Spanish novelist Javier Marias must surely win the Nobel Prize for literature at some stage. His 1600-page trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, which has been called ”Proust re-imagined by Le Carre” is a masterpiece of invention and elliptical prose. The Infatuations, superbly translated by Margaret Jull Costa, is straightforward in comparison.
The novel opens with the following words from Maria, the thirtysomething publishing editor who is the narrator: ”The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife Luisa saw him.” Maria had regularly observed Luisa and Miguel, the ”perfect couple”, at a Madrid cafe, but then Miguel is apparently randomly stabbed to death on the street by a homeless man.
Maria contacts Luisa to express her sympathy and subsequently enters into a relationship with Miguel’s best friend Javier. Maria’s sympathy and compassion slowly turn into suspicion when she overhears a conversation in Javier’s flat and wonders if there is more to the murder than originally believed by the police.
Maria slowly unpicks the raison d’etre for the murder – or does he? Marias is less interested in the mechanics of the murder, rather preferring to explore the relationships of his small group of characters.
In typical Marias style, he slows down the narrative and whole chapters are devoted to thoughts about love, death, the nature of relationships and – most of all – infatuations. The Spanish ”Los enamoramientos” is translated as infatuations, but Marias has explained that it ”has no perfect equivalent in English. ”Infatuation” is acceptable but it has a negative nuance that the Spanish doesn’t have; the Spanish is more simply the process and the state of being in love. People in love, however, can not only act ”nobly” but also ”act vilely”.
Marias also uses Shakespeare, Balzac and Dumas as background material in examining the moral and ethical issues. In the end, however, there is no direct resolution even though the reader is aware of the reasons for the murder.
Marias focuses on moral ambiguities and the difficulties of ever knowing the complete truth about people and events. Memories are elusive and chance plays a vital role. Maria thus can never fully understand everything that has occurred, appropriately concluding, as she literally and emotionally walks away, ”No one is going to judge me, there are no witnesses to my thoughts.”
The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), June 27, 2013
The Age (Australia), June 29, 2013