en los Estados Unidos. Es más, todos hemos visto películas de este último país en las que los personajes, al encontrarse con uno de esos refinados artilugios en Francia, Italia o España, se llevan las manos a la cabeza, se preguntan como paletos para qué diablos sirve e incluso se escandalizan suponiendo que su único uso posible es obsceno. “Some French perversion”, deducen esos personajes. Cierto que el bidet fue un invento francés, y que, si se quiere, es un lujo, por lo que no tiene sentido que los hoteles de lujo de nuestra área geográfica, más civilizada en lo relativo a la higiene, opten por no ofrecer a sus clientes dicho lujo. Tal vez piensan que los turistas septentrionales podrían abominar de su mera visión y largarse.
Es lo que hice yo este verano al llegar a un hotel “original” y costoso en el que no había nada de lo habitual y proponían, en cambio, una de esas grandes camas comunes, al aire libre, para disfrutarla en plan “chill out” en compañía de otros huéspedes. La verdad, no sé a quién le apetece echarse en un lecho ya ocupado por otros, con un vaso en la mano, y –como puede ocurrir– bajo un aguacero. Cuando me largué de ese hotel y llamé a otro, me disculpé con quien me atendió por hacerle preguntas absurdas (pero ya necesarias en el futuro): a) ¿Hay habitaciones de fumador? b) ¿Hay cuarto de baño fuera de la habitación, o está mezclado con ella? c) En ese cuarto de baño, ¿hay bañera? d) ¿Hay bidet en él? e) ¿Hay espacio para el neceser o ha de dejarlo uno en el suelo? f) En la habitación, ¿hay un jacuzzi que le impida moverse? g) ¿Hay cama privada en ella o es de compartir? h) De hecho, ¿hay cama?
Los hoteleros se quejan de la crisis. Quizá lo primero que tendrían que hacer es volver a ofrecerlo todo, lo normal, lo habitual, además de lo superfluo y las “originalidades”. Lo que solían brindar hasta los de medio pelo. De otra manera, habrá muchos más clientes que seguirán mi ejemplo y se largarán al ver una cabina de ducha encima de la cama.
Дела твои, любовь
Перевод испанского: Надежда Мечтаева
Jaume Cabré y Javier Marías, finalistas del premio Médicis
Jo confesso, de Jaume Cabré, y Los enamoramientos, de Javier Marías, están entre las ocho novelas finalistas del Premio Médicis, uno de los dos grandes galardones a las mejores novelas en lengua extranjera traducidas al francés. El galardón se concederá el próximo 12 de noviembre.
La novela del escritor catalán, traducida al francés como Confiteor (el título original que tenía en mente el autor para su publicación en catalán, pero que no convenció a la editorial Proa), ha recibido grandes críticas desde su publicación el pasado mes de febrero, en medios como Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, Télérama, Mediapart, al igual que Comme les amours, el título francés de la novela de Javier Marías.
Ambos compiten con En mer, del holandés Toine Heijmans, L’enfant de l’étranger, del británico Allan Hollingshurst, Esprit d’hiver, de la estadounidense Laura Kasischke, Compartiment nº 6, de la finlandesa Rosa Liksom, Les derniers cent jours, del británico Patrick McGuinness, y Fille de la campagne, de la irlandesa Edna O’Brien.
El Periódico, 27 de septiembre de 2013
Dos novelas publicadas en Alfaguara, Los enamoramientos de Javier Marías y Mujer de barro de Joyce Carol Oates, han sido incluidas en la primera selección de finalistas del Premio Médicis 2013 que se fallará en París el próximo 12 de noviembre.
La noticia se suma al éxito que Los enamoramientos de Javier Marías, está teniendo en Estados Unidos donde ha estado en las listas de los libros más vendidos. Además, este agosto fue portada de The New York Times Book Review y la crítica ha acogido la novela con gran entusiasmo:
«Sea lo que sea que creamos que vaya a suceder mientras leemos, estamos eligiendo pasar tiempo en compañía de un autor. En el caso de Javier Marías, se trata de una buena decisión; su mente es profunda, aguda, a veces chocante, a veces hilarante, y siempre inteligente […]. Tiene una empatía penetrante… Para sus seguidores habituales, Los enamoramientos será otro feliz desembarco de Marías; para el nuevo lector es tan buen punto de partida como cualquier otro de sus libros.»
The New York Times Book Review
«La primera parte de Los enamoramientos comprende la meditación sobre la muerte más madura de toda la obra de Marías. El autor encuentra la voz ideal —distanciada, inquisitiva y vigilante— para una de sus mejores novelas.»
L. A. Review of Books
Alfaguara, 24 de septiembre de 2013
Javier Marías’s The Infatuations is a cerebral mystery
María Dolz, the first-person narrator of Javier Marías’s razor-sharp new novel, The Infatuations, warns, “It’s very risky imagining yourself into someone else’s mind, it’s sometimes hard to leave, I suppose that’s why so few people do it and why almost everyone avoids it.” Despite her warning, María (like Marías) spends most of her time contemplating “borrowed thoughts,” effectively imaging her way into the minds of those, both living and dead, who make up her world.
Every day, María breakfasts at the same Madrid café, where she sits happily and watches the Perfect Couple from a distance, who also breakfasts daily at the same café, before she goes to the publishing house where she works as an editor to contend with inept and entitled authors alike: “They were the brief, modest spectacle that lifted my mood before I went to work at the publishing house to wrestle with my megalomaniac boss and his horrible authors.”
The ridiculous authors provide some comic relief in this thrilling and, at times, dark novel. A lonely novelist named Cortezo calls María for sartorial advice, asking, for example, “Do you think a pair of argyle socks would go with these fine-pinstripe trousers and a pair of brown tasselled moccasins?”
Another author, the absurdly pompous Garay Fontina, calls her demanding, “I need you to get me a couple of grams of cocaine for a scene in my new book. Have someone come over to my house as soon as possible, or, at any rate, before it gets dark. I want to see what colour cocaine is in daylight, so that I don’t get it wrong.” María tells Fontina that she does not need to procure the drugs to tell him the colour of cocaine: “I can assure you that cocaine is white, both in daylight and under artificial lighting, almost everyone knows that.” Despite his over-the-top request, María must treat Fontina diplomatically, for his novels sell and he is rumoured to be in the running for the Nobel Prize, a rumour he starts, propagates and attempts, with some success, to imbue with reality himself (he even prepares an acceptance speech “in Swedish!” so as to impress King Carl XVI Gustaf). María’s boss is a fan: “He took his most conceited author far too seriously; it never ceases to amaze me how these vain people manage to persuade so many others of their worth; it’s one of the world’s great enigmas.”
The Infatuations is only peripherally concerned with narcissistic authors, however. At the heart of the novel is the bloody murder of Miguel Desvern (or “Deverne,” María is never quite sure of the spelling), one half of the Perfect Couple. In June, the Perfect Couple stop coming to the café, but María assumes that they are on vacation, though she is nevertheless disheartened by their absence and generally affected: “It made me less tolerant of weaknesses, vanities and stupidities.”
It is María’s colleague Beatriz, with whom she had discussed “that extraordinary pair,” who first mentions the murder of Miguel to her, wrongly assuming that she knew all about the gruesome incident. She informs María that Miguel had been murdered by a “madman,” a homeless man who makes money guiding cars to parking spots, “agorilla,” and who, in a fit of rage and insanity, “had stabbed and stabbed and stabbed him with one of those apparently illegal butterfly knives.” But it was a case of mistaken identity, María learns; the madman wrongly believed that Miguel had lured his daughters into prostitution.
María quickly realizes that she was one of the last people to see Miguel alive and, like his wife, she is left grappling with the senselessness of his murder: “The incident occurred on the last day that I saw him there, which is how I know that his wife and I had said goodbye to him at the same time, she with her lips and I with my eyes only. In a further cruelly ironic touch, it was his birthday; he had thus died a year older than he had been the day before, at fifty.”
María sees Miguel’s wife again, the remaining half of the Perfect Couple, at the café “towards the tail-end of summer, late into September” – “She looked fragile, like a hesitant novice ghost, who is not yet fully convinced that she is one” – and she finally decides to befriend her.
María learns that her name is Luisa Alday and that she and her husband noticed María at the café every day, too; they even had a pet name for her: The Prudent Young Woman. After learning of the murder and meeting Luisa, María’s infatuation is spurred on. She is concerned with Luisa’s consciousness: “‘How many small eternities will she experience in which she will struggle to make time move on,’ I thought, ‘if such a thing is possible, which I doubt.’” She also finds herself imaging Miguel’s last thoughts incessantly and incisively, even though he had had little time for thought while under attack, losing consciousness immediately after being stabbed. Nevertheless, María, like Luisa, performs a sort of psychic postmortem.
Consciousness is very much centre stage in The Infatuations, namely, the ways in which one’s consciousness plays on the corporeal world – and the ways the consciousnesses of others play on one another – and vice versa.
After María starts an affair with Miguel’s best friend, Javier Díaz-Varela, first meeting him one night at Luisa’s home and then later running into him at Madrid’s Museum of Natural History, María and Díaz-Varela cogitate constantly over Miguel’s final thoughts as well as Luisa’s future thoughts. Although Luisa appears inconsolable, both María and Díaz-Varela believe she will recover sooner than she expects, for she is young and beautiful and full of life. “The world belongs so much to the living and so little to the dead,” María thinks, “that the former tend to think that the death of a loved one is something that has happened more to them than to the deceased, who is, after all, the person who has died.”
Like in Marías’s other novels (A Heart So White, for example, and the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, his magnum opus) there is a sort of system of quotations that repeat, echoing and resonating like musical themes. Even the thoughts of characters recur in the thoughts and speech of other characters; there is a porousness to the consciousnesses Marías represents: sentences and souls intermingle and become entangled.Macbeth and The Three Musketeers are quoted from repeatedly in The Infatuations, and Balzac’s great novella Colonel Chabert reverberates some of the novel’s most haunting themes.
In addition to being psychologically penetrating, The Infatuations is a wonderful mystery, in which catastrophes are contingent and everything is mutable and, therefore, unpredictable. Marías keeps the reader guessing till the last page of this mesmerizing and vertiginous and, often, bone-chilling and hair-raising novel.
The Globe and Mail, September 20, 2013
ANA RODRÍGUEZ FISCHER
El País, Babelia, 21 de septiembre de 2013
Une inconnue s’immisce dans la vie d’une veuve dont le couple parfait a été violemment brisé. Une réflexion poétique sur l’amour, le deuil et l’oubli.
Le réel n’est pas que tangible, événements, faits, lieux, mots prononcés – il est cela, bien sûr, mais à quoi s’ajoute la somme sans fin des pensées et de leurs revirements, des intentions, des intuitions, des éclats de désir ou de mémoire, des hypothèses, des possibles demeurés inaccomplis. C’est de ce réel vertigineux, inaccessible parce que sans contour, sans limite, que se saisit l’écrivain Javier Marías dans Comme les amours, exercice romanesque éblouissant fonctionnant tout ensemble comme un roman à suspense et une fable métaphysique déployant une méditation captivante sur les thèmes forcément mêlés de l’amour, de la mort.
Tout commence donc comme une narration classique, plutôt attrayante : tous les matins, à la terrasse du café où elle prend son petit déjeuner, une jeune femme prénommée María, la narratrice du roman, observe discrètement un couple qu’elle a surnommé le Couple parfait – parce que le spectacle non ostentatoire mais éclatant de leur amour, de l’harmonie qui règne entre eux deux, lui « donne plaisir et quiétude », confère à sa journée à venir une aura d’optimisme. Cela dure des mois, jusqu’au jour où María apprend que l’homme est mort brutalement, poignardé par un sans-domicile-fixe déséquilibré. Le Couple parfait disparaît donc de son paysage, mais un beau jour, à la terrasse du café, réapparaît la femme, seule donc désormais, et dont María décide de s’approcher, mue par un sentiment mélangé de sympathie et de curiosité.
Le défunt s’appelait Miguel Deverne ou Desvern – sur cette question, le flou persiste… –, apprend María, son épouse se nomme Luisa Alday, accablée par le deuil et l’absence de l’homme qu’elle aimait. Instantanément, voilà María comme aspirée par ce chagrin, obsédée et mentalement envahie par cette femme navrée et par ceux qui l’entourent, notamment le dénommé Javier Diaz-Varela, qui fut le meilleur ami de Miguel et veille désormais sur Luisa.
La piste de lecture de Comme les amours ouverte par les toutes premières pages du livre, celle qui relève presque du roman policier, tourne rapidement court, tandis que l’on pénètre toujours plus avant dans le patient, précis et enveloppant dispositif narratif que met en place Javier Marías. Si enquête il y a, son objet n’est pas tant de savoir qui a guidé la main de l’assassin de Miguel Deverne/Desvern – on le saura, de fait, mais peu importe ou presque – que de réfléchir à la place qu’occupent les morts auprès des vivants. De quelle façon pèsent sur ces derniers la mémoire de ceux qui ne sont plus là, les promesses qui leur ont été faites ? Quelle sorte de crime est l’oubli ? Que devient l’amour lorsque celui ou celle qui le suscitait n’est plus là ? Quelle ambivalente curiosité, ou secrète perversité, nous incite parfois à imaginer la mort d’un être proche, aimé ? De quel meurtre, quel sacrilège nous rendons-nous alors coupable ? Ce ne sont là que quelques-unes des interrogations que soulève, examine, évalue moralement et poétiquement le roman hautement spéculatif de Javier Marías. Lequel convoque, en outre, en guise d’interlocuteurs privilégiés, Balzac (Le Colonel Chabert), Dumas (Les Trois Mousquetaires) et Shakespeare (Macbeth), pour avec eux, non pas en marge de la narration mais à travers elle, converser sur l’amour, la mort, la folie, le meurtre.
Télérama , 21 septembre 2013
“De vuelta del mar”
Qué leer, septiembre de 2013
JAVIER MARÍAS SUR FRANCE MUSIQUE
“Les traverses du temps”.
Esta tarde a las 19 horas.
PRIX MÉDICIS 2013 : LA SÉLECTION
Cette année les jurés du prix Medicis ont sélectionné 12 romans français et 13 romans étrangers.
Sélection du Prix Médicis :
Cloé Korman : « Les Saisons de Louveplaine » (Seuil)
Charif Majdalani : « Le Dernier Seigneur de Marsad » (Seuil)
Frédéric Verger : « Arden » (Gallimard)
Laura Alcoba : « Le Bleu des abeilles » (Gallimard)
Thomas Clerc : « Intérieur » (Gallimard)
Tristan Garcia : « Faber. Le destructeur » (Gallimard)
Metin Arditi : « La Confrérie des moines volants » (Grasset)
Delphine Coulin : « Voir du pays » (Grasset)
Yann Moix : « Naissance » (Grasset)
Roland Buti : « Le Milieu de l’horizon » (Zoé)
Marie Darrieussecq : « Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes » (POL)
Céline Minard : « Faillir être flinguée » (Rivages)
Philippe Vasset : « La Conjuration » (Fayard)
- Jaume Cabré : « Confiteor » (Actes Sud, trad. Edmond Raillard)
- Toine Heijmans : « En mer » (Christian Bourgois, trad. Danielle Losman)
- Laura Kasischke : « Esprit d’hiver » (Christian Bourgois, trad. Aurélie Tronchet)
- Allan Hollingshurst : « L’Enfant de l’étranger » (Albin Michel, trad. Bernard Turle)
- Marco Lodoli : « Les Promesses » (POL, trad. Louise Boudonnat)
- Rosa Liksom : « Compartiment nº 6 » (Gallimard, trad. Anne Colin du Terrail)
- Javier Marías : « Comme les amours » (Gallimard, trad. par Anne-Marie Geninet)
- Patrick McGuinness : « Les Derniers Cent Jours » (Grasset, trad. Karine Lalechère)
- Joan Didion : « Le Bleu de la nuit » (Grasset, trad. Pierre Demarty)
- Joyce Carol Oates : « Mudwoman » (Philippe Rey, trad. Claude Seban)
- Edna O’Brien : « Fille de la campagne » (Sabine Wespieser, trad. Pierre-Emmanuel Dauzat)
- Lance Weller : « Wilderness » (Gallmeister, trad. François Happe)
La metáfora del inicio del otoño editorial neoyorquino podría ser un árbol virtual de cuyas ramas cayeran pausadamente, en vez de hojas muertas, centenares de luminosas tabletas lectoras. La imagen podría ser una cubierta de The New Yorker, pero es que los libros “desmaterializados” ya suponen el 23% de los beneficios de los editores estadounidenses, frente al, por ejemplo, 0,7% de los de los franceses y el vaya-usted-a-saber de los españoles (para los que, en todo caso, el libro electrónico constituye el 3,6% de la facturación total). Algo que se refleja en la creciente inquietud de los libreros independientes, que no pueden competir con los descuentos que ofrece Amazon o la cadena Barnes & Noble (a la que, por otra parte, la empresa de Jeff Bezos muerde diariamente su cuota de mercado). Los editores más conscientes intentan, aún con poco éxito, defender la infraestructura librera que ha sostenido su negocio durante casi dos siglos, y es que los libreros indies tienen cada vez más cruda su supervivencia. La última moda salvadora es el crowdfunding, es decir, conseguir financiación de una multitud de pequeños patrocinadores, una forma de apoyo que aquí también pretende introducir el señor Lassalle en la Ley de Mecenazgo, quizás porque nadie le ha explicado que esto no es precisamente la Florencia de los Médicis. De repente, numerosas librerías en trance de desaparecer a causa de la competencia implacable de los poderosos (y de la subida de los alquileres) se han puesto a recabar ayuda financiera de los clientes y amigos. Su gancho no puede ser los precios (necesariamente muy superiores a los de Amazon o las grandes cadenas), sino su papel como elementos tradicionales del paisaje social de cada comunidad. El librero independiente ofrece información, atmósfera, espacio de encuentro comunitario y señas de identidad cultural. Muchas están recurriendo a empresas especializadas en crowdfunding como Indiegogo o Kickstarter (visiten sus páginas web) que les diseñan campañas dirigidas a sus clientes a cambio de un discreto porcentaje. Otras recurren a la multiplicación de actividades dirigidas al nicho de grandes lectores o de letraheridos y curiosos, consiguiendo que autores más o menos prestigiosos acudan gratuitamente a compartir sus reflexiones con los lectores. Hace unos días, por ejemplo, pude ver a Walter Mosley (un autor de estupendos thrillers publicados por Anagrama y Roca) defendiendo, ante una audiencia que había “donado” 35 dólares por cabeza para escucharlo, la supervivencia en Manhattan de una librería que precisa 35.000 machacantes para renovar su leasing. Otras librerías parecen haber tirado la toalla, a pesar de seguir reclamando a sus lectores una fidelidad difícil de mantener cuando los mismos títulos se venden en Amazon o en Barnes & Noble mucho más baratos, como le pasa a St. Marks Bookshop (fundada en 1977 en el East Village y abierta cada noche hasta las once), que se ha visto obligada a reducir casi un 50% sus antes ecuménicos fondos. En todo caso, ese panorama no muy alentador no es lo único que ofrecen las librerías de Manhattan. Dos novelas hispánicas publicadas, por cierto, por Alfaguara han obtenido el raro honor de ser consideradas international best sellers en todas las grandes librerías de un país en el que el porcentaje de novelas traducidas no llega al 3% del total: The Infatuations (Los enamoramientos), de Javier Marías (Knopf) y The Sound of Things Falling (El ruido de las cosas al caer), de Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Penguin). Ya ven, no todo son derrotas.
MANUEL RODRÍGUEZ RIVERO
El País, Babelia, 14 de septiembre de 2013
Javier Marías se encuentra en París donde mañana, 13 de septiembre,
a las 19,30 h., presentará Comme les amours (Gallimard), la edición francesa de Los enamoramientos, en la librería La Hune (170 Boulevard Saint-Germain).
Javier Marias’ new novel brilliantly creates a taut metaphysical thriller
“Yes, a murder, nothing more.”
Nothing more than another misfortune that makes the headlines, then vanishes into thin air.
Nothing more than the timeless malady of humanity, as old as Cain, as ubiquitous as the wind.
Nothing more than a man stabbed 16 times on the streets of Madrid by a homeless psychopath. Nothing more than his wife left husbandless, his children left fatherless.
Nothing more than an apparently senseless killing. An indignity. An outrage. An accident.
Or is it?
The man could have died at any other time, we are told; indeed, he would have died at some other time. In the drip, drip, drip of passing days, death looms as the all-encompassing future: elemental, inexorable, irresistible.
But today, Miguel Desvern – or is it Deverne? – lies dead. And, “fortunately or unfortunately, the dead are as fixed as paintings, they don’t move, they don’t add anything, they don’t speak and never respond,” the narrator of Javier Marias’ brilliant new novel tells us.
What’s more, the dead foolishly dare to come back. They are quite wrong to try. Yet they cling to the living, asserting rights they no longer have.
They do not realize that death is nothing more than fate, than the workings of chance, than the misery of being mortal. They crave a secure hereafter, not a temporary “could have been.” Not a barren “nothing more.”
Yet something more always looms for the living: “What does ‘hereafter’ or ‘at some point from now on’ mean, when ‘now’ is, by its very nature, always changing.”
Every morning like clockwork, Maria Dolz eats breakfast in the same cafe in Madrid, admiring the lively, laughing Perfect Couple of Miguel Desvern and his wife, Luisa. They notice her, too, of course, but not as obsessively, dubbing her the Prudent Young Woman.
After Miguel is stabbed to death not far from the cafe, Maria gingerly approaches Luisa to offer her condolences, then comes to her house for an eventful evening, during which she meets Javier. Her infatuation with him soon follows, which in Spanish connotes more than our English equivalent: “the state of falling or being in love.”
But Javier dissembles as much as he resembles the ideal lover. This Maria learns much later in the novel, and in her smitten state – needing to be needed – she chooses not to act on what she knows.
For Javier claims to be Miguel’s best friend, but a friend who saved Miguel’s life by taking it. No, by having it taken. No, yet again: by having someone else have it taken.
The possibilities spin endlessly in Maria’s mind, reflecting and refracting around the themes of love, death and time, repeating themselves, then circling back in a self-correcting loop. As she recounts her infatuations first with the Perfect Couple, then with Javier – who loves only Luisa, and who may have killed in an effort to win her elusive affections – we see how “the truth is never clear, it’s always a tangled mess. Even when you get to the bottom of it.”
Thus, the truth of the novel: We are caught not so much in a stream of consciousness as in a double helix of fiction, its DNA. Hypnotic in its strange but familiar movements, fostering infatuations of our own. Infatuations with Marias’ (yes, his characters’ names intentionally mimic his own) rich, musical prose. Infatuations with his narrative drive, pushing ever onward.
But “once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten,” Maria says. Instead, what matters “are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”
And the controlling idea of “The Infatuations” has to do with only one thing: the dead.
“The worst thing that can happen to anyone, worse than death itself, and the worst thing one can make others do, is to return from the place from which no one returns, to come back to life at the wrong time, when you are no longer expected, when it’s too late and inappropriate.”
Javier Marias ranks as Spain’s pre-eminent novelist of ideas, often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Here, he hangs a taut metaphysical thriller on the frame of a straightforward murder mystery. He has created a splendid tour de force of narrative voice – all of it Maria’s – calm, assured and disciplined yet alive and ever-changing, self-consciously questioning its own reports.
Marias peppers his novel’s economy of action with sleek, clean intricacies of coincidence, hewing to the rhythms of thought, and never making a false step. His sustained focus, the inevitability of his forward motion, reflects the obsessive side of Maria’s infatuation, its fantasy, its re-creation of reality, its sacrifice of the old moral codes for the immediate rawness of love. The result? A luminous performance full of literary allusions – to Balzac, Dumas and Shakespeare – and wry portrayals of undesirable characters.
The book also teems with patterns of repetition: phrases, descriptions, emotions, situations. For Marias, repetition is the aesthetic counterpart of infinity, shot through with uncertainty and ambiguity.
What makes his novel succeed on such a grand scale is how Maria’s repartee holds all things at arm’s length: fate, character, morality, love.
In this way, everything becomes fictitious, even if it’s true, even if it’s time itself.
“Each morning (time) turns up with its soothing, invariable face and tells us exactly the opposite of what is actually happening: that everything is fine and nothing has changed, that everything is just as it was yesterday.”
But the dead resist all fictions; they insist on joining all factions of the living. They desperately want to return.
Still, “people do, in the end, allow the dead to depart, however fond of them they were, when they realize that their own survival is at risk and that the dead are a great burden.”
Fortunately, “The Infatuations” is anything but dead, living on in its invigorating welter of ideas, creating its own stellar hereafter.
“Yes, Marias has written a novel. And something much more.”
The Wichita Eagle, September 8, 2013
While Maria Was Sleeping
Murder and love are the pivots that curdle Marias’s novel and give it the air of an unreliable truth procedure
Maria Dolz sits in the same Madrid cafe every morning and watches an attractive couple, clearly in love, have breakfast there every day. The routine gives her pleasure and some kind of small daily mooring. One day the couple, Luisa and Miguel Deverne, are no longer there and Maria discovers that the gruesome newspaper photo of the fatally stabbed businessman on the pavement, lying in a pool of blood, is none other than Miguel. She learns that he has been killed by a mentally ill, homeless man, Vazquez Canella, who had got it into his head, as one story went, that Deverne was responsible for Canella’s daughters’ involvement in an international prostitution ring. Several months later, Maria sees Luisa come in to the cafe with her children and goes up to her to offer her condolences. And in Luisa’s home that same day she meets the ‘virile and handsome’ Juan Diaz-Varela, the dead man’s best friend, now dedicated to helping his widow come to terms with her loss and assist her in the process of recovery.
It is at this point that any sensible reviewer has to stop talking about elements of the plot, leaving readers to discover the fiendish corkscrew turns of the narrative. Javier Marias’s latest novel, The Infatuations, returns us to the territory of his second and third works of fiction, A Heart So White and Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me: heterosexual desire; deception and betrayal; the provisional nature of appearances, indeed, of truth; the morality, or otherwise, of love.
As Maria finds out more about the killing, and as she gets romantically involved with Diaz-Varela, albeit in a rather one-sided way, nothing remains stable or contained in the initial state that she, and we, the readers, perceived it to be; not the apparently motiveless murder, not Diaz-Varela’s self-abnegating friendship with Luisa, not even Maria’s own feelings. The skin of appearances is peeled back, time after time, to show us what lies beneath; yet, this layer too turns out to be another kind of skin, a mask, not the real tangle of nerves and muscles and arteries that you expected to be exposed.
So it proceeds like a thriller but the nodal points of revelations are interspersed with the rigorous and exhaustive parsing of these uncoverings. Take, for example, the long meditation on the undesirability of the dead returning to the land of the living, for the purposes of which Diaz-Varela brings in Balzac’s novella, Le Colonel Chabert. He argues, “We see quite clearly [in Balzac’s story] that, with the passing of time, what has been should continue to have been, to exist only in the past, as is always or almost always the case, that is how life is intended to be, so that there is no undoing what is done…the dead must stay where they are and nothing can be corrected.” The Balzac story is used not only as an illustration but also a justification: we will discover the explosive ramifications of this foray into literary criticism for the story in which Maria finds herself.
Because all of Marias’s narrators, including Maria Dolz, are endowed with hypercogitative (and hypereloquent) interiorities, all these discursive and radically verbose digressions may seem irrelevant, but don’t be fooled: the most lethal of stealth currents are hidden away in the great wash of words. Here is the great brilliance of Marias’s prose. The long runs of his glorious sentences, reproducing with great fidelity the fluid movements of thought, are mesmerising in their rhythm—I’m often reminded of the music of Steve Reich and John Adams—but suddenly in the middle of the entrancement Marias will have a knife flick open, transforming the hypnotism to something entirely different.
But this is not all that the prose achieves. At one point, Maria observes, “…it’s extraordinary how, after so many centuries of ceaseless talking, we still don’t know when people are telling us the truth”. Like all other novels by Marias, this book, then, enacts its own premise, both the ‘ceaseless talking’ and the uncertainty about truth-telling, in the way truths have proved elusive, illusive and shape-shifting for Maria and readers. The novel as epistemological enquiry—how do we know what we know?—is not new but Marias gives his version of the theory of knowledge a characteristic twist: can we ever know? The metaphysical thriller has never been so exciting as in Marias’s hands; no living writer does it with greater bravura skill.
And while we are on the prose, the laurel given to translator Gregory Rabassa by Marquez—‘The greatest living Latin American writer in the English language’—should surely now crown Margaret Jull Costa, whose translations from the Spanish and Portuguese form some of the most brilliant reading of our times?
Outlook (India), September 16, 2013
The Infatuations. A perfect couple, separated by murder
Salon, September 5, 2013
A third of the way through THE INFATUATIONS, Javier Marías’s new novel, Javier Díaz-Varela, a man who has been sleeping with the narrator, María Dolz, tells her about Balzac’s COLONEL CHABERT, an early work from the French author’s COMÉDIE HUMAINE cycle. A colonel is believed to have died in the Battle of Eylau. His widow inherits a large fortune and marries the wealthy Count Ferraud. Ten years later, to everyone’s surprise, Colonel
Chabert returns and wants to resume his old life. But he discovers that his wife has built a new life, one “in which there is no room for him”. As Díaz-Varela explains to María, the novel is proof that “the dead are fine where they are and should never come back.”
The reason for Díaz-Varela’s interest in Colonel Chabert is the narrative force behind THE INFATUATIONS, a brilliant work that is as much a philosophical treatise on fate and the vagaries of desire as it is a thriller about a murder.
María Dolz works at a Madrid publishing house. She eats breakfast at the same café every morning before work. Also having breakfast at the same time each day is a married couple who fascinate her. The man is 50 years old and “dressed with a slightly old-fashioned elegance,” with made-to-measure shirts and expensive ties. His younger wife wears sportier attire than her husband, such as “skimpy sandals that revealed delicate feet.” Even though she and the couple never speak to one another, María looks forward to seeing them every day. “They were the brief, modest spectacle that lifted my mood before I went to work.”
“…a brilliant work that is as much a philosophical treatise on fate and the vagaries of desire as it is a thriller about a murder…. Marías’s great achievement here is to make the philosophical insights into life’s biggest questions as gripping as the murder mystery.”
One morning in early June, the couple doesn’t appear. One of the waiters tells María that they have gone on holiday for the summer. She is saddened that she has “to wait until September for my little morning stimulant.” Shortly thereafter, however, her colleague Beatriz tells her that the man, whom María refers to as “Miguel Desvern or Deverne,” has been murdered. A gorrilla (homeless person) accosted Desvern on the street, accused him of involving the gorrilla’s daughters in a prostitution ring, and then stabbed Desvern 16 times with a butterfly knife.
Three months later, María sees Desvern’s widow, Luisa, in the café and extends her condolences. Luisa thanks her and invites María to her home, where, over glasses of port, she tells María that she can’t bring herself to hate the homeless man who killed her husband. It was a random murder, a case of mistaken identity. The killer has as much meaning to her as “a bit of plaster cornice that breaks off and falls on your head just as you’re walking by underneath.” There’s no more point to hating the killer than in hating that piece of plaster.
During this visit, Díaz-Varela, a friend of the Desvern family, drops by. He and María will eventually become lovers. Díaz-Varela tells María that, not long before his death, Desvern asked his friend if he would care for Luisa and their two children should anything happen to him. Díaz-Varela agreed, but he confesses to María that he is infatuated with Luisa and hopes that one day she will get over her grief and he can become her Count Ferraud. María is not upset by this revelation, as she, too, is in love with someone else. But when a man named Ruibérriz comes to Díaz-Varela’s flat late one night and, while María pretends to be asleep, murmurs something about a man who has “started to blab,” María begins to suspect that there may be more to the murder than she has been led to believe.
The richness of THE INFATUATIONS is not in the mechanics of its plot but in its philosophical underpinnings. Much of the novel consists of long and fascinating musings on the nature of death. Death is a sad occasion, Díaz-Varela says at one point, but when someone dies, we no longer have to deal with his annoying habits. At the passing of a great artist, some people derive perverse joy in the knowledge that the world is a little poorer, because the artist is no longer around to “underline our own relative mediocrity.” Marías’s great achievement here is to make the philosophical insights into life’s biggest questions as gripping as the murder mystery. And his long, vivid sentences (the English translation is by Margaret Jull Costa) are every bit as elegant as Desvern’s wardrobe. THE INFATUATIONS is an extraordinary novel.
Book Reporter, August 16, 2013
Great art often emerges from breaking…or at least tweaking…rules. A work that transcends its conventions can produce special results.
Here’s such a book.
Described by some as “metaphysical inquiry” but disguised as a murder mystery, The Infatuations takes you where very few novels do…to dark thoughts and long passages of suggested theories or, at times, even to entirely imagined conversations between characters. Plot advancement takes a back seat. Instead, a narrator’s thoughts offer various perspectives on life, death and love…and, appropriately, infatuation.
Javier Marías takes a unique approach. His priorities as a writer differ from others; his narrator channels him in saying:
“It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matter are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”
That passage, along with various others sprinkled throughout, presumably refers to the book itself. Interspersed with bits that apply to the author’s own work, The Infatuations sometimes overlooks the actual story to instead highlight how Marías presents his story.
He makes his intentions quite clear early on, lulling the reader with hypnotic prose after providing some context for his musings. Details spill out, eliminating many of the main questions so that the writer can set the stage for his narrator, María Dolz, to uncover mysteries that surround her from the opening sentence:
“The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him, which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word.”
We have here an immediate idea of Marías’s writing style…or at least Margaret Jull Costa’s translated English version of his style. Count the commas—nine. Marías obviously and absolutely revels in taking a single idea or thought, then riffing, building on it, sometimes for paragraphs, even pages, at a time. One sentence runs a page and a half. At times, multiple pages pass with no action or event, instead centering on the narrator’s inner reflections.
Is it ludicrous for a 300-plus page murder mystery to rely so heavily on introspection?
Not really, when Marías has also created with The Infatuations (originally Los enamoramientos in Spanish) a novel replete with references to the writing world, publishing and classic literature that brilliantly support his storytelling and themes. We find reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Balzac’s Colonel Chabert and Dumas’ Three Musketeers in these pages, all in service to the basic whodunit.
Marías, who has taught at universities in Europe and the United States, got his first writing job as an English-Spanish translator for Dracula scripts. He has since translated countless other literary classics and also written plenty of short stories to go along with this 12th novel. He first published a novel in 1971, at a precocious age 20.
Known in part for his approach to writing—Marías begins with minor planning, writing as he goes, and does not redraft—his style has won many admirers. The author lives in Madrid, his native city, where this novel also takes place.
So…after the literary gymnastics…what is The Infatuations really about?
We have María Dolz. (Whether Marías named his main character María to represent himself, or to confuse people reading about his book is unclear.) María sees the same couple at a cafe every morning. Even though María hasn’t actually met the pair, she admires them from afar…and she gradually feels as though she gets to know them.
One day, the pair remains notably absent. We learn that a homeless man has stabbed the male member of the couple violently to death in broad daylight. Please note: These are not spoilers—the author makes this all quite clear in the first few pages.
Miguel’s death, seeming a little too random, motivates María to introduce herself to the widow. The widow, in turn, introduces Maria to two friends at her house. To speak of any further plot at this point will risk tearing away a tangled web of mystery.
The author uses breaks in plot to infuse his narrator with his views, plenty of them, particularly on death. The musings cover not only the passing of a loved one, but also perceptions of the deaths of non-relatives or complete strangers.
“We mourn a great writer or a great artist when he or she dies, but there is a certain joy to be had from knowing that the world has become a little more vulgar and a little poorer, and that our own vulgarity and poverty will thus be better hidden or disguised; that he or she is no longer there to underline our own relative mediocrity; that talent in general has taken another step towards disappearing from the face of the earth or slipping further back into the past…”
On the surface, this appears to have nothing to do with Miguel’s death, draws no direct comparisons to it. The discussion and analysis of death’s after-effects remain more vital to the novel than the events surrounding Miguel’s death. Marías addresses this on both a small and large scale.
In today’s world, fatality rates from natural disasters, bombings and diseases wipe out such large numbers that people develop a high level of insensitivity to it all. The news surrounds us with a constant atmosphere of death. If hundreds die here and thousands there, what is one mere ambulance rushing to one scene?
“We almost never ask ourselves what very real misfortune they’re rushing to, it’s just another familiar city sound, a sound with no specific content, a mere nuisance, empty of meaning.”
Perhaps cold, it holds truth. Sure, we may sometimes wonder where that ambulance goes, but certainly not every time. How often do people put a conversation on hold or stop in traffic for a siren, then eagerly wait to resume their interrupted task? How long should someone contemplate the wailing before getting back to their lives normally?
“We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten without leaving so much as a tremor of grief, not a trace.”
Even if we do stop to contemplate, what does it accomplish? What can we do for the person? What could they have done for themselves?
“…the reality is that anyone can destroy us, just as anyone can conquer us, and that is our essential fragility. If someone sets out to destroy us, then it’s very difficult to avoid destruction, unless we drop everything and focus entirely on that struggle.”
How, then, do people go on day-to-day, knowing the inevitable end could await us around the next corner?
The questions actually matter less to Marías than the fact that people raise such questions in the first place. How often do people think of these things in their daily lives? How often does this come up in other books? Remember, it’s about the possibilities of the plot…not the plot itself.
The style cannot entirely escape criticism. For some, even an appreciation for introspective searching cannot mask a burning desire to know what happens next in a snail-paced plot. Additionally, some sentences do feel like run-ons, and this reader often looked over lengthy thoughts about death before realizing: I don’t even remember if Maria’s talking about herself or imagining someone else’s thoughts. Backtracking to reveal the source of the thoughts becomes a regular…and sometimes tiresome…act.
Still, Marías forces us at every turn to question the source of words, to remember and separate facts from suspicions. He toys with a reader, mixing clouded memories and theories with actual monologues (or discussions) with characters. A reader must always remember the difference between what our somewhat intentionally unreliable narrator has proven and what she has assumed. Again, author Marías’ words say it best:
“People start out seeing one thing and end up seeing quite the opposite. They start out loving and end up hating, of shifting from indifference to adoration. We can never be sure of what is going to be vital to us and who we will consider to be important. Our convictions are transient and fragile, even the ones we believe to be the strongest. It’s the same with our feelings. We shouldn’t trust ourselves.”
Marías didn’t write this book to make readers remember a heroic protagonist. He didn’t write it to make hearts race in suspense, or to make us tell friends about one specific jaw-dropping moment.
This book sets out to leave a lasting impression on how we look at some of life’s most difficult, complex and terrifying aspects. In that aspect—arguably the most relevant aspect—he succeeds tremendously.
Paste Magazine, September 3, 2013
María et ses mirages
C’est une femme dans une cafétéria. Un matin de printemps, à Madrid, de nos jours. Une (encore) jeune femme, plutôt belle, discrète. Elle s’appelle María Dolz. Elle est éditrice. Chaque jour, elle retarde le moment de rejoindre son bureau, elle regarde passer les gens et s’arrêter un couple d’un certain âge et d’une distinction non moins certaine, respirant l’aisance et la sérénité accomplie de l’amour. L’homme et la femme fascinent María. Ils sont pour elle comme un voyage en douce, quelque chose de clandestin et de rassurant à la fois.
Aussi est-elle étonnée, à la fin de l’été, de ne pas les retrouver à la terrasse du café, avant d’apprendre que l’homme, un producteur de cinéma nommé Miguel Desvern, a été sauvagement assassiné par un déséquilibré. Se rapprochant de Luisa, la désormais veuve, María va faire la connaissance du meilleur ami du défunt, Javier, dont elle devient la maîtresse. Et elle qui ne savait rien de ces gens, n’avait fait que les envisager ou les dévisager, les aimer peut-être aussi à sa rêveuse manière, va se trouver plongée dans un mystère plus opaque encore, où la mort, le désir, le mensonge mènent la danse, un étrange bal des fantômes. Le décès de Miguel Desvern est-il aussi fortuit qu’il semble l’être ? Quel rôle a pu, peut-être, y jouer Javier? Et pourquoi María serait-elle bien inspirée de lire Le Colonel Chabert, de Balzac?
Ces questions sont au cœur de Comme les amours, le nouveau roman de Javier Marías. Marías, qui à lui seul a déplacé le centre de gravité du monde littéraire espagnol de Barcelone à Madrid et annexé «l’understatement» britannique au rayon des beaux-arts ibériques, est à peu près unanimement considéré comme le plus grand écrivain de son pays. Perclus d’honneurs, il n’attend plus désormais que l’onction suprême du Nobel.
Ce roman, qui succède à Ton visage demain, une trilogie romanesque qui avait quelque peu désarçonné jusqu’à ses plus fidèles lecteurs, a rencontré dans son pays un immense succès, et sa traduction en Angleterre et aux États-Unis, portée par les échos critiques flatteurs de gens aussi recommandables qu’Edward St Aubyn ou Alberto Manguel, promet de connaître le même sort.
Qu’en est-il de cette version française? Le lecteur d’ici ne risque-t-il pas d’être intimidé par l’ampleur et la hauteur du propos, voire ennuyé par l’architecture toute en ratiocinations et ressassements du livre? Marías reprend ici en effet ce qui faisait toute la beauté désolée de ses grands romans qu’étaient « Demain dans la bataille pense à moi » ou Un cœur si blanc: une mise en doute systématique du réel. Jusqu’au malaise. Jusqu’au vertige.
María a-t-elle bien entendu ce qu’elle croit avoir entendu cachée dans la chambre de son amant? Les morts le sont-ils tout à fait? Les sentiments sont-ils autre chose qu’une entreprise délibérée de corruption du sens moral? Ces questions, passionnantes, qui relèvent de la philosophie, de l’esthétique et de la dialectique, sont au cœur de l’œuvre ; de toute l’œuvre. On regrettera seulement qu’elles soient ici posées avec une certaine forme de didactisme, une insistance qui peut engendrer dans la narration quelque lourdeur et à la lecture quelque ennui. Tel quel, Comme les amours demeure tout de même une assez fascinante énigme littéraire.
«Une mise en doute du réel. Jusqu’au malaise. Jusqu’au vertige»
Sud Ouest, 1 septembre 2013
Servie par une prose magistrale, cette fable morale sur l’amour et la mort ne peut que nous rappeler, par son intensité, les meilleures pages d’ Un cœur si blanc ou de Demain dans la bataille pense à moi. Comme par le passé, Javier Marías y dialogue avec les tragédies de Shakespeare mais également avec le Colonel Chabert de Balzac dont il nous offre ici une lecture brillante, complètement inattendue et strictement contemporaine.
La citation des Trois mousquetaires «Un meurtre, pas davantage» revient régulièrement. Est-ce le thème dont le roman constitue les variations, une position philosophique ou une constatation désabusée?
C’est une citation saisissante, dont j’ignore si elle a été suffisamment prise en compte. Comme si, d’une certaine façon, un assassinat n’était pas la pire chose possible, ou comme si les assassins étaient si normaux et communs que nous ne devrions jamais, au fond, nous étonner ni nous scandaliser devant eux. Ce n’est pas le thème de mon roman (il y en a plusieurs et ils sont tous importants), mais on trouve effectivement cette idée selon laquelle les crimes individuels, «civils», ceux qui ne sont ni massifs ni politiques, sont une constante au cours de l’histoire, dans toutes les époques et toutes les régions, sans que les gens ne les commettent, pour ainsi dire, par imitation ou «contagion», ou par folie collective. Chaque personne agit pour son compte et de sa propre initiative. Si l’on pense à cette constante, et si l’on pense au nombre de ces crimes qui sont restés impunis et le restent encore, et à ceux dont nous n’avons même pas connaissance, on ressent en effet comme un sentiment de déception vis-à-vis de la condition humaine. Et ceci est un autre thème du roman : l’impunité et la manière dont nos sociétés tendent de plus en plus à l’accepter.
Le pourquoi et le comment d’une mort sont-ils plus importants que la mort elle-même?
Non, j’imagine qu’ils ne sont pas plus importants que la mort elle-même. En fin de compte nous savons bien que le temps nivelle toute chose, quand il ne l’oublie pas tout bonnement. Si l’on nous parle aujourd’hui d’un meurtre commis au XVIIIe siècle, nous n’écoutons certes pas avec indifférence, mais nous le considérons bien comme un récit, une histoire fictionnelle, plutôt que quelque chose de réel, qui s’est véritablement produit. Le temps a tendance à transformer les faits en événements «fictifs», et en ce sens le comment et le pourquoi sont ce qui «offre une bonne histoire» ou non. Ensuite, oui, il y a les morts ridicules, dont je parle dans les premières pages de mon roman Demain dans la bataille pense à moi. Il vaut mieux ne pas en être victime, car c’est sans aucun doute ce dont l’on se souviendra à notre sujet. Les morts trop marquantes sont injustes : elles effacent parfois la vie entière qu’a pu avoir une personne auparavant.
«La vérité n’est jamais nette, c’est toujours un embrouillement. Même la plus élucidée», écrivez-vous. Estimez-vous que la vérité est par essence minée?
Oui, très certainement. Il y a quelques années, dans mon discours d’entrée à l’Académie royale espagnole, j’ai parlé «De la difficulté de raconter». Il est presque impossible de détenir la vérité sur quoi que ce soit – demandez donc aux historiens, qui ne sont jamais à l’abri de rectifications, de corrections, de démentis et d’amendements. De même, il est presque impossible de raconter ce qu’il s’est passé et que nous avons vu, ou même notre propre biographie, qui nous apparaît immanquablement parsemée de zones d’ombres. Qui furent mes parents avant d’être mes parents, par exemple? Et par conséquent, de qui suis-je issu en réalité et pourquoi suis-je né? C’est peut-être pour cela que nous écrivons et lisons des romans, pour que quelque chose, une fois, bien que ce soit inventé, puisse être pleinement raconté. La vérité n’entre pas dans un roman et n’en sort pas non plus, car celui-ci se déroule dans une dimension au sein de laquelle il n’y a ni mensonge ni vérité.
Pour vous, le monde est-il un gigantesque mensonge? Ou plutôt une gigantesque hypocrisie?
Ni l’un ni l’autre. C’est plutôt ce que Faulkner disait du pouvoir de la littérature, ce qu’elle peut faire de plus, et que j’ai cité à de nombreuses reprises. «C’est comme une allumette que l’on enflamme au milieu de la nuit, au milieu d’une forêt : la seule chose qu’elle parvienne à illuminer est l’obscurité qui l’entoure.» Ou quelque chose comme ça, je ne me rappelle pas exactement. Le monde est une gigantesque obscurité, même à l’heure où nous croyons presque tout savoir et pensons pouvoir espionner, filmer et enregistrer presque tout. Même ainsi nous sommes enveloppés d’obscurité.
Gallimard, août 2013
Que les murs aient des oreilles ou que les oreilles n’aient pas de paupières, les romans de Javier Marias entretiennent un rapport particulier avec «le champ auditif». Il y a ce qu’on dit et que les autres ne devraient pas entendre et, surtout, ce que les autres disent et qu’il aurait mieux valu ne pas entendre. Comme les amours (titre original :Los Enamoramientos) est le premier roman en un volume de l’Espagnol né en 1951 traduit depuis Dans le dos noir du temps en 2000 (Rivages), après les trois tomes de Ton visage demain (Gallimard). On y retrouve le charme narratif et intellectuel propre à Javier Marias, quand les pensées et interprétations des personnages sont elles-mêmes créatrices de romanesque, envahissant l’intrigue. Non pour la détruire ou la diminuer mais pour la faire mieux avancer. Comme il est répété dans le texte, «ce qui arrive dans les romans n’a pas d’importance et on l’oublie, une fois qu’ils sont finis. Ce sont les possibilités et les idées qu’ils nous inoculent et nous apportent à travers leurs cas imaginaires qui sont intéressantes». Avant, les sirènes des ambulances, de la police ou des pompiers poussaient les gens à la fenêtre, quand elles n’étaient pas trop fréquentes. «A présent plus personne ne regarde au-dehors, nous attendons qu’elles s’éloignent et qu’elles sortent le malade, l’accidenté, le blessé, le presque mort de notre champ auditif, afin qu’ainsi elles ne nous concernent plus ni ne nous mettent les nerfs à vif.» Mais il y a une femme dont le mari vient d’être assassiné, alors les sirènes d’urgence la concernent. Et il y a la narratrice qui va entendre ce qui n’aurait jamais dû siffler à ses oreilles, alors tout récit la concerne. Les romans, à travers Balzac et Dumas, le Colonel Chabert et les Trois Mousquetaires, ont inoculé quelque chose de particulier dans le nouveau roman de Javier Marias (il faut aussi prendre en compte une phrase de Macbeth, ce n’est pas la première fois que l’auteur utilise Shakespeare dans ses fictions).
Il y a donc un meurtre dès la première page. L’homme du couple si resplendissant que la narratrice l’a remarqué au café est assassiné par un déséquilibré, sans doute par erreur. Mais cette énigme plus grande qu’il n’y paraît n’est pas le sujet du roman. Ce dont il s’agit est la place respective des morts et des vivants, d’où le recours au colonel Chabert,«celui qui est mort à Eylau» et dont la réapparition provoque autant de catastrophes que l’avait fait sa disparition. «C’est un meurtre, pas davantage», dit Athos quand il exécute Milady dans le consensus. Un meurtre, c’est quelque chose qui arrive, doit en arriver à se dire le meurtrier qui «ne voit plus l’assassinat comme une monstrueuse exception ou une tragique erreur, mais comme une ressource supplémentaire que procure la vie aux plus audacieux et résistants».Tout le monde connaît ces basculements plus vitaux que moraux et celle qui n’imaginait pas son existence sans tel homme finit par surmonter sa disparition. Eh bien, cela va plus loin. «Il y en a peu, mais il y a des gens comme ça, des gens qui s’impatientent et qui s’ennuient dans le malheur, avec lesquels ce dernier a peu d’avenir, même si, de toute évidence et objectivement, il s’est acharné sur eux durant un certain temps. […] Mais ils sont destinés à s’en débarrasser rapidement et sans y mettre une grande détermination, par une sorte d’incompatibilité.» Il faut compter avec le «caractère», celui des amoureux comme celui des assassins.
Les morts, on peut normalement les regretter «en toute sécurité», certains qu’ils ne vont pas ressusciter. Les journalistes le savent qui peuvent «commettre des titres comme “Décès du dernier génie du piano” ou “La dernière légende du cinéma s’est éteinte”, comme s’ils célébraient avec ravissement qu’enfin il n’y en a plus et qu’il n’y en aura plus, qu’avec le décès du jour nous nous délivrons de l’universel cauchemar comme quoi il existe des gens supérieurs ou particulièrement doués que nous admirons à nos dépens» (l’humour de Javier Marias s’exerce aussi sur les écrivains, la narratrice travaillant dans une maison d’édition). Le mystère de la mort n’est pas tant le moment que «le bon moment». «”Notre époque est étrange”, pensai-je. “On se permet de parler de tout et on écoute tout le monde, quoi qu’aient fait les gens, et pas seulement afin qu’ils se défendent, mais comme si le récit de leurs atrocités avait en soi un intérêt”.» Et la narratrice ne peut y contrevenir puisqu’elle est dans cette époque et qu’elle n’en est qu’«un pion». Elle fait partie de ceux, «chaque jour moins nombreux», qui ont la délation en aversion et préfèrent «parfois être injustes et qu’une chose reste impunie plutôt que de nous voir en délateurs, nous ne pouvons le supporter – au bout du compte la justice n’est pas notre affaire, nous n’avons pas à agir d’office». Il ne faut pas se «formaliser» que les choses se fassent «faute de mieux», fût-ce le choix d’une amoureuse.
Libération, 28 août 2013
Le grand retour de Javier Marías
Le Point, 22 août 2013
Conocer para olvidar
Javier Marías (1951) publicó su primera novela a los 19 años. Hijo del filósofo Julián Marías, pasó parte de su infancia en Estados Unidos, tuvo una educación selecta y cosmopolita, fue profesor universitario en Oxford y en Madrid, y es uno de los escritores españoles más reconocido internacionalmente (premiado, editado, mimado por la crítica).
Como suele suceder -y quizás a causa del éxito y prestigio, que parece llevar como una prenda natural-, la recepción en su país ha sido ambivalente. Sus detractores lo acusan de difícil, libresco y pedante, combinando sus dosis de ataque a la obra y al autor. Pese a esas escaramuzas propias del mundillo literario español, no puede dudarse de que Marías es un gran novelista. Además de esto, mantiene una columna periodística, reseña libros, es un excelente traductor. También ha escrito cuentos, que acaba de reunir en el volumen que tituló como uno de ellos, Mala índole.
En el Prólogo del Quijote, dice el autor que “acontece tener un padre un hijo feo y sin gracia alguna, y el amor que le tiene le pone una venda en los ojos para que no vea sus faltas; antes las juzga por discreciones y lindezas y las cuenta a sus amigos por agudezas y donaires”. Esta metáfora cervantina, que refiere a la difícil distancia entre el creador y su obra, puede aplicarse a la relación de Javier Marías con sus cuentos, caracterizada por la ambigüedad. Por un lado, en este volumen admite la flaqueza de algunos, de los que se avergüenza “un poco” y sugiere que el lector no perdería mucho si los saltea. Hay otro grupo que “aún no lo avergüenzan”. Esta discriminación explica la división del volumen en dos partes: “Cuentos aceptables” y “Cuentos aceptados”. Impulsado por la decisión de no escribir más cuentos, las razones que da el autor para la publicación conjunta de tan dudoso corpus apuntan a la posteridad y a devolverles el valor que les niega en el juicio: facilitar la tarea de quienes buscan sus primeros cuentos publicados en revistas, complacer a “lectores impacientes” que ya no encuentran antiguas ediciones, ofrecer unos pulidos cuentos completos a exégetas futuros, todo lo cual lo coloca en el circuito de la consagración y lo eleva implícitamente a la condición de clásico. También Cervantes empleó el dispositivo de autoelogio en sus prólogos, lo que puede ser una razón para perdonárselo a Marías, aunque éste no pueda alcanzar el sentido del humor y la dosis siempre justa de ironía de aquél. Por otra parte, es bastante notorio que los cuentos no están a la altura de sus novelas. Hechos con los mismos ingredientes, muchos de ellos, sin embargo, resultan un poco banales, o bien efectistas, afectados por la elección de puntos de vista artificiosos (un fantasma, un muerto), o por las casualidades o hechos inauditos que justifican la trama. Hay predilección por muertos cuya energía opera en el mundo de los vivos, cierta obsesión por muertes misteriosas administradas por médicos sórdidos y discretos, por los asesinatos por encargo, siempre impunes, que a veces dependen sólo de un gesto o una palabra que se pudo haber evitado y a menudo pesan sobre la conciencia de alguien poco involucrado. La repetición de asuntos y situaciones de un cuento a otro contribuye a la creación de lo siniestro como atributo del conjunto.
“Mala índole”, el preferido del autor y, según declara, de algunos fieles lectores, resulta mediano, sin embargo, frente a “Cuando fui mortal”, uno de los mejores de la suma, donde da rienda a un punto fuerte de su obra: el retorno de lo ominoso silenciado y la familia como espacio sórdido y asfixiante. “Domingo de carne” y “El viaje de novios” son reescrituras de una misma escena, que a su vez se integra a la estupenda novela Corazón tan blanco (1992). Aun fuera de ese marco que los explica de otro modo, logran toda su fuerza precisamente en el inacabado, que refuerza la situación de un hombre atrapado en una escena incomprensible que lo atrae y le repugna al mismo tiempo. Algo similar -respecto al clima generado por la diferencia de conocimientos de los distintos personajes sobre la situación que comparten, y que suma al desconcierto del lector- ocurre con el logrado “Un epigrama de lealtad”, al principio del cual el autor advierte que sólo los lectores de la novela Todas las almas (1988) “dispondrán de todos los datos para su comprensión cabal”.
Entrar en una novela de Marías es ingresar a un terreno en el que el placer de dejarse llevar por la escritura limpia se combina con la imposibilidad de despegarse de una trama sugestiva, que arrastra al lector, acuciado por el deseo de saber y a la vez por el miedo a saber, en espejo con lo que les ocurre a los protagonistas de sus historias. En Los enamoramientos, el autor elige un punto de vista femenino para contar el azaroso descubrimiento de un crimen y la lucha por desvelar la identidad del asesino, por medio de un proceso en que novela y conocimiento corren parejos. La clásica fórmula trágica según la cual la pesquisa contaminará inevitablemente al detective, que arriesga el derrumbe de su mundo, desmadejando un ovillo guiado por la duda, siguiendo la intuición de que el asesino pueda ser alguien cercano y querido, adquiere nuevo vigor en manos de Marías. La exploración del amor parte de la premisa de éste como un obstáculo en la búsqueda de la verdad, un juego de espejos que sólo puede engendrar ilusión y engaño, puesto que enamorarse es caer en una trampa que tarde o temprano revelará a otro dispuesto a traicionar, a mostrar su doblez. Si la deriva detectivesca agudiza el rigor lógico, la excesiva especulación discursiva -tendencia que le ha valido al autor el calificativo de cerebral-, ésta se complementa con una exploración despiadada de las emociones y los fraudes de los sentimientos. El enamoramiento se ve como un veneno que contamina el criterio y que se decanta en la construcción del otro evasivo que esconde y manipula, que siempre sabe más. Enamorarse lleva a la debilidad de creer o justificar, a la pérdida del control y de la seguridad en la interpretación del mundo. Indagar, escribir la novela supone la lucha por el control, de modo que conocer es desenamorarse. Aun así, no se llega a ninguna conclusión reparadora, porque la verdad se despliega en posibilidades, a partir de lo cual el conocimiento (de otro, de los hechos tal como ocurrieron) resulta imposible y lo único seguro es la duda, el repliegue y el cierre. Triángulos amorosos, asesinatos, culpabilidades e inocencias colaboran a poner en juego otras obsesiones del autor: la delación como crimen, la decisión entre decir y callar, los efectos del tiempo en el recuerdo y en el olvido.
La novela -como el amor- se presenta, además, como construcción adormecedora, que induce el deseo de escuchar mentiras, de seguir indagando a pesar de intuir el engaño: “Mientras uno escucha o lee algo tiende a creerlo. Otra cosa es después, cuando el libro ya está cerrado o la voz no habla más”. Narrar es ejercitar una estrategia de seducción, que operará en el lector como el atontamiento del amor, suspenderá el juicio, mantendrá en vilo, correrá por el borde sinuoso entre el miedo y la entrega. En una serie de gestos que también inventó Cervantes, la voz narrativa reflexiona sobre su propio método, ya cuestionando la verosimilitud -”porque en la vida real casi nadie necesita averiguar ni se dedica a investigar nada, eso sólo pasa en las novelas pueriles”-, ya poniendo al descubierto las estrategias -”había observado el viejo precepto de relatar en último lugar lo que debía figurar como verdadero”-, desapegándose de la materia narrada con el mismo escalpelo analítico con el que el enamorado emprende el análisis del proceso amoroso, para librarse de él.
Mª ÁNGELES GONZÁLEZ
El País (Edición de Uruguay), 30 de agosto de 2013
Death Becomes Her
“Of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice throughout the known world,” Laurence Sterne writes in Tristram Shandy, “I am confident my own way of doing it is the best — I’m sure it is the most religious — for I begin with writing the first sentence — and trusting to Almighty God for the second.”
Javier Marías, whose Spanish translation of Tristram Shandy won Spain’s Luis de León Award in Translation in 1979, likewise entrusts the creation of his novels to something higher. “I work without a map,” he has said. “I work only with a compass.” Trusting his imagination, Marías seems less to invent than to discover each page’s potential. “The blank page is best of all,” he has written, “the most eternally believable and the most revealing, precisely because it is never finished, on it there is eternally room for everything.” This belief not only distinguishes Marías’s style (digression is his progression) but it is also evident in the fact that, while he favors certain themes — history and language, truth and violence — he just as gladly lets his mind play over the mundane. Such intellectual excess lends his novels their often overlooked humor: “[I]t was as I realized at once,Babe […] the little pig was a great actor, I wondered if perhaps he had been nominated for an Oscar that year, but I doubt he would have won […]”
Born in 1951 to Julián Marías, a renowned philosopher persecuted by the Franco regime, Javier Marías has sold millions of books and been translated into more than 40 languages, yet North American popularity has proved elusive. Since the English translation of 1992’s A Heart So White won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1997, each new release has been hyped as his potential North American hit, with adulating critics routinely asserting that the given volume serves as the best introduction to his work. But until The Infatuations, the new novel expertly translated by Margaret Jull Costa, readers have lacked a convenient approach to an otherwise sprawling and self-referential corpus. Novels such as All Souls(1992), A Heart So White, and the three-volume opus Your Face Tomorrow(2004, 2006, and 2009) share characters and plot-lines, not to mention what Marías terms the “system of echoes and resonances” which truly comprise his aesthetic. The Infatuations, however, which won Spain’s National Novel Prize (a prize Marías declined), is his first to be published by a major American house (Knopf), and may just be the stand-alone exemplary work critics have long prophesied.
María, the novel’s narrator, works for a Madrid publishing house, where she services the egos and absurd requests of its vaunted authors, and takes her breakfast each morning at the same café. There, she regularly observes an ideal married couple:
At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop, laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the very first time, and not as if they had left the house together, dropped the kids off at school, having first got washed and dressed at the same time — perhaps in the same bathroom — and woken up in the same bed, nor as if the first thing they’d seen had been the inevitable face of their spouse, and so on and on, day after day, for a fair number of years […]
But the occasion of María’s narration is a murder. After all, the man and woman are characters, both in her life and in our novel: “You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting right from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no novel or film.” It is typical of Marías to dispense with any fact/fiction distinction: as he wrote in All Souls, “When true knowledge proves irrelevant, one is free to invent,” and in any case, as Your Face Tomorrow suggests, “our infinite imaginings belong to life too.”
When María learns that the husband has been gruesomely stabbed to death by a misguided, insane man — “a cruel, stupid, gratuitous death” — she decides to approach the woman, Luisa, and learn about the couple. “[S]o often we only find out that someone has existed once they have ceased to do so, in fact, because they have ceased to exist,” María muses. Through Luisa, María is introduced to Javier (the names, both Javier’s and María’s, are surely no coincidence), one of the murdered man’s closest friends. María embarks on an affair with Javier though she suspects he is ultimately in love with the now-widowed Luisa.
The first half of The Infatuations comprises the most mature meditation on death and dying in Marías’s corpus, perhaps a result of Julián Marías’s passing in 2005. Like the speaker of Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” Marías is unusually sensitive to the “human position” of suffering: “[H]ow it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.” Although even to a stranger Luisa was clearly in love, María realizes “she’ll get over this.” As Javier theorizes,
[T]he despair will become less intense, the sense of shock will diminish and, above all, she will get used to the idea: ‘I’m a widow’ […] That will be the fact, the piece of information […]And when Luisa marries again […] that fact, that piece of information, will have changed, while remaining the same as before, and she will no longer say of herself: ‘I’ve been widowed’ or ‘I’m a widow,’ because she won’t be, and will say instead ‘I lost my first husband, and he’s moving further away from me all the time.’
These words are part of a remarkable monologue which confirms Marías as Thomas Bernhard’s successor in the form. Marías goes on: “[U]ltimately, life prevails over us, so much so that, in the long run, it’s almost impossible for us to imagine ourselves without the sorrows life brings […]” Disturbingly but perhaps consolingly, the survivor may even find herself happier in the outcome:
There is no death that is not also, in some way, a relief, that does not offer some advantage […] We might mourn a wife or a husband, but sometimes we discover, although this may take a while, that we live more happily and more comfortably without them.
Indeed, María has become Javier’s lover, and we’ve become readers of this novel, as a result of murder. The Infatuations invites us to acknowledge injustice, from private accidents to national catastrophes, as ultimately vital to our pleasure and peace. While there is something almost ruthless in such a nuanced outlook, its opposite is equally true (the blank page has room for everything): Marías alerts us to the corpse by the wayside of every happy plot; he sees the grinning skull in the easy smile.
In an interview with The Paris Review in 2006, Marías said:
The idea of a male writing a female narrator and a female writing a male seems absurd […] I find books like that a little unbelievable. Only once have I written from a female perspective and that was in a short story. I would not be able to sustain it for a whole novel.
This was only a handful of years before he commenced work on The Infatuations. Whatever the reason for his change of heart, the shift is a happy one, with several bright advantages. For one, it has seemingly freed him to lampoon men in the novel’s most acerbically comic sections, as when María catches an acquaintance of Javier’s glimpsing her partially nude body:
[…] I saw only surprise and a flicker of male appreciation, which is easy enough to spot and which he doubtless made no effort to conceal, for some men’s eyes are very quick to make such evaluations, a reflex action they can’t avoid, they’re even capable of ogling the bare thighs of a woman who has been involved in a car accident and is still lying, all bloody, on the road, or of staring at the hint of cleavage revealed by the woman who crouches down to help them if they happen to be the injured party, it’s beyond their will to control or perhaps it has nothing to do with will at all, it’s a way of being in the world that will last until the day they die, and before closing their eyes for ever, their gaze will linger appreciatively on the nurse’s knee, even if she’s wearing lumpy white tights.
Elsewhere in that same interview, Marías argued,
One of the best possible perspectives from which to tell a story is that of a ghost […] someone who still cares about what he left behind, so much so that he comes back. You could say that my narrators are ghosts in that particular sense. They are passive, but they are still curious, they are observant.
When he went on to state, self-critically, “my female characters are a bit in the shade,” he may not yet have realized that therein lay the female voice’s advantage. María is the most ghostly narrator in an oeuvre populated by eavesdroppers, stalkers, and lingerers.
Like the ghosts of the dead, “which exercise a powerful attraction when they are still recent, as if they wanted to drag us after them,” María phases in and then out of the lives of Javier and Luisa. At the outset of the novel, she is “unnoticed,” “mingling with — but invisible to” the action, only to become entangled via her affair with Javier, and her final dematerialization begins after first overhearing and then learning Javier’s terrible secret. Burdened by his confession —”He […] has passed a weight on to me” — María faces a new dilemma: Is it her responsibility to act? “It sounds strange and even wrong,” she says, “and yet it can happen: [we] would sometimes prefer to act unjustly and for someone to go unpunished than see ourselves as betrayers, we can’t bear it — when all’s said and done, justice simply isn’t our thing, it’s not our job.” No, she decides, she will not play the role of revenging ghost: “The worst thing . . . [is] to come back to life at the wrong time, when you are no longer expected, when it’s too late and inappropriate, when the living have assumed you are over and done with and have continued or taken up their lives again.” Marías’s novel weaves an intricate web, but its triumph is in the power of its narrator. By transforming a female into a kind of shade, Marías found the ideal voice — detached, inquisitive, and vigilant — for one of his finest novels.
The Franco regime casts a long shadow over the work of Javier Marías (whose full name is Javier Marías Franco), but in The Infatuations, Javier’s crime, and María’s reaction to it, lays to rest a conversation about the dictator’s legacy heretofore most powerfully treated in Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream. “Keeping a distance from actual events and being privileged enough not to have to witness them,” says Javier,
all provide scope for a high degree of autosuggestion […] You manage to convince yourself that you have nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, or in the head-on confrontation, even if you provoked or unleashed it […]
Surely this was Franco’s method, as well, enabling him to “[die] happy — if such a thing is possible — believing that everything would continue as he had ordained.”
But while “it’s clear who pulled the strings and who wrote the plot and who gave the order,” in the case of both the husband’s fate and Spain’s, María’s subsequent inaction points to a new urge toward restitution in Marías’s work. In Your Face Tomorrow, letting the past recede in favor of the present was seen as “another symptom of the infantilization of the world,” but now we sense moral resilience in María as she decides,
I [do not] want to be like the wretched books among which I spend my life, whose time stands still and waits inside, trapped and watching, begging to be opened so that it can flow freely again and retell its old and oft-repeated story.
Where has the imaginative compass of this novel delivered us? Through all the cruel, stupid, gratuitous crimes of history, we end serenely in the shade, oriented toward tomorrow with renewed generosity, curiosity, and humanity. In this powerful, morally nebulous space, the likes of which only Marías’s fiction can conjure, we are unafraid, even invincible: “Nothing more can die on us if we are already dead.”
MICHAEL LA POINTE
Los Angeles Review of Books, August 6, 2013
Renowned Spanish writer Javier Marías has written an exquisite novel, his 13th and perhaps his best, “The Infatuations.” It contains the classical themes of love, death and fate – as the Argentine-born writer Alberto Manguel puts it – inextricably mixed.
Some critics say it is the best Spanish novel since “Don Quixote.” It reads so beautifully that I had trouble not making note of remarkable phrases on every page.
There is a linguistic habit embedded in it, however, to which American readers will have to adjust. Instead of terse sentences in the novel, there are long colloquial elocutions, artfully set out, of pro and con arguments, without too brusque a change of direction; perhaps a European or Middle Eastern practice or both, in origin.
Here is how “The Infatuations” begins: A young woman, María Dolz, works in the publishing business in Madrid. She stops at a café each morning where she is drawn to a couple who appear to live an “unblemished” existence, one perhaps she dearly wishes she could emulate. María observed the couple carefully each day.
“The man is less than 50 and dressed with an old-fashioned elegance and seemed genuinely amused by life. He addresses the waiters formally as usted and treats them with a kindness that never topples over into cloying familiarity.” His name, María learned later: Miguel Desvern.
The woman, Luisa, Miguel’s wife, closer to 40, wears clothes by Céline. She was “as tall as him, olive-skinned, with shoulder-length, dark, almost black hair and very little make-up … She was clearly as pleasant and cheerful as he was, although her laugh wasn’t quite as loud.”
When the couple fail to show up for a number of days, María wonders, “How fragile they are, these connections with people one only knows by sight.” They have brought a ray of sun to her own life, a depressing existence she admits, spent catering to the whims of spoiled writers.
María thinks to herself, “You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no film.”
Something has gone awry in the lives of Miguel and Luisa Desvern; otherwise there would be no novel. What can it be? A note of premonition is introduced when María indicates that Luisa “… waited 20 minutes for him at a restaurant table, puzzled but not overly unconcerned, until the phone rang and her world ended, and she never waited for him again.”
A few days earlier María had her stomach turned by a picture in the newspaper of the murder of a Madrid businessman, stabbed to death. She didn’t make any connection with Miguel Desvern at the time. The photo was so different from her recollection of Miguel in the café: a man, “lying on the ground … in the street itself, without a jacket or tie … with his shirt unbuttoned and the tails hanging out … with a pool of blood all about …”
María didn’t know, until she was later told by her colleague Beatriz, who also breakfasted at the café, that the poor devil pictured in the news was the cheerful man she watched every day and who earlier had the “infinite kindness” to raise her spirits.
María gets up enough nerve some time later to approach Luisa, whom she sees with her children about to leave for school at the café. “Forgive the intrusion,” Maria says, “…You don’t know me, but my name is María Dolz…”
“Yes, of course, we know you by sight as well … We used to call you the Prudent Young Woman,” Luisa smiles in return.
Thus begins a friendship between the two women. It also signals María’s falling in love with a man she meets at Luisa’s house, Javier Díaz-Varela, and his role in the mystery.
“The Infatuations” is a stunning novel, complicatedly told as a Spanish morality play. It is, in the end, a “metaphysical enquiry” involving questions of “love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence” and how they relate to telling the truth.
The import of this is relayed to us by María, who listens raptly to Javier, who tells a story about a novella by Balzac. When she asks about the specifics of the book, Javier says, “What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events to which we pay far more attention.”
A word about the title translated into English. Alberto Manguel observes that “Infatuations” is the only possible English translation for the “enamoramientos” of the original title. Margaret Jull Costa (the translator), with her habitual skill, has rendered Marías’s precise, somewhat laconic Spanish into graceful and equally laconic English, but the title necessarily defeats her. “ ‘Enamoramiento’ is the act of falling in love, briefly but not less passionately; ‘infatuation’ (the dictionary tells us) is to become inspired with intense fondness, admiration, even folly; unfortunately, in the English term, love is absent.”
An example of “enamoramiento”? Consider María’s falling in love with Javier. At first she believes that Javier is only biding his time, postponable and provisional, waiting to take Luisa as his latest conquest.
As a result María thinks to herself, “We cannot pretend to be the first or the favourite, we are merely what is available, the leftovers, the leavings, the survivors, the remnants, the remaindered goods, … we manage to believe in these chance falls in love, and many think they can see the hand of destiny in what is really nothing more than a village raffle at the fag-end of summer … When we get caught in the spider’s web, we fantasize endlessly, and at the same time, make do with the tiniest crumb … knowing that he is still on our horizon, from which he has not entirely vanished, and that we cannot yet see, in the distance, the dust from his fleeing feet.” This is folly fully realized, yet acted upon: “enamoramiento.”
Later María comes to grasp that the random killing of Miguel Desvern on the street is not what it appears. It is a homicide that she has become privy to, making her an accomplice to murder, giving her a bad conscience and, as a result of her infatuation, and perhaps repugnance or fear of Javier Diaz-Varela, who may or may not have been complicit.
Marías turns the plot of “The Infatuations” on its head more often than one can count. He justifies his tergiversations by saying, “… the horrors that novelists think they invent are as nothing compared to the truth.”
I’m not so sure. As María says, “‘drip-feeding us with horror”: “It’s all a matter of time, infuriating time, but our time is over, time, as far as we are concerned, has run out, time, which consolidates and prolongs even while, without our noticing, it is simultaneously rotting and ruining us and turning the tables on us … Everything becomes a narrative and sounds fictitious even if it’s true …nothing is incompatible in the land of memory … No one is going to judge me, there are no witnesses to my thoughts.”
Is this so? I don’t think so. We are witnesses. It is this sensibility – that everything tends toward attenuation – that a superior novel like “The Infatuations” brings to judging life.
An important footnote: All too often the skill of a translator of novels is overlooked. This shouldn’t be so with Margaret Jull Costa, who renders Portuguese and Spanish literature so effortlessly into English. She is a longtime translator of Javier Marías and of Jose Saramago.
MICHAEL D. LANGAN
The Buffalo News, August 18, 2013
“What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”
Being that there are so many ways in which one might consider a book’s overall effect (to say nothing of how certain elements may appeal to one reader over another), it can be rather arduous to convey what it is about a particular work that makes it resonate as it does. To some, prose is paramount. to others, believable characters and their development, with whom a reader can identify or at least empathize. Faithful dialogue, compelling plot, philosophical asides, broad scope, cross-cultural relevance, clever construction, unique narrative stylings, memorable voice, a timeless quality—all these and more are reasons often given when discussing what it is about a work of fiction that makes it so distinguished or outstanding. The one commonality shared by all the world’s great novels, however, be they past or present, is their remarkable ability to stay with us long after we’ve set the story aside. So it is with Javier Marías’s latest novel, The Infatuations (Los enamoramientos).
Published to wide acclaim in his native spain in 2011, the disputed king of Redonda’s most recent offering is a murder mystery par excellence. no mere formulaic thriller, Marías’s tale is one of perception, memory, grief, love, death, complicity, circumstance, doubt, chance, delusion, the multiplicity of motivation, and, of course, the nature of infatuation. Set within the capital city of Madrid and using a violent (and seemingly senseless) murder as its catalyst, the story follows María Dolz, a publishing house employee who entangles herself, however inadvertently at the onset, in the heinous crime’s aftermath.
All this information was published over a period of two days, the two days following the murder. Then the item vanished from the press completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don’t want to know why something happened, only what happened, and to know that the world is full of reckless acts, of dangers, threats and bad luck that only brush past us, but touch and kill our careless fellow human beings, or perhaps they were simply not among the chosen. We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten without leaving so much as a tremor of grief, not a trace. We don’t want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people’s misfortunes, as if, after each one, we thought: “How dreadful. But what’s next? What other horrors have we avoided? We need to feel that we, by contrast, are survivors, immortals, so feed us some new atrocities, we’ve worn out yesterday’s already.
Once morbid curiosity, fascination, and, perhaps, schadenfreude no longer fuel our fertile imaginations, a murder (nothing more) becomes as disposable as any of the myriad news stories that we’ve somehow indulged as being momentarily relevant to our lives. Marías works this pervasive and perverse social peculiarity to great effect—intriguing us enough to concern ourselves with the fate of his characters (with ever the freedom to simply turn or walk away), yet forever eroding the space around them from which we can watch safely from the periphery. It’s a deliriously intoxicating technique, one evinced by our daily obsession with celebrity scandal, political malfeasance, far-off disaster, or nearby crimes of passion. These truncated news stories and soundbites, in reality, often have not the slightest thing to do with our own lives, but end up somehow consuming us (however briefly) all the same—as if they were somehow vested with the weight of our own personal stake. María is unable to turn away and neither are we.
Whereas so many whodunnits content themselves with little more than revealing the perpetrator and their hackneyed impulses, The Infatuations seeks to explore and confront a much broader purview. with perceptive observations and often tender insights into thought, reason, emotion, judgment, and the murky fringes of reality, Marías draws us into an almost inescapable role of accomplice and witness. He is able to do this so effectively by extracting the reader from the mystery of the murder itself (with which so few of us can identify) and repositioning one within the more familiar confines of love lost, relationships torn asunder, and the inevitable self-doubt which follows.
We tend to hope that, of the people and habits we cherish, no one will die and none will end, not realizing that the only thing that maintains those habits intact is their sudden withdrawal, with no possible alteration or evolution, before they can can abandon us or we abandon them. Anything that lasts goes bad and putrefies, it bores us, turns against us, saturates and wearies us. How many people who once seemed vital to us are left by the wayside, how many relationships wear thin, become diluted for no apparent reason or certainly none of any weight. The only people who do not fail or let us down are those who are snatched from us, the only ones we don’t drop are those who abruptly disappear and so have no time to cause us pain or disappointment. When that happens, we despair momentarily, because we believe we could have continued with them for much longer, with no foreseeable expiry date. That’s a mistake, albeit understandable. continuity changes everything, and something we thought wonderful yesterday would have become a torment tomorrow.
Is the author manipulating us? Are we willing participants? Are we rendered prostrate simply because the story evokes the universal feeling of unrequited desire and heartbreak? What about the abhorrent murder? Is all grief transmutable and therefore inexorable? Are we failing to see beyond all that is shown?
I would never know more than what he told me, and so i would never know anything for sure; yes, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom.
Marías’s thirteenth novel (and the tenth to be translated into english), achingly beautiful and seemingly effortless like so much of his writing, could only have been carefully constructed by one possessed of a compassion and discernment alien to lesser writers. The Infatuations is not a flawless outing, but a remarkable and impressive one nonetheless. Marías’s exploration of doubt, truth, life, love, and violence does not answer any of the age-old questions of morality and mortality, but leaves us with the sense that there is much veracity and wisdom to be found within the shadows and gradations. A master of contemporary fiction (and regularly mentioned as a perennial candidate for world literature’s highest honor), Marías is among the finest european writers at work today.
The passing of time exacerbates and intensifies any storm, even though there wasn’t the tiniest cloud on the horizon at the beginning. We cannot know what time will do to us with its fine, indistinguishable layers upon layers, we cannot know what it might make of us. it advances stealthily, day by day and hour by hour and step by poisoned step, never drawing attention to its surreptitious labors, so respectful and considerate that it never once gives us a sudden prod or a nasty fright. Each morning, it turns up with its soothing, invariable face and tells us exactly the opposite of what is actually happening: that everything is fine and nothing has changed, that everything is just as it was yesterday—the balance of power—that nothing has been gained and nothing lost, that our face is the same, as is our hair and our shape, that the person who hated us continues to hate us and the person who loved us continues to love us. And yet quite the opposite is true, but time conceals this from us with is treacherous minutes and sly seconds, until a strange, unthinkable day arrives, when nothing is as it always was . . .
Three Percent, August 21, 2013
A celebrity in his native Spain, Javier Marías is puzzlingly unknown in the U.S. His novels are considered modern classics. He’s often tipped for the Nobel Prize. And his works have been translated into 42 languages in 52 countries. His latest prize-winning bestseller, The Infatuations, comes to America this month, and those who like their lit cerebral would do well to see what the fuss is about. Philosophical and provoking, a paradox of coolheaded intensity, this novel is, above all, addictive.
María Dolz, frustrated with her job in publishing, finds a small joy each morning in the café where she breakfasts, observing a beautiful couple who seem very much in love. One day they stop appearing, and María learns to her horror that the husband has been murdered. When the wife returns to the café, María offers her condolences—it is the first time she has ever spoken to the woman. The widow invites her to her home, and there she meets Javier Diaz-Varela, the husband’s best friend. María can see that the handsome Diaz-Varela is infatuated with the widow, and yet she becomes infatuated with him herself. They begin an affair. And from there, María finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery she would rather know nothing about—and must try to separate truth from fiction.
Marías’ style is distinctive: The story is told primarily through long internal monologues in which the narrator reflects on what has been said in conversation and even imagines whole conversations between others. Marías does this through long, drawn-out sentences, a sort of hybrid of Italo Calvino and Henry James. This description might horrify some and intrigue others, but the horrified shouldn’t turn away too quickly; somehow, this style manages to compel. Examining what underlies (and undermines) love, truth and justice, the prose never rambles but zeroes in on some of humanity’s most discomfiting characteristics, all of which relate to death and romantic love.
And uncertainty, perhaps the most uncomfortable element of human life, takes center stage. Marías keeps us guessing from beginning to end: about the crime, about the motivations, about what María is hearing from the other characters and what we can believe. A trip through the mind and heart that is somehow both quiet and edge-of-your-seat, The Infatuations fascinates as a whole new breed of psychological thriller.
Book Page, August, 2013
Every morning María Dolz, the main character in Javier Marías’ latest novel “The Infatuations,” eats breakfast in the same small cafe on her way to work. And every day she observes “The Perfect Couple”: a long-term married pair eagerly sharing breakfast as though on a first date.
But one day Miguel, the man, is brutally murdered on the way to his car. María comforts the widow and becomes involved in their world, first by falling for Miguel’s best friend and then by discovering, through a series of observations and overheard conversations, that Miguel’s murder is not as it seems.
Reminiscent of the writings of Albert Camus, “The Infatuations” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 352 pages, $26.95) is equal parts mystery and metaphysical mediation on envy, influence, and the danger that comes when the dead come back to us — either literally (such as in the case of Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac, which is heavily referenced) or figuratively.
“Yes, the dead are quite wrong to come back, and yet almost all of them do, they won’t give up, and they strive to become a burden to the living until the living shake them off in order to move on.”
But who is responsible for the dead? If a man is murdered, who must be held accountable — only the man who pulls the trigger, or also the man who plants the seed of murder in his mind and encourages its growth?
It’s clear to see why Javier Marías’ name is often mentioned in discussions of potential recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature, as “The Infatuations” beautifully tackles themes that strike at the heart of the human condition. Marías meticulously weaves philosophical arguments, classic literature, and real and imagined conversations together, resulting in a kaleidoscopic masterpiece.
This is by no means a quick read, and classic literature shouldn’t be: this is a book to be savored, discussed and read again.
The Gazette, August 4, 2013