Edición italiana de ‘Mientras ellas duermen’

MED Italia

MENTRE LE DONNE DORMONO
JAVIER MARÍAS
Traduzione di Valerio Nardoni
Einaudi, 2014

Figure evanescenti, ambigue – fantasmi, spie, guardie del corpo, sosia, criminali – infestano i racconti di Javier Marías, ognuno con il suo segreto, ognuno con la sua ossessione o maledizione (ammesso che, nella vita come nel suo proseguimento spettrale, sia possibile distinguere le due categorie). Ma alla fine il posto da cui tutti loro rifiutano di andare via, impossibili da cancellare, è la nostra memoria di lettori.

Un fantasma degli anni Trenta piú spaventato dei malcapitati a cui compare, un capitano dell’esercito di Napoleone durante la campagna di Russia, il protagonista de L’uomo sentimentale ritratto quando era ancora bambino, un maggiordomo bloccato in un ascensore, un caso di «doppio» a Barcellona che porterà alla rovina, un caso di «doppio» in Inghilterra che porterà all’orrore, un «ciccione schifoso» in adorante contemplazione di una donna dalla bellezza tanto ideale da apparire irreale… Sono solo alcuni dei personaggi di questi racconti scritti nell’arco di trent’anni che testimoniano un percorso narrativo in costante ascesa: superbo tessitore di romanzi, anche monumentali, Javier Marías dimostra di saper raggiungere, nello spazio di poche pagine, un grado di tensione e profondità degno dei grandi maestri della forma breve, senza rinunciare alla scrittura sensuale e meditativa che ne ha fatto uno degli scrittori contemporanei piú amati nel mondo.

JM BY NMarías prima che diventasse Marías

Non è scontato che un grande romanziere sia anche un grande autore di racconti. Nel caso di Javier Marías, però, la grandezza sembra avere a che fare solo col fatto stesso di scrivere: vale per i romanzi di sempre, vale per i saggi, vale anche per i racconti. Einaudi ha appena pubblicato la prima raccolta dello scrittore spagnolo, uscita in patria nel 1990. Si intitola Mentre le donne dormono (traduzione di Valerio Nardoni), e contiene dodici storie poco meno che perfette.

L’indagine introspettiva e psicologica è ciò che caratterizza maggiormente la narrativa di Marías, e quasi per paradosso pare che accadano più cose in questi pochi racconti che nei suoi formidabili romanzi. La cosa più impressionante, ad ogni modo, è la sua abilità nel maneggiare diversi registri, diversi ritmi e diverse profondità. Sarebbe difficile appaiare per stile e spessore due dei racconti di Mentre le donne dormono, ma allo stesso tempo esiste come uno spirito sotterraneo che fa di questi frammenti un corpo unico in grado di muoversi e comunicare da solo.

L’ossessione per la morte e per le infinite possibilità del caso, proprie del grosso dell’opera di Marías, emerge limpidamente in quest’antologia che dopotutto, cronologicamente, anticipa la maggior parte dei suoi lavori migliori. La morte, il tempo, i fantasmi, l’antitesi quasi ontologica tra Madrid e Barcellona, il tema del doppio e la forza e la fragilità delle donne: tutto, in una maniera o nell’altra, sarebbe tornato più avanti.

Molto semplicemente, leggere Marías è un piacere enorme. In questi racconti gioca coi paradossi del vivere e del morire, con le paranoie degli uomini, e naturalmente con la letteratura. Ogni volta adopera tratti diversi, come un pittore che si volesse cimentare con tutta la sua scorta di pennelli e colori per illustrare una processione di vicende fatte di rompicapi e inganni. E omaggia, in via diretta (il vorticoso e benetiano Le dimissioni di Santiesteban dedicate a Juan Benet) o indiretta (lo spettro di Zapata di Saranno nostalgie, che chiude la rassegna, potrebbe essere uscito da una storia di Gabo Márquez), e lascia sempre qualcosa in sospeso, come i grandi illusionisti sanno fare.

Mentre le donne dormono è Marías che era già Marías prima che diventasse Marías, ma questo in fondo è solo motivo di curiosità. Il valore di questi racconti appartiene appieno a essi stessi, per ciò che dicono e per come lo dicono. Un recupero doveroso, a un quarto di secolo di distanza, e di cui essere ben felici.

GIOVANNI DOZZINI

Europa, 6 Febbraio 2014

Quando le donne dormono

Javier Marias e’ uno degli scrittori contemporanei più’ amati e apprezzati dal pubblico, le sue opere sono tradotte in tutto il mondo, vincitore di prestigiosi premi letterari come il Romulo Gallegos e il Prix Femina Etranger con “Domani nella battaglia pensa a me” e nel 2011 l’italiano Premio Nonino. In questi giorni in libreria con l’editore di riferimento, ma nella collana di tascabili L’arcipelago Einaudi, la raccolta di racconti “Mentre le donne dormono” con traduzione di Valerio Nardoni, uscito in patria nel 1990 con titolo originale “Mientras ellas duermen”.

Dodici piccoli capolavori letterari che hanno il potere, allora di anticipare, oggi di confermare, le grandi doti letterarie di questo straordinario personaggio della cultura, autore di romanzi, saggi e traduttore di classici. Marías da voce a tutti i temi a lui più cari e che ben si adattano alla pur breve dimensione del racconto: l’ossessione per la morte, il caso, i fantasmi, il tragico, l’ironia, il doppio, senza comunque venir meno a una profonda indagine psicologica e introspettiva dei personaggi. Quel suo stile inconfondibile nel lasciare sempre un finale sospeso, un gioco da abile illusionista che spiazza. Omaggi, per Juan Benet ne “Le dimissioni di Santiesteban” son quelle che ogni notte affigge un fantasma in un istituto di Madrid, un enigma che nessuno è riuscito a risolvere ma che alla fine al contrario si duplicherà. “Portento, maledizione” un racconto che ha la forza di un romanzo, diviso in capitoli , dove la natura psicologica di un rapporto prevale su tutto il resto. In “Gualta” un caso di doppio, due biografie a confronto, due città a confronto Madrid e Barcellona, e tante ipotesi nel finale.

E ancora in “Mentre le donne dormono” il racconto contemporaneo di un uomo di mezza età ossessionato da una donna che ha conosciuto bambina che filma in continuazione per conservarne l’ultima immagine. Infine in “Saranno nostalgie” l’apparizione del fantasma di Emiliano Zapata con i vestiti trivellati dai colpi, durante le letture ad alta voce in casa di una vecchia signora di Veracruz, e ancora dopo la sua morte tornerà ogni mercoledì, ” forse da Chinameca, assassinato, triste e sfinito”. Sono solo alcuni di questi preziosi assaggi di una scrittura già matura e che si appresta a conquistare il favore dei lettori. Colmando un vuoto, oggi a un quarto di secolo, nel terreno accidentato del genere “racconto”.

SEBASTIANA GANGEMI

Stamp Toscana, 8 Febbraio 2014

‘The Infatuations’ finalista de The National Book Critics Circle Awards

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NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE ANNOUNCES ITS FINALISTS FOR PUBLISHING YEAR 2013
The National Book Critics Circle today announced its 30 finalists in six categories -autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry- for the best books of 2013. The winners of an additional three prizes were announced as well. The National Book Critics Circle Awards, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel and considered among the most prestigious in American letters, are the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book-review editors. The awards will be presented on March 13 at the New School, in a ceremony that is free and open to the public.

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE FINALISTS, PUBLISHING YEAR 2013:

FICTION

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Knopf)
Alice McDermott, Someone (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Javier MaríasThe Infatuations, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Knopf)
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Viking)
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown)

Más información

ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE

The National Book Critics Circle was founded in 1974 at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel by a group of the most influential critics of the day, and awarded its first set of honors the following year. Comprising nearly 600 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, the NBCC annually bestows its awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States. It is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry. The finalists for the NBCC awards are nominated, evaluated, and selected by the 24-member board of directors, which consists of critics and editors from some of the country’s leading print and online publications, as well as critics whose works appear in these publications.

New York, January 13, 2014

The Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
The Boston Globe
Long Island Newsday,
Khaleej Times

Más acerca de ‘The Infatuations’

The Infatuations recorteCatching up with Stuart Roberts

In an effort to get to know our Oxford University Press staff better, we’re featuring interviewing our staff in different offices.

[…]

What are you reading right now?

Javier Marías’ new novel The Infatuations. It’s a haunting, beautiful murder mystery. I’ve already gifted several copies. Bedside, I’m enjoying evenings with one of Oxford University Press (OUP)’s own — The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. It’s an adventure story at heart.

Open the book you’re currently reading and turn to page 75. Tell us the title of the book, and the third sentence on that page.

The Infatuations: “All those speaking objects have been left dumb and meaningless, as if a blanket had been thrown over them to silence and soothe them, making them think that night has come, or as if they, too, regretted the loss of their owner and had withdrawn instantaneously, strangely aware that they had become redundant, futile, and were thinking: “What will we do here now?”

[…]

ALYSSA BENDER

Oxford University Press’s Blog, January 11, 2014

2013 a breakout year for unknown writers such as Drndic, Ledgard

Unlike 2012, 2013 was low on releases from heavyweight authors, but this was no bad thing, as it meant there were more surprises for the reader from breakthrough or unknown writers.

Trieste by Daša Drndic was an outstanding debut novel with Sebaldian undertones about the Nazi occupation of northern Italy. Drndic blended fact and fiction and incorporated photos, maps and lists of Jewish deportees to produce a harrowing, affecting and gripping reading experience. Submergence by J M Ledgard flitted between a kidnapped spy in Somalia and a scientist exploring the depths of the ocean; a third strand covered their romance in a snowbound French hotel; powerful prose with lyrical flurries and characters that mattered kept me entranced. Two established writers continued to work wonders: John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth and Javier Marías’s The Infatuations proved that certain old masters are still rich with ideas and the talent to express them.

[...]

MALCOLM FORBES

The National (Abu Dhabi), December 25, 2013

‘The Infatuations’ triunfó en 2013

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Los libros que han triunfado por el mundo en 2013

Estados Unidos

La lista norteamericana por excelencia es la de la revista de libros del The New York Times. O, mejor dicho, listas –así, en plural– porque publica varias. La más influyente es “Los 10 mejores libros de 2013” –cinco títulos de narrativa y cinco de ensayo– en la que destacan tres novelas muy mencionadas en otras clasificaciones de medios estadounidenses y británicos; son, seguramente, los tres libros del año en inglés.

[...]

La otra gran lista del periódico neoyorquino es la de “Los 100 libros notables de 2013”, en la que destacan dos títulos traducidos del español: Los enamoramientos, de Javier Marías, y El ruido de las cosas al caer, del colombiano Juan Gabriel Vásquez, ambos editados por Alfaguara. No es un logro menor si tenemos en cuenta que el mercado norteamericano es casi impermeable a las traducciones, que apenas suponen un 3% del total.

JOSÉ LUIS IBÁÑEZ RIDAO

Zoom News, 2 de enero de 2014

Los libros que han triunfado en medio mundo

Este año, The New York Times confió la selección de cien libros notables del 2013 (50 de ficción y 50 de ensayo) a los editores del Sunday Book Review. Tan solo dos autores, que representan las dos orillas del castellano fueron incluidos en la selección. El español Javier Marías, con Los enamoramientos (The Infatuations. Knopf) y el colombiano Juan Gabriel Vásquez, con El ruido de las cosas al caer (The sound of things falling. Riverhead), Premio Alfaguara 2011.

CAROLINA ETHEL

El País, Blog Papeles perdidos, 1 de enero de 2014

Editors’ Picks for 2013: Fiction

The Infatuations
By Javier Marias

Sometimes the mystery is not what leads up to a murder, but what happens after. Javier Marías’s existential thriller about a crazed attack and the shockwaves it sends through the lives of fatally intertwined Madrid citizens couples the grace and patience of Henry James with the delicious tension of a Hitchcock film.

Barnes and Noble Review, December 18, 2013
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Globe Books: What we learned from what we read in 2013

My reading life in 2013 continued with more novels that seemed to unravel in my hands. The master of this technique is the Spanish novelist Javier Marías. His backlist will reward new readers, so be prepared to lose a month or two. This immersion is particularly interesting with Marìas, whose novels and short stories interlock and reference one another. The characters reappear, and his chosen style, a swirling and smothering and loquacious stream (thanks to superb translations by Margaret Jull Costa) allows for epic digressions. Make a TV show from, for instance, Marías’s trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, and it might feature a man sitting and smoking remembering another moment he was sitting and reading, remembering another moment he was sat speaking to a mysterious man, remembering another moment: the time he discovered a single drop of blood on a staircase, and then somewhere within these trapdoors of remembrance, Marías finds a way to weave in a profound examination of Franco’s Spain. Maybe Jon Hamm could pull off such a scene.

To read Marías is to surrender expectations: his latest, The Infatuations, is a murder mystery, but the author is too concerned with what might have happened, or what could have happened, too concerned with love, sex, infatuation, to rush into the machinations of a whodunit. His trilogy – I can’t offer anything better than this description – has been called a Le Carré novel as written by Proust. “I had opened myself up too much to evocations,” his narrator confesses halfway through book two, “although without ever becoming bored…” It’s true. For some reason it’s never boring. I will, Marías seems to be saying, give you a long sentence, a multi-clause monster, so that you can disprove everything they say is happening to attention spans these days and enjoy one of the less-discussed formal pleasures of sticking with a sentence and following its contours right to the last stop, right to the end. They unspool and unspool.

GRAIG TAYLOR

The Globe and Mail (Canadá), December 27, 2013

The infautatiosReaders’ books of the year 2013

Martin Hills, Chichester

In Javier Marías’s mesmerising The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton), the narrator María’s compulsive daily observation of a model couple in a Madrid cafe morphs from romance to murder mystery and on into metaphysics. The magic of Marías’s writing derives from the fluidly shifting conjectures, qualifications and modifications of his prose, unravelling individual perception into nuanced medications on love, time and death. The result is a magisterial evocation of emotional flux and preoccupation with the ordering containment of art. In a 2013 Guardian interview Marías stated that the novelist’s function was “a way of imparting, recognition of things that you didn’t know you knew”. There is a quality of fantastic normality in his novels as he dredges up the familiar from bizarre, claustrophobic, almost gothic events and obsessions.

Lynne Taylor, Burnley, Lancashire

The  Infatuations by Javier Marías (Hamish Hamilton) is a completely new take on murder. Marías’s insight into the human condition is acute. In language that is intelligent and a joy to read, this novel is about the coalescence of reality and fantasy, obsession, and the lengths people will go to in the state of el enamoramiento: the madness of being in love. The plot is elicited in glimpses, gradually enabling the reader to disentangle truth from lies. I wish I hadn’t read it, then I would still have the pleasure of unknowingness one has when reading it for the first time.

The Guardian, December 28, 2013

‘Vidas escritas’

portada-vidas-escritas_med

Vidas escritas no es una novela, aunque se lee como sí lo fuera. Es un libro biográfico, un libro compuesto de pequeñas semblanzas de grandes escritores y el autor, Javier Marías, es un reconocido novelista y articulista español que posee además un conocimiento enciclopédico sobre literatura, a la que ha dedicado su vida, como escritor, como profesor o como traductor de muchos autores del espacio literario anglosajón. Esta lectura es recomendable por muy variadas razones y para mucho tipo de lectores ya que al ser pequeños retratos compuestos en capítulos breves es fácil leer uno o dos y dejarlo si se está cansado o no se goza de mucho tiempo.

Otra razón es que Javier Marías es un magnífico escritor con un dominio de nuestro idioma que nos permite disfrutar de cada frase y de cada palabra, siempre situada en el lugar apropiado para producir la máxima capacidad expresiva, y por último, estos pequeños textos de perfecta prosa nos permiten adentrarnos en la vida de insignes escritores y conocer situaciones, pensamientos, actitudes y anécdotas sobre personajes muy interesantes. Sin embargo, estas biografías mínimas no siguen un esquema usual en el modo de describir una vida, no sabemos, en la mayor parte de los casos, en qué fechas vivieron los biografiados, o cuáles fueron sus estudios o dónde nacieron siquiera, no obstante, la elección de los hechos reseñados nos permiten conocer su carácter, sus manías o sus obsesiones y placeres desde un punto de vista singular, y sentimos, a medida que vamos leyendo, que nos acercamos más a esos hombres y mujeres que sí hubiéramos hecho un recorrido exhaustivo por los datos sobre sus vidas.

La mayor parte de los escritores a los que Javier Marías nos permite conocer de un modo tan peculiar forman parte de la historia de la literatura en mayúsculas: Faulkner, Conrad, Joyce, Stevenson, Nabokov…

BIBLIOTECA SÁNCHEZ DÍAZ

Vive Campoo (Cantabria), 30 de diciembre de 2013

Mentir de bonne foi

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Beaucoup de fins lecteurs pensent -à juste titre- que Javier Marías serait un excellent candidat pour le prix Nobel de littérature. Une opinion que confirme Comme les amours, roman qui, dans tous les pays où il a été traduit, a remporté un vif succès critique, et qui paraît aujourd’hui en France.

Si vous n’avez aucun goût pour l’analyse psychique, si les recoins ombreux de l’âme humaine ont peu d’attrait pour vous, vous passerez votre chemin. Mais si ce n’est pas le cas et si vous n’avez jamais ouvert le moindre ouvrage de Javier Marías -l’auteur d‘Un coeur si blanc et de Demain dans la bataille pense à moi (Rivages, 1997 et 1998)-, il serait dommage de rater cette occasion. Une grandiose porte d’entrée dans l’univers subtil, intelligent et raffiné d’un envoûteur hors pair, né à Madrid en 1951, et devenu sans conteste l’un des meilleurs stylistes espagnols.

Au premier abord, rien de spectaculaire. Une simple histoire d’amour accrochée à un fait divers. Une vaste étude sur des thèmes classiques: raison et sentiments, trahison et loyauté, destinée et libre arbitre… Dès les premières pages, la narratrice observe un couple. Dans la vie professionnelle, María Dolz est éditrice. Elle a pour habitude de prendre chaque matin son petit déjeuner dans un café proche de son bureau et d’y fixer son attention sur ce couple inconnu. Miguel Desvern et Luisa Alday sont mari et femme. Un couple régulier, mais qui “rit, parle, plaisante et se stimule” d’une manière qui semble ne laisser aucune place à l’usure des jours.

Est-ce cela qui fascine tant María? Cette habileté qu’ont certains à s’amuser de la vie et à préserver dans leur regard cette lueur confiante et rieuse qu’elle décèle chez Miguel et Luisa? Un jour pourtant, le couple ne vient pas et l’éditrice apprend par la presse que Miguel a été assassiné par un fou au sortir de sa voiture. Même si elle ne lui a jamais parlé, María décide de se rapprocher de Luisa, la veuve inconsolable. Dans son entourage, elle fait bientôt la connaissance de Javier Díaz-Varela, que Luisa lui présente comme “le meilleur ami de Miguel”. Mais tout cela serait trop simple. Lorsque María et Javier deviennent amants, María comprend que les liens qui unissent Luisa à l’ex-meilleur ami de son défunt mari ne sont pas, loin de là, sans ambiguïté. Et tout cela jette soudain un éclairage fondamentalement différent sur le couple et son passé.

L’épaisseur de l’ombre

Que Varela soit un menteur et même peut-être un assassin, le lecteur s’en doute assez vite. Mais qu’importe. Ce qui compte chez Javier Marías, ce n’est jamais l’histoire à la lettre – même si celle-ci est ici si prenante qu’on ne peut s’empêcher de tourner les pages. Non, c’est plutôt les mille possibilités de récits qui sont en germe. Latents. Comme des ramifications silencieuses de l’histoire principale. C’est le cheminement infiniment complexe et troublant de la pensée. Le silence. Les mensonges. Toute cette machinerie lourde que l’on voit se mettre en branle dans les cerveaux des personnages afin que chacun puisse arriver à se mentir à lui-même en toute bonne foi. Que sommes-nous capables de faire et de justifier par amour? De quoi parvenons-nous à nous convaincre? Sur quelles trahisons et quelles impostures sommes-nous prêts à fermer les yeux?

Fermer les yeux. La littérature est là au contraire pour les déssiller. “Elle nous aide à penser ce que l’on n’ose pas penser en temps normal”, dit Marías, de passage à Paris. Après réflexion, il ajoute: “Faulkner s’interrogeait sur le pouvoir de la littérature. Et il disait à peu près ceci: “Ecrire, c’est comme craquer une allumette au milieu de la nuit, en plein milieu d’un bois.” Ce que vous comprenez alors, c’est combien il y a d’obscurité partout. La littérature ne sert pas à mieux voir. Elle sert seulement à mieux mesurer l’épaisseur de l’ombre.”

Javier Marías a refusé le Premio nacional de narrativa (“Prix national du roman”, doté de 20.000 euros) attribué à Comme les amours“L’Etat venait de suspendre ses aides aux bibliothèques, je trouvais cela déplacé”, dit-il. Espérons, si on le lui proposait un jour, qu’il ne dirait pas non aux jurés de l’Académie Nobel.

FLORENCE NOIVILLE

Le Monde des Livres, 18 décembre 2013

Le Monde (édition papier), 4 octobre 2013

Qué libros regala Javier Marías

DVDM¿Qué libros regalan los escritores?

Javier Marías: Stevenson y relatos fantásticos

.¿Qué libro le regalaría estas Navidades a un familiar muy querido?

De vuelta del mar, de Robert Louis Stevenson (Reino de Redonda), una antología de la poesía de este gran escritor que he retraducido y reeditado recientemente. Es poesía menor, pero agradabilísima, y leerla da cierta sensación de sosiego, empezando por el bonito Réquiem que abre el volumen.

.¿Qué libro le regalaría a su amigo o amiga más entrañable?

Antología universal del relato fantástico, con prólogo y selección de Jacobo Siruela (Atalanta). Un magnífico volumen para pasar un poco de miedo estando a salvo, con bastantes obras maestras: el cuento fantástico es uno de mis géneros predilectos.

.¿Qué libro le obsequiaría a un niño?

Para seguir con Stevenson, La isla del tesoro. A no ser que los críos hayan cambiado del todo, creo que por esa novela tienen que pasar todos los del mundo, del sexo que sean.

.¿Qué libro le gustaría que le regalasen a usted y cómo lo querría? ¿En papel o digital?

Si no me lo hubieran dado ya de oficio, la maravillosa edición de la Real Academia Española de la Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, de Bernal Díaz del Castillo (Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de Lectores). Es uno de nuestros más apasionantes clásicos, lamentablemente poco conocido, con una prosa de soldado y unos relatos no por escalofriantes menos verdaderos. Ese libro es un milagro en todos los aspectos.

CARLOS OTINIANO PULIDO

Cinco días, 24 de diciembre de 2013

Libros recomendados

The holiday newsletter at Third Place Books, Washington

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The holiday newsletter at Politics & Prose, Washington, DC

The Infatuations, by Javier Marías

Someone dies unexpectedly and all at once reality shifts for everyone within range of the deceased, whether they knew him or not. María, protagonist and narrator of Javier Marías mesmerizing 14th novel, is in the latter category, familiar with the dead man and his wife only from seeing them most mornings at a café. Her account starts as a meditation on chance, fate, and how so many unknowns make us who we are— philosophical observations drawn from the shock of the killing, which seemed like bad luck or a mistake and which, falling on the victim’s birthday, “doesn’t make any sense, precisely because it seems to.” María gets to know the widow and falls in love with a friend of the couple’s—a man she wouldn’t have met without the death—and her musings extend to thoughts on love, romance, and whether one person can ever really know another. As compelling as are these ideas and the psychological complexity they convey, the novel gains yet greater depth and tension as the existential mysteries segue into those of a murder mystery. The accidental death wasn’t an accident after all, and María plunges into a chilling world of passions so powerful they turn decent people into evildoers. Marías’s sinuous, graceful prose is reminiscent of Saramago’s conversational fluidity, and his language beguiles as surely as does its brilliant story.

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Writers’ favorite books of 2013
San Francisco Gate, December 13, 2013

The infautatios

Books Gift Guide Part II: Spuds, spies and sports
Irish Examiner, December 13, 2013

MBPM Vintage

Laura van den Berg’s 6 favorite unconventional mystery novels
The Week, December 8, 2013

‘The Infatuations’, libro del año según John Ashbery

The Infatuations recorte

Books of the Year

JOHN ASHBERY

As in years past, my favourite novel of those I read this year is one by Javier Marías, The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton). This time the narrator is a woman, although there is also a character named Javier. As usual, a fiendishly complex little plot triggers wave after wave of achingly beautiful prose whose mood of ecstatic disquiet becomes addicting. Perhaps slightly less bristling than usual, his sentences often begin with a proposition that soon gets modified, and so on till the end, which can be a radical transformation. This peeling-of-the-onion operation has once again been superbly performed by the translator Margaret Jull Costa…

The Times Literary Supplement, November 27, 2013

NPR Books

Kirkus Reviews

McNally Robinson Booksellers

Roy Foster y Anthony Marra recomiendan ‘The Infatuations’

The Infatuations IndependentRoy Foster’s books of the year

Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Chatto) is a revelation, brilliantly demonstrating the undemure existence of this widely admired novelist: a louche Irish husband, debt, a poverty-stricken life on sinking barges and council flats lie behind a facade of mild English eccentricity and powerfully original (often very un-English) work. It reads like a Fitzgerald novel.

I was dazzled by Javier Marias’s The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton): nobody else writes so hypnotically of obsession, suspicion and the murky areas of love and crime.

Similar themes characterise Edna O’Brien’s short stories in The Love Object (Faber), each one a masterclass in her quintessential qualities of delicacy and toughness.

Lucy Riall’s Under the Volcano: Revolution in a Sicilian Town (Oxford) tells the story of an 1860 peasant revolt on an English-owned Sicilian property: a classic of microhistory, raising large issues of landlordism, violent history and mutual incomprehension, with distinct Irish echoes.

The poems that meant most to me in 2013 were Seamus Heaney’s, read with a revived intensity after his loss. But of new publications, I was deeply impressed by Martin Dyar’s Maiden Names (Arlen House): funny, astute, marvellously judged, and a genuinely new voice.

[Roy Foster is Carroll professor of Irish history at Hertford College, Oxford]

The Irish Times, November 30, 2013

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PW’s Top 10 Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2013

Marra’s pick: The Infatuations by Javier Marías (Knopf)

“Sometimes the book you’ve been looking for, without even knowing it, finds its way into your hands, and for me, this year, that book was The Infatuations. It’s billed as a metaphysical murder mystery—imagine if Proust had a murder instead of a madeleine and you begin to get a sense of the stylistic synthesis on display. Rather than the forward momentum of plot, Marías relies on a downward drop into psychology; instead of hurtling through events, the reader plunges through the thick strata of contradictions, deceptions, and unvarnished need lining the hearts of the novel’s fully realized characters. It’s the best and truest kind of mystery—one of enduring questions rather than delayed answers. But what makes The Infatuations the most personally moving novel of the year for me are its asides, digressions, and tangents, which are so integral you almost get the sense that Marías constructed his suspense story to scaffold his riffs. He ruminates on the loss of a loved one in what are the most unsentimental, clear-eyed, and honest passages on either loss or love I’ve read in some time. The book finds hope, or at least consolation, in the ceaseless mutability of the human psyche. Someone you once couldn’t live without becomes someone you now can’t live with at all, to paraphrase Marías, and the person you were when you were in love becomes a ghost you simply move away from. And while ghosts do populate the novel, its ultimate power comes in letting them dissolve.”

ANTHONY MARRA

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 2013

Anthony Marra: ‘Write what you want to know’

- 2013 must have been a very busy year for you. But did you have time to read other 2013 books? Any you especially enjoyed or would recommend?

It’s been an amazing year for fiction, but four I particularly enjoyed are “The Infatuations” by Javier Marias, “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo, “A Marker to Measure Drift” by Alexander Maksik, and “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” by Bob Shacochis.

MARJORIE KEHE

CS Monitor, December 4 ,2013

Más reseñas francesas

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Comme les amours-Javier Marías

Luisa et Miguel forment un couple parfait. La narratrice, María, les observe tous les matins prendre leur petit déjeuner dans la cafétéria où elle va, elle aussi, prendre un café avant d’aller travailler.

Je l’avais vu de nombreux matins où je l’avais entendu rire et parler, presque chaque fois au cours de ces quelques années, de bonne heure, mais pas tant, car j’arrivais au travail avec un léger retard pour avoir l’occasion de me trouver un instant avec ce couple, pas avec l’homme seul –que l’on ne se méprenne pas– mais avec eux deux, c’étaient eux deux qui me faisaient du bien et me réjouissaient, avant d’entamer la journée.

Oui, mais voilà. Dès le premier chapitre, on apprend que Miguel vient d’être assassiné: il meurt bêtement, un coup après l’autre, encore et encore, sans lui laisser une chance, avec la volonté de le rayer du monde et de l’expulser sans délai de la surface de la terre, là-bas et à ce moment-là.

María les a beaucoup observés. Ils semblent s’entendre parfaitement, et prolonger de quelques minutes leur tête-à-tête avant que lui ne s’éloigne pour son travail. Elle, s’attarde parfois encore un peu après son départ. Un matin, ils ne viennent plus. María, en voyage, ne sait pas le drame qui s’est joué non loin de la cafétéria en son absence. C’est une collègue qui évoque l’accident devant María, qui travaille dans une maison d’édition (portrait très drôle d’écrivains à l’égo démesuré). Le soir, sur Internet, elle découvre l’horreur de la situation: un matin, Miguel Devern a voulu garer sa voiture, lorsqu’un indigent faisant office de voiturier s’est mis à divaguer et injurier le malheureux mari, qui n’était pour rien dans les accusations portées contre lui.

Mais le voiturier s’est emporté et s’est jeté sur lui par-derrière, le poignardant d’une dizaine de coups de couteau mortels.

Commence alors une fausse enquête policière, au cours de laquelle María, témoin indirect du couple, qui la surnommait la Jeune Prudente, va rencontrer, dans la même cafétéria où elle venait avec son mari, cette femme devenue veuve. Une Luisa qui ne se remet pas de ce coup du sort. Fascinée par la tragédie, María va pénétrer le giron de cette famille, et y rencontrer Javier Díaz-Varela, l’ami intime du couple. Javier, devenu le confident de Luisa, l’ami indispensable qui console, et dont María va s’éprendre jusqu’à ce qu’une mystérieuse conversation surprise chez lui fasse basculer radicalement la situation.

Avec beaucoup d’habileté Javier Marias nous parle d’amour et de trahison. Il place son récit sous l’égide de plusieurs grands textes: Le Colonel Chabert de Balzac, l’histoire de ce soldat que tout le monde croyait mort et qui revient, bien vivant, retrouver son épouse remariée; celle de Shakespeare, Macbeth, avec la fameuse tirade du hereafter: He should have died hereafter ou il aurait dû mourir plus tard, comme le dit mystérieusement le meurtrier, ou encore Dumas et ses Trois Mousquetaires.

Javier Marías n’a pas son pareil pour sonder l’âme humaine, notamment dans ses lâchetés et ses mensonges. Ce n’est pas qu’une fausse enquête policière, à la recherche de la vérité, mais aussi un roman superbement mené parce que épousant totalement les pensées les plus intimes de la narratrice, nous guidant pas à pas dans son cheminement. On ne saura jamais définitivement ce qui a provoqué la mort de Miguel Devern, et tant mieux, le lecteur est libre de se faire sa propre opinion. Mais l’essentiel se situe ailleurs.

Peut-on aimer quelqu’un qui a commis un acte répréhensible? L’amour excuse-t-il la trahison? Où partent les amours une fois que l’être cher a disparu?

Si j’ai mis un peu de temps à entrer dans l’histoire, la seconde partie a tout rattrapé et ce roman est désormais mon coup de cœur de la rentrée littéraire en matière d’auteur étranger.

Intelligent, pertinent, avec beaucoup de style, Javier Marías nous livre en effet un splendide récit d’amour et de trahison, qui s’enracine dans la tradition de la littérature européenne.

Le nom de Miguel Desvern ne disparaît pas tout à fait, même si je ne l’ai jamais connu et que je l’ai vu de loin, tous les matins avec plaisir, alors qu’il prenait son petit déjeuner avec sa femme. Comme ne s’en vont pas non plus tout à fait les noms fictifs du Colonel Chabert et de Mme Ferraud, du Comte de la Fère et de Milady de Winter ou dans sa jeunesse Anne de Breuil, à qui on lia les mains derrière le dos et que l’on pendit à un arbre, afin que mystérieusement elle ne meure pas et revienne, belle comme les amours.

ALICE- ANGE

Bíblío blog, 6 decembre 2013

biscomme.les_.amours.galliamrd.002La vérité, cet embrouillement

L’amour et la mort au cœur d’une histoire orchestrée avec maestria par l’écrivain espagnol Javier Marías. Où il sonde les méandres de l’âme humaine en tenant son lecteur en haleine avec un suspense étonnant.

Nous ne pouvons prétendre être les premiers, ou les préférés, nous sommes tout simplement ce qui est disponible, les laissés-pour-compte, les survivants, ce qui désormais reste, les soldes, et c’est sur des bases si peu nobles que s’érigent les amours les plus grandes et que se fondent les meilleures familles, nous provenons tous de là, de ce produit du hasard et du conformisme, des rejets, des timidités et des échecs d’autrui […].” Tout est là du regard sur nos vies de Javier Marías qui, d’une écriture raffinée, généreuse, enveloppante, livre avec “Comme les amours” une magistrale fable morale sur l’amour et la mort, entités siamoises. Ce, en mêlant suspense et réflexion, à travers les pensées, les intuitions, les interrogations d’une narratrice hors pair.

Avant de se rendre à son travail dans une maison d’édition, María aime prendre son petit-déjeuner dans un établissement modeste du quartier. Elle y observe quotidiennement deux êtres qu’elle admire pour leur complicité rayonnante et l’optimisme qu’ils lui procurent. A son retour de congé, le “couple parfait” a disparu. Elle apprend que le mari, Miguel Desvern, a été sauvagement assassiné par un indigent déséquilibré. Un jour, María ose aborder Luisa, la veuve de ce riche héritier d’une compagnie de production cinématographique. Le temps d’une soirée, elle deviendra son oreille attentive et compatissante. C’est alors qu’elle rencontre Javier Díaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel, dont l’attitude et la présence auprès de Luisa se révèlent des plus ambiguës. Très vite, Javier et María (personnages créés par Javier Marías…) deviennent amants. Malgré elle, María en vient à s’interroger sur l’histoire du couple et les circonstances de la disparition de Miguel. Alors que Javier la cantonne au rôle de partenaire de distraction, elle ne peut toujours réfréner ses espoirs de devenir bien plus.

Selon Javier Marías (“Un cœur si blanc”, “Demain dans la bataille pense à moi”), si le roman peut être rapidement oublié, sa force est d’inoculer possibilités et idées permettant au lecteur de mieux appréhender le réel. Ainsi convoque-t-il Shakespeare, le Balzac du “Colonel Chabert”, le Dumas des “Trois Mousquetaires” pour tisser une toile d’une rare intelligence autour du temps qui superpose en nous “ses fines couches indiscernables” , de la vérité qui est “toujours un embrouillement” , du hasard qui orchestre nos vies, des choix qu’on croit poser en toute liberté, de la place que les morts occupent auprès des vivants, de l’engouement amoureux, seul à même de pouvoir faire barrage à l’indifférence et l’ennui. Brillant de bout en bout.

GENEVIÈVE SIMON

La Libre Belgique, 21 octobre 2013

Reseñas francesas

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Javier Marías, maître de l’ambiguïté

Le titre français de ce dernier roman de Javier Marías, l’un des écrivains espagnols les plus subtils mais aussi l’un des plus énigmatiques de sa génération, n’évoque sans doute pas grand-chose et n’a même qu’un rapport assez superficiel avec la substance véritable du récit. Mais on pourrait en dire de même du titre original, los Enamoramientos, que l’on traduirait plus prosaïquement par “les Engouements amoureux”.

C’est que, comme l’explique l’auteur par la voix d’un de ses deux personnages centraux en prenant l’exemple balzacien du colonel Chabert, l’important dans un roman n’est pas tant l’histoire qu’il raconte et dont on oublie souvent les péripéties et même la fin une fois qu’on l’a terminé, mais ce qu’il inocule dans notre imaginaire de possibilités et de suggestions prêtes à battre librement la campagne. Sur ce thème où ne manquent pas non plus les références shakespeariennes chères à l’auteur d’Un Coeur si blanc ou de Demain dans la bataille, pense à moi, Javier Marías développe une intrigue criminelle où tout se joue dans l’imagination insatisfaite, à la fois distante et sentimentalement engagée, d’une jeune éditrice en quête d’une vérité ambivalente et jamais parfaitement atteinte.

María Dolz, en prenant chaque matin son petit déjeuner dans une cafétéria madrilène proche de son lieu de travail, a été fascinée par l’image de parfait bonheur qu’offrait un couple inconnu, élégant et rieur, partageant les mêmes habitudes aux mêmes heures matinales après avoir conduit les enfants à l’école. Or, apprenant au retour de vacances que le mari a été assassiné dans des circonstances aussi tragiques qu’imprévisibles, elle cherche à en savoir davantage, noue une amitié compassionnelle avec Luisa, la veuve inconsolable de ce “couple parfait”, et, de fil en aiguille, devient la maîtresse du meilleur ami du défunt. Celui-ci ne lui cache en rien sa dévotion pour la femme de son ami qu’il ambitionne un jour d’épouser quand son chagrin sera atténué.

Au gré de circonstances fortuites mais assez bien fondées, surgit néanmoins dans l’esprit de María, la narratrice, le soupçon que son amant a commandité l’assassinat de son ami pour satisfaire ses projets amoureux. Et le lecteur, avec elle, à travers elle dont les hypothèses occupent la plus grande place du récit, serait tout prêt de conclure à une infâme trahison — thème récurrent cher à Marías — si une autre explication ne venait in fine rebattre les cartes d’un jeu où « l’embrouillement des vérités et des mensonges » ne débouchera sur aucune certitude moralement apaisante, l’ambiguïté existentielle demeurant aux yeux de nos auteurs contemporains une échappatoire presque obligée.

Javier Marías n’échappe pas à cette facilité mais son propos est évidemment moins d’élucider une énigme dramatique que de pénétrer le coeur et les raisons de son témoin privilégié, ce qu’il réussit avec une virtuosité stylistique quasi proustienne. Il en résulte une sorte d’envoûtement dont on ne se déprend pas au fil des pages, malgré d’excessifs étirements dont Balzac, si souvent cité, se montrait beaucoup plus économe en utilisant le même pouvoir suggestif dans la triste et courte histoire du colonel Chabert.

PHILLIPPE NOURRY

Valeurs actuelles, 5 novembre 2013

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Comme les amours

Par accoutumance, Maria prend chaque jour son petit-déjeuner dans un café, tout proche de la maison d’édition où elle travaille. Ce moment-là, la jeune madrilène ne le manquerait pour rien au monde. Elle y puise un souffle qui l’accompagnera tout au long de sa journée. La réservée et mesurée Maria passe ce temps à observer ou plutôt contempler un homme et une femme qui s’installent non loin d’elle, quotidiennement. Ce couple parfait, comme elle le nomme, la fascine. Leur amour est tellement palpable qu’il irradie jusqu’à elle. Ainsi, chaque matin, Maria prend une bouffée de ce bonheur, par procuration.

Mais voilà que le rituel se brise. Les chaises où le couple avait l’habitude de s’asseoir restent désespérément vides. De longues semaines sans leur présence. Puis, Maria apprend enfin l’origine de cette absence : l’homme, Miguel, s’est fait poignarder le jour de ses cinquante ans par un déséquilibré.

Sa veuve, Louisa, réapparaît enfin. Maria ose l’aborder. Les deux femmes vont alors au domicile de Louisa et s’entretiennent longuement. Durant leur discussion, un homme, Diaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel qui veille désormais sur Louisa fait irruption. Maria tombe amoureuse de lui. S’en suivra une liaison dont elle n’a rien à attendre, ce dernier aimant passionnément Louisa.

La prose de Javier Marias est remarquable et son intrigue à mi-chemin entre le roman policier et le roman psychologique est subtilement élaborée. De réflexions en analyses, d’hypothèses en faits, de digressions en révélations, il promène le lecteur au fil des pages sur d’innombrables chemins. Le récit est sciemment lent puisque l’auteur part en exploration, il prospecte l’âme humaine, la sonde.

Il est évidemment question de la mort, du deuil, mais surtout de l’amour qui lui subsiste ou pas… de l’absence de la personne aimée, de la notion de temps, de l’amité, de la trahison, de la passion, de la reconstruction, de l’oubli, de la mémoire, de la manipulation, du doute, autant de sujets abordés qui assaillent le lecteur de toute part avec une justesse dans les mots et dans le ton.

Judicieusement, Javier Marias propose des points de vue très personnels sur le roman de Balzac Le Colonel Chabert, sur Les Trois mousquetaires de Dumas et sur MacBeth de Shakespeare, illustrant différents aspects de la mort, du crime, du remords, de l’absurdité et de l’égarement de l’esprit.

Un roman épatant où les idées foisonnent, l’ironie plane, la poésie s’invite, le style percute, les sentiments se confondent et les zones d’ombre planent. Une histoire captivante qui nous entraîne dans un enchevêtrement de questionnements sur l’amour et la mort.

NADAEL

Les mots de la fin, 18 octobre 2013

Einaudi cumple 80 años

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“En el octogésimo aniversario de Einaudi”

Que un hombre o una mujer cumplan hoy ochenta años no parece cosa de gran mérito ni excepcional, a diferencia de lo que ocurrió durante la mayor parte de nuestros siglos. Que los cumpla, en cambio, una empresa o una tienda empieza a resultar no sólo milagroso, sino incluso levemente anacrónico.

A lo largo de centenares de años se daba por descontado que las obras de los humanos duraban más que ellos mismos, y en cierto sentido se erigían y llevaban a cabo con ese propósito: con el de perdurar y ser memoria de los pasajeros seres que las acometían. Un escritor,  sin ir más lejos, solía tener la esperanza de que sus escritos le sobreviviesen, de que otros siguieran leyéndolos después de su muerte y de que así se perpetuase lo que Quevedo llamó conversar en silencio con los difuntos. Hoy parece que la mera idea de posteridad pertenezca al pasado y no sea ya concebible: nuestros libros tienen suerte si duran un año, no digamos diez o doce. La aceleración insensata de nuestra época hace que todo nazca ya envejecido, o casi; que cualquier cosa, por existir y ser ya presente, pase a ser en el acto pasado. En contra de lo sucedido a lo largo de nuestra historia, la sensación de fragilidad y fugacidad de las obras supera a la que tenemos de nosotros mismos. Un escritor actual, si no es muy ingenuo u optimista en exceso, cuenta con asistir en vida al declive del interés por él de sus lectores, cuenta con ver cómo su novela de mayor éxito se convierte en una antigualla que pocos recuerdan y aún menos continúan leyendo.

Así, que una editorial, dedicada precisamente a publicar y cuidar esas obras efímeras, alcance los ochenta años nos da un leve consuelo de continuidad y permanencia, y nos hace concebir que quizá, en nuestro mundo, no todo sea tan transitorio como siempre lo fuimos los hombres y las mujeres.

Javier Marías

Gli auguri di Javier Marías

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Las obras de Javier Marías publicadas por Einaudi

‘Las huellas dispersas’ en el Ciclo de Oxford

Las huellas dispersas

LAS HUELLAS DISPERSAS
JAVIER MARÍAS
Introducción y edición de Inés Blanca
CICLO DE OXFORD
Debols!llo, octubre de 2013

Las huellas dispersas es una colección de textos de Javier Marías relacionados con su Ciclo de Oxford. Visitan estas páginas los personajes -también sus reversos históricos- de las novelas que, hasta la fecha, lo componen. También se recorren aquí sus lugares ingleses, hasta colarse en el gabinete del autor, alguien que trabaja realidad y ficción y las convierte en literatura. Como una nueva perspectiva de sí mismo, este volumen ensancha la obra de Marías y completa la lectura de Todas las almas, Negra espalda del tiempo y Tu rostro mañana.

ciclo de oxford
CICLO DE OXFORD:
TODAS LAS ALMAS
NEGRA ESPALDA DEL TIEMPO
TU ROSTRO MAÑANA

Las huellas dispersas
JAVIER MARÍAS
Edición de Inés Blanca
Debols!llo, octubre de 2013

Reseña de ‘The Infatuations’

T I RecorteThe Story Begins in Death: A Review of Javier Marias’ The Infatuations 

Ask an American why certain international imports, say, soccer and French film, have yet to be fully embraced by the culture and he or she may answer, “Because nothing really happens” in them.  Perhaps the same complaint could be leveled at acclaimed Spanish author Javier Marías, who has sold more than seven million books in forty languages world-wide but has yet to find a significant following stateside.  Marías is a master of crafting plots that are light on the action and accelerated pacing American readers have come to expect.  In his novels, pages upon pages, entire chapters even, are devoted to isolated, apparently stagnant scenes in which characters contemplate and/or discuss from every angle the sometimes minor, often bizarre circumstances in which their author has placed them.  Marías’ latest novel, The Infatuations is no exception and it is splendid.

Though born during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who imprisoned Marías’ philosopher father Julián for his opposition to the regime, Marías has mostly refrained from injecting politics into his work, though his nation’s history often casts a shadow.  In February, 2013, he told The Guardian, “The idea was that writers, as far as censorship would allow, must try to raise the consciousness of the people about the terrible situation. I thought it was well meant, but had nothing to do with literature.  My generation knew that a novel couldn’t end the dictatorship, and so as writers we did as we wanted.”  His first novel, Los Dominios del Lobo (The Dominions of the Wolf), published when Marías was twenty years old, was what he calls a “tribute” to mid-twentieth century American cinema.  He published several more novels while at the same time establishing himself as a translator of American and English writers before achieving international acclaim with the publication of 1992’s A Heart So White. Known for his sprawling narratives, dark, intellectual humor and, at times, tryingly digressive voice, Marías is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize.  The Infatuations, his twelfth novel, is the first to be released in the United States by a major publisher.

TomorrowThe Infatuations is the story of a murder as seen through the eyes of a woman who becomes part of the victim’s life in the aftermath of his death. Marías has a fondness for beginning his books with an act of violence then spending the course of the novel realizing its significance, both to the characters and to the greater metaphysical truths of life. In Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me, a man’s attempt to start an affair with a married woman ends when the woman dies in his arms.  In A Heart So White, a new bride shoots herself in the heart.  In The Infatuations, a happy husband is stabbed to death by a homeless man he has never met.  The murder has great psychological consequences for the narrator, María Dolz, a timid Spanish woman who has been secretly admiring from afar the husband and his elegant wife at the café where she enjoys her breakfast each morning:

“The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him,” writes Marías in the novel’s first line, “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.”  Such an opening triggers a tantalizing series of questions: Why does the murdered man have two last names?  Who is the narrator and what is at stake for her in this gruesome affair?  And, of course, how and why did the murder happen?

Rather than using the revelation of the crime to kick off the plot’s sequence of events, or to start answering these questions, Marías immediately decelerates into the first of countless digressions in which he allows his characters to ponder the philosophical minutiae of their circumstances.

His last thought must have been that the person stabbing him was doing so by mistake and for no reason, that is, senselessly, and what’s more, not just once, but over and over, unremittingly, with the intention of erasing him from the world and expelling him from the earth without further delay, right there and then.  But why do I say ‘too late,’ I wonder, too late for what?  I have no idea, to be honest.  It’s just that when someone dies, we always think it’s too late for anything, or indeed everything – certainly too late to go on waiting for him – and we write him off as another casualty.

In the pages that follow, Marías provides what might be considered by American standards as parenthetical, if not completely unnecessary details to a plot device as bold and dynamic as murder: María, the narrator, describes how observing the couple each morning provided her with “a vision of an orderly or, if you prefer, harmonious world;” she goes into extensive detail about the pair’s looks and personalities, her reasons for admiring them and her fantasies of their life together that, before Desvern’s passing, gave her “a feeling of relief that in the real world there could exist what I believed to be a perfect couple;” she recalls the day when the couple failed to appear at the café leaving her with an existentially uncomfortable awareness of “‘how easy it is for a person simply to vanish into thin air.’” Marías spends an entire chapter in the publishing house where María works as she interacts with her pretentious clientele, a scene which touches more on the arrogance and oddness of writers – “you have to be slightly abnormal to sit down and work on something without being told to” – than Desvern’s death.

The crime, set up in the provocative opening line, seems to promise a narrative packed with high drama, offering the relentless twists, turns and confrontations one might expect from a thrilling albeit highly literary whodunit.  But as this is a Javier Marías novel, actual events are few and far between.  After forty-three pages of contemplation and digression, María finally approaches Luisa in the café, which is only the second “event” of the plot after the murder.  And what is the plot?  Desvern is murdered (some time before the novel begins), María befriends his wife, meets and becomes lovers with a family friend who has been tasked with caring for the grieving widow, then discovers the apparently random murder may not have been so random after all.

The five main events of the plot – the murder, the meeting between the women, the beginning of the love affair, the moment of discovery and subsequent conversation revealing the truth – are the points that move the story forward, though it may be more accurate to describe them as the ties in the thread that carry the reader through an exploration of ideas.  Rather than laying the tracks of a well-ordered plot, the author seems more invested in exploring themes.  Thus, what may seem like tangents or superfluous meditations might be better interpreted as the real purpose of the author’s work.

Edward Hooper

Edward Hooper

Marías separates the novel into four parts; each part presents a plot event and muses upon one of the book’s themes.  In part one, Desvern is murdered and María befriends the wife, which leads to a meditation on death.  In part two, the characters explore romantic desire and the nature of existence, including the advantages of death, after María becomes lovers with Javier, the Desvern family friend, and finds out there may be more to the mystery of Desvern’s death.  Part three revolves around a conversation between the lovers and takes crime as its theme, while part four shows María’s life after the mystery is solved and ponders truth.

Thus, what makes up the bulk of the novel are the characters’ lengthy meditations and conversations about the circumstances in which they find themselves and the larger metaphysical issues arising from them.  These passages lay the philosophical and psychological groundwork from which the readers are invited to engage with the few doses of actual plot.

For example, when María approaches Luisa in the café, more than a month after Desvern’s death, Marías writes, “That was when I decided to go over to her.  The children had left in what had been their father’s car, and she was alone.”  A more conventional plot structure might require María to go directly to the table where a conversation would begin.  Instead, María moves inward, “‘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…You wait for time to pass during the temporary or indefinite absence of the other…as our instinct keeps whispering to us, and to whose voice we say: ‘Be quiet, be quiet, keep silent, I don’t yet want to hear you, I’m still not strong enough, I’m not ready.’”

María introduces herself, the two women bond over having noticed one another in the café then end up in Luisa’s home where, for the next three chapters of the novel, they talk about Luisa’s feelings about the crime.  The passages are made up mostly of an extensive monologue in which Luisa reveals her angst –

“The most painful and irremediable thing is that the person has died,” she says, “and the fact that the death is over and done with doesn’t mean that the person didn’t experience it…What came after that moment is beyond our grasp, but, on the other hand, when it took place, we were all still here, in the same dimension, him and us, breathing the same air”

– and María’s thoughts about it –

Perhaps Luisa clung to me that afternoon because with me she could be what she still was, with no need for subterfuge: the inconsolable widow, to use the usual phrase.  Obsessed, boring, grief-stricken.

Marías provides tidbits of information readers will need to make sense of the revelation at the novel’s end, but mostly María’s internal monologue and the prolonged dialogue between the women is a philosophical examination of mortality.  As is the case throughout the novel, the movement for readers to follow is not the movement from one plot event to the next, but from one thought to the next or one thought cycling back to a previous thought.  At times, movement stops altogether in order for the characters to linger to the point of exhaustion on one idea alone.  There is even hypothetical dialogue, for instance the imagined conversation in which Desvern asks Javier to take care of his wife should something happen, which lasts eleven pages.

“You shouldn’t confuse us, the living me and the dead me,” Desvern says in María’s imagination. “The former is asking you for something that the latter won’t be able to question or remind you about or else check up on you to see whether or not you have carried out his wishes.  What’s so difficult, then, about giving me your word? There’s nothing to prevent you from failing to keep it, it will cost you nothing.” Contemplation is the action here, not only for the characters but also for readers.

Death is the overarching theme, a menace that obsesses each character.  It is the unpredictability of death, its instantaneous erasure of the individual from the planet, that haunts María as she imagines beginning “a day like any other with not the faintest idea that someone is going to take your life” and fixates on reports that the murderer killed Desvern while screaming, “You’re going to die today and, by tomorrow, your wife will have forgotten you!”

She also contemplates death vicariously through Luisa: “You cannot fantasize about a dead man, unless you have lost your mind,” María thinks, “and there are those who choose to do that…those who consent to do so while they manage to convince themselves that what happened really happened, the improbable and the impossible, the thing that did 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, thinking: ‘What’s the point if we’re all doomed anyway?’”

Some of the book’s more original, and often humorous, reflections on human mortality consider the tiny inconveniences of death and its aftermath: “From the start, though, we know – from the moment they die – that we can no longer count on them, not even for the most petty thing, for a trivial phone call or a banal question (‘Did I leave my car keys there?’  ‘What time did the kids get out of school today?’), that we can count on them for nothing.  And nothing means nothing.”

Is Marías suggesting life is ultimately pointless?  “You only have to glance around the room of the person who has vanished to comprehend how much was interrupted and left hanging,” he writes, “how much becomes, in that instant, unusable and useless; yes, the novel with the page turned down, which will remain unread, but also the medicines that have suddenly become utterly superfluous.”  Perhaps human beings are useful only for the life they bring to other things – to their belongings, to relationships, to other people’s days – and so are useless in and of themselves. “They’re alive one moment and dead the next,” says Luisa, “and in between there is nothing.”

The leitmotif in which all other themes are rooted in the book is certainty.  Marías uses the word and words like it – precise, irremediable, definitive, solid, firm, concrete, final, guarantee – repeatedly throughout the novel.  The characters may seem obsessed with mortality, love and truth, but really they are all on a search for certainty in life when there is none; or, at least, they seek a return to the illusion of certainty with which they lived before Desvern’s murder.

They suffer because of the uncertainty of life and also the uncertainty of love – whether it will be returned, whether it will last, whether it will be interrupted by death, whether it even exists in the first place. “I could never be certain that my visit would end up with our bodies entangling,” María says of her rendez-vous with Javier.  “I both liked and didn’t like that strange uncertainty: on the one hand, it made me think that he enjoyed my company…on the other hand, it infuriated me that he could hold off for so long, that he didn’t feel an urgent need to pounce on me without further ado.”  The novel begins with María more or less spying on the couple because of a desire to see the world as “orderly” and “harmonious,” a desire Desvern’s death crushes.

It is particularly challenging to suspend the need for action near the end of the novel when the mystery of the murder is on the verge of being solved.  Marías goes into an extensive interpretation of the psychology of the character about to reveal the truth and even repeats some of the ideas he has already covered extensively in the preceding pages.

YourFace2In the Paris Review, Marías discusses his penchant for taking such detours by describing a scene from his novel Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two, in which a character is about to slit another character’s throat until the action is interrupted by, “a reflection on the sword: what a sword means, what a sword has meant in history, what it means nowadays and how anachronistic it is, and how, precisely because of this, it is feared maybe even more than a gun because a gun—the possibility of its being drawn—is something that you would expect if you are attacked.  There is a long reflection for many, many pages.  No one knows what has happened to that sword that has just been drawn.  If someone would skip those pages to find out whether the man is going to be beheaded, they are free to do that, but my intention—my wishful thinking—is that all digressions in my books should be interesting enough in themselves to make the reader wait, not just for the sake of waiting, but to say, OK, this writer has interrupted this and I would like to know what happens with the sword, but what he is telling me next instead of what happened with the sword is something that I am interested in, too.  I try the reader’s patience on purpose but not gratuitously.”

The Infatuations is packed with dense, obsessive, unanswerable and inconclusive ruminations about life, love and death.  In Reading for the Plot, writer Peter Brooks called plot “the internal logic of the discourse of mortality” and that, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, “we seek in narrative fictions…that knowledge of death which is denied to us in our own lives.” There is meaning in death because its finality allows us to craft stories with beginnings and ends, stories forever linked to the endless cycle of life.  Though clarity may seem to emerge from those stories, Marías warns, “the truth is never clear, it’s always a tangled mess.  Even when you get to the bottom of it.” María’s search for answers in Desvern’s demise mirrors a universal search for certainty and meaning, a futile search but one that gives life its shape.

Moreover, it is these ruminations that distinguish Marías’ work from his American counterparts’ as he offers a rare opportunity to slow down, to invite the mind to labor over intellectually complex and even tormenting ideas, to follow a train of thought or a desire without ever achieving completion or closure.  To let nothing happen in the outer world so that the inner world can come fully alive. For this, The Infatuations is a treasure.

LAURA K. WARRELL

Numéro Cinq Magazine, October 9, 2013

Soledad y miedo en ‘Tu rostro mañana’, de Javier Marías

TRM 2 SpainUn torrente de pensamientos e ideas que llevan a reflexiones existenciales enlazadas de una manera natural con el estilo de párrafos interminables saltando de un asunto a otro, pero que finalmente están hilvanados en un argumento que reproduce de manera extraordinaria un mural sobre la maldad y la crueldad humana, es la novela ‘Tu rostro mañana-2 Baile y sueño’, del escritor, filólogo y articulista español Javier Marías.
Este texto se inscribe en la tendencia novelística contemporánea del narrador-ensayista (Milan Kundera, Paul Auster, Salman Rushdie, Philiph Roth, Enrique Vila-Matas, Ricardo Piglia y Sergio Pitol, entre otros), que enriquecen la trama con meditaciones, yuxtaposiciones y entrelazamientos de ideas para llevar al lector hacia un territorio en el que la novela es algo que supera el estadio primero de narración y hecho, sirviéndose de la filosofía y la historia con el propósito de presentar su particular enfoque de lo que los maestros de literatura llaman: “visión del mundo”.

Con un dominio magistral del idioma, Javier Marías juega con las palabras de una manera muy interesante, pero que requiere del lector conocimiento y agilidad mental, que también necesitará para seguir los numerosos asuntos que se tratan en la narración, cuyo tema central es el poder de la mente humana para crear escenarios sobre un futuro desconocido, a partir de una situación concreta en el presente.

‘Tu rostro mañana-2 Baile y sueño’ forma parte de una trilogía que tiene como personaje central a Jacobo Deza, un hombre solitario, sin amigos, que desde joven ha convivido con gente mucho mayor y quien circunstancialmente vive en un país que no es el suyo, donde realiza una tarea secreta… de espionaje; sin embargo su familia -no se sabe si está casado o divorciado, aunque a lo largo del texto se intuye que su soledad deriva de que está ‘inmerso en algún paréntesis vital’- cree que se dedica a hacer traducciones.

El autor aborda aspectos de la existencia humana como la amistad y la fidelidad, las consecuencias de lo que cada individuo revela a otros, de la memoria restauradora del olvido -de los horrores cometidos durante la Guerra Civil Española- y de la violencia que es capaz de generar el ser humano; una crueldad enfermiza solo para demostrar superioridad (en muchos casos racial), pero además ejercida contra un individuo indefenso, narcotizado, sometido.

En ‘Tu rostro mañana-2 Baile y sueño’ (Alfaguara) Marías también habla del miedo y de las maneras de sufrirlo, planteando disquisiciones fluidas y en apariencia interminables acerca del temor de saberse vulnerable ante los otros por la posibilidad de ser espíados y de no tener la certeza sobre cuánto y qué sabe el otro de uno, o a las metamorfosis que pueden sufrir los seres amados.

Con una prosa, elegante, rica y compleja, Marías –quien es un experto en la divagación inteligente y con sentido- lleva a su protagonista, Jacobo Deza, a plantearse serias dudas morales que lo hacen sentir un ser cada vez más desarraigado y lo llevan a crear escenarios futuristas a partir de situaciones imaginarias que le infunden el temor de saber cómo serán el día de mañana los rostros de quienes lo rodean, pues ‘tu rostro de hoy puede no ser el mismo de mañana’’.

La maestría del escritor español en la construcción de narraciones que el lector nunca podría identificar con la palabra hablada, lo convierten en un creador de lenguaje porque no actúa como un mero imitador de voces, ello le permite hacer desde una soberbia disertación sobre el tiempo: cómo es para los vivos y para los muertos, hasta profundas reflexiones para poblar de ideas, recuerdos o merodeos léxicos rayanos en lo metafísico los espacios tan vacíos de su solitario protagonista, inmerso en una suerte de exilio interior que necesita del soliloquio para trascender su vida en suspenso.

Si bien ‘Tu rostro mañana-2 Baile y sueño’ no es una novela para todo público, porque requiere una lectura pausada y reflexiva, así como una complicidad total con el autor y el personaje central, seguramente se convertirá en un clásico.

NORMA L. VÁZQUEZ ALANÍS

TodoTexcoco.com (México), 21 de octubre de 2013

Reseñas americanas

R Magritte

R Magritte

Epistemology Kills

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 (MacbethThe 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

LE USThe Dead Should Not Return

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

javier-marias-port_2503061b‘The Calculation of Probabilities by Which We Live’: Javier Marías ‘The Infatuations’

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.

WALTER GORDON

ZYZZYVA, September 9, 2013

The Infatuations recorte

The Infatuations 

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

 LEnamoramientos R H‘Infatuations’ a mystery with existential questions

‘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.”

CATHERINE HOLMES

The Post and Courier, September 15, 2013

ECCH PortadaSpanish novelist explores ambiguities of murder

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.

DAVID HENDRICKS

The San Antonio Express-News, September 19, 2013

Reseñas de ‘The Infatuations’

LE USObjects of desire

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

9780804169417Death in Madrid

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

Reseñas de ‘Comme les amours’

Javier Marías: ce qui se passe après la mort

A13873Javier 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.

ECCH PortadaDans 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.

GEORGIA MAKHLOUF

Le Huffington Post/Le Monde, 11 octobre 2013

Reseñas en papel:

Le temps retrouvé selon Javier Marías
ERIC NEUHOFF
Le Figaro Littéraire, 18 septembre 2013

Mentir de bonne foi
FLORENCE NOIVILLE
Le Monde, 4 octobre 2013

Avec de faiblesse
ARIANE SENGER
Transfuge, 13 octobre 2013

Romance madrilène
ANDRÉ CLAVEL
Lire, 13 octobre 2013

‘Ciclo de Oxford’, de Javier Marías

ciclo de oxford
CICLO DE OXFORD:
TODAS LAS ALMAS
NEGRA ESPALDA DEL TIEMPO
TU ROSTRO MAÑANA

Las huellas dispersas
JAVIER MARÍAS
Edición de Inés Blanca
Debols!llo, 3 de octubre de 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».

Reseña francesa

Javier-Marias.-Comme-les-amours_int_carrousel_newsLe crime était presque parfait

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