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Elliot Erwitt

Elliot Erwitt

Death Becomes Her

“Of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice throughout the known world,” Laurence Sterne writes in Tristram Shandy, “I am confident my own way of doing it is the best — I’m sure it is the most religious — for I begin with writing the first sentence — and trusting to Almighty God for the second.”

Javier Marías, whose Spanish translation of Tristram Shandy won Spain’s Luis de León Award in Translation in 1979, likewise entrusts the creation of his novels to something higher. “I work without a map,” he has said. “I work only with a compass.” Trusting his imagination, Marías seems less to invent than to discover each page’s potential. “The blank page is best of all,” he has written, “the most eternally believable and the most revealing, precisely because it is never finished, on it there is eternally room for everything.” This belief not only distinguishes Marías’s style (digression is his progression) but it is also evident in the fact that, while he favors certain themes — history and language, truth and violence — he just as gladly lets his mind play over the mundane. Such intellectual excess lends his novels their often overlooked humor: “[I]t was as I realized at once,Babe […] the little pig was a great actor, I wondered if perhaps he had been nominated for an Oscar that year, but I doubt he would have won […]”

Born in 1951 to Julián Marías, a renowned philosopher persecuted by the Franco regime, Javier Marías has sold millions of books and been translated into more than 40 languages, yet North American popularity has proved elusive. Since the English translation of 1992’s A Heart So White won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 1997, each new release has been hyped as his potential North American hit, with adulating critics routinely asserting that the given volume serves as the best introduction to his work. But until The Infatuations, the new novel expertly translated by Margaret Jull Costa, readers have lacked a convenient approach to an otherwise sprawling and self-referential corpus. Novels such as All Souls(1992), A Heart So White, and the three-volume opus Your Face Tomorrow(2004, 2006, and 2009) share characters and plot-lines, not to mention what Marías terms the “system of echoes and resonances” which truly comprise his aesthetic. The Infatuations, however, which won Spain’s National Novel Prize (a prize Marías declined), is his first to be published by a major American house (Knopf), and may just be the stand-alone exemplary work critics have long prophesied.

María, the novel’s narrator, works for a Madrid publishing house, where she services the egos and absurd requests of its vaunted authors, and takes her breakfast each morning at the same café. There, she regularly observes an ideal married couple:

At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop, laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the very first time, and not as if they had left the house together, dropped the kids off at school, having first got washed and dressed at the same time — perhaps in the same bathroom — and woken up in the same bed, nor as if the first thing they’d seen had been the inevitable face of their spouse, and so on and on, day after day, for a fair number of years […]

But the occasion of María’s narration is a murder. After all, the man and woman are characters, both in her life and in our novel: “You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting right from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no novel or film.” It is typical of Marías to dispense with any fact/fiction distinction: as he wrote in All Souls, “When true knowledge proves irrelevant, one is free to invent,” and in any case, as Your Face Tomorrow suggests, “our infinite imaginings belong to life too.”

When María learns that the husband has been gruesomely stabbed to death by a misguided, insane man — “a cruel, stupid, gratuitous death” — she decides to approach the woman, Luisa, and learn about the couple. “[S]o often we only find out that someone has existed once they have ceased to do so, in fact, because they have ceased to exist,” María muses. Through Luisa, María is introduced to Javier (the names, both Javier’s and María’s, are surely no coincidence), one of the murdered man’s closest friends. María embarks on an affair with Javier though she suspects he is ultimately in love with the now-widowed Luisa.

The first half of The Infatuations comprises the most mature meditation on death and dying in Marías’s corpus, perhaps a result of Julián Marías’s passing in 2005. Like the speaker of Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” Marías is unusually sensitive to the “human position” of suffering: “[H]ow it takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.” Although even to a stranger Luisa was clearly in love, María realizes “she’ll get over this.” As Javier theorizes,

[T]he despair will become less intense, the sense of shock will diminish and, above all, she will get used to the idea: ‘I’m a widow’ […] That will be the fact, the piece of information […]And when Luisa marries again […] that fact, that piece of information, will have changed, while remaining the same as before, and she will no longer say of herself: ‘I’ve been widowed’ or ‘I’m a widow,’ because she won’t be, and will say instead ‘I lost my first husband, and he’s moving further away from me all the time.’

These words are part of a remarkable monologue which confirms Marías as Thomas Bernhard’s successor in the form. Marías goes on: “[U]ltimately, life prevails over us, so much so that, in the long run, it’s almost impossible for us to imagine ourselves without the sorrows life brings […]” Disturbingly but perhaps consolingly, the survivor may even find herself happier in the outcome:

There is no death that is not also, in some way, a relief, that does not offer some advantage […] We might mourn a wife or a husband, but sometimes we discover, although this may take a while, that we live more happily and more comfortably without them.

Indeed, María has become Javier’s lover, and we’ve become readers of this novel, as a result of murder. The Infatuations invites us to acknowledge injustice, from private accidents to national catastrophes, as ultimately vital to our pleasure and peace. While there is something almost ruthless in such a nuanced outlook, its opposite is equally true (the blank page has room for everything): Marías alerts us to the corpse by the wayside of every happy plot; he sees the grinning skull in the easy smile.

In an interview with The Paris Review in 2006, Marías said:

The idea of a male writing a female narrator and a female writing a male seems absurd […] I find books like that a little unbelievable. Only once have I written from a female perspective and that was in a short story. I would not be able to sustain it for a whole novel.

This was only a handful of years before he commenced work on The Infatuations. Whatever the reason for his change of heart, the shift is a happy one, with several bright advantages. For one, it has seemingly freed him to lampoon men in the novel’s most acerbically comic sections, as when María catches an acquaintance of Javier’s glimpsing her partially nude body:

[…] I saw only surprise and a flicker of male appreciation, which is easy enough to spot and which he doubtless made no effort to conceal, for some men’s eyes are very quick to make such evaluations, a reflex action they can’t avoid, they’re even capable of ogling the bare thighs of a woman who has been involved in a car accident and is still lying, all bloody, on the road, or of staring at the hint of cleavage revealed by the woman who crouches down to help them if they happen to be the injured party, it’s beyond their will to control or perhaps it has nothing to do with will at all, it’s a way of being in the world that will last until the day they die, and before closing their eyes for ever, their gaze will linger appreciatively on the nurse’s knee, even if she’s wearing lumpy white tights.

Elsewhere in that same interview, Marías argued,

One of the best possible perspectives from which to tell a story is that of a ghost […] someone who still cares about what he left behind, so much so that he comes back. You could say that my narrators are ghosts in that particular sense. They are passive, but they are still curious, they are observant.

When he went on to state, self-critically, “my female characters are a bit in the shade,” he may not yet have realized that therein lay the female voice’s advantage. María is the most ghostly narrator in an oeuvre populated by eavesdroppers, stalkers, and lingerers.

Like the ghosts of the dead, “which exercise a powerful attraction when they are still recent, as if they wanted to drag us after them,” María phases in and then out of the lives of Javier and Luisa. At the outset of the novel, she is “unnoticed,” “mingling with — but invisible to” the action, only to become entangled via her affair with Javier, and her final dematerialization begins after first overhearing and then learning Javier’s terrible secret. Burdened by his confession —”He […] has passed a weight on to me” — María faces a new dilemma: Is it her responsibility to act? “It sounds strange and even wrong,” she says, “and yet it can happen: [we] would sometimes prefer to act unjustly and for someone to go unpunished than see ourselves as betrayers, we can’t bear it — when all’s said and done, justice simply isn’t our thing, it’s not our job.” No, she decides, she will not play the role of revenging ghost: “The worst thing . . . [is] to come back to life at the wrong time, when you are no longer expected, when it’s too late and inappropriate, when the living have assumed you are over and done with and have continued or taken up their lives again.” Marías’s novel weaves an intricate web, but its triumph is in the power of its narrator. By transforming a female into a kind of shade, Marías found the ideal voice — detached, inquisitive, and vigilant — for one of his finest novels.

The Franco regime casts a long shadow over the work of Javier Marías (whose full name is Javier Marías Franco), but in The Infatuations, Javier’s crime, and María’s reaction to it, lays to rest a conversation about the dictator’s legacy heretofore most powerfully treated in Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream. “Keeping a distance from actual events and being privileged enough not to have to witness them,” says Javier,

all provide scope for a high degree of autosuggestion […] You manage to convince yourself that you have nothing to do with what is happening on the ground, or in the head-on confrontation, even if you provoked or unleashed it […]

Surely this was Franco’s method, as well, enabling him to “[die] happy — if such a thing is possible — believing that everything would continue as he had ordained.”

But while “it’s clear who pulled the strings and who wrote the plot and who gave the order,” in the case of both the husband’s fate and Spain’s, María’s subsequent inaction points to a new urge toward restitution in Marías’s work. In Your Face Tomorrow, letting the past recede in favor of the present was seen as “another symptom of the infantilization of the world,” but now we sense moral resilience in María as she decides,

I [do not] want to be like the wretched books among which I spend my life, whose time stands still and waits inside, trapped and watching, begging to be opened so that it can flow freely again and retell its old and oft-repeated story.

Where has the imaginative compass of this novel delivered us? Through all the cruel, stupid, gratuitous crimes of history, we end serenely in the shade, oriented toward tomorrow with renewed generosity, curiosity, and humanity. In this powerful, morally nebulous space, the likes of which only Marías’s fiction can conjure, we are unafraid, even invincible: “Nothing more can die on us if we are already dead.”

MICHAEL LA POINTE

Los Angeles Review of Books, August 6, 2013

descargaA great Spanish novel for our time by Javier Marias

Renowned Spanish writer Javier Marías has written an exquisite novel, his 13th and perhaps his best, “The Infatuations.” It contains the classical themes of love, death and fate – as the Argentine-born writer Alberto Manguel puts it – inextricably mixed.

Some critics say it is the best Spanish novel since “Don Quixote.” It reads so beautifully that I had trouble not making note of remarkable phrases on every page.

There is a linguistic habit embedded in it, however, to which American readers will have to adjust. Instead of terse sentences in the novel, there are long colloquial elocutions, artfully set out, of pro and con arguments, without too brusque a change of direction; perhaps a European or Middle Eastern practice or both, in origin.

Here is how “The Infatuations” begins: A young woman, María Dolz, works in the publishing business in Madrid. She stops at a café each morning where she is drawn to a couple who appear to live an “unblemished” existence, one perhaps she dearly wishes she could emulate. María observed the couple carefully each day.

“The man is less than 50 and dressed with an old-fashioned elegance and seemed genuinely amused by life. He addresses the waiters formally as usted and treats them with a kindness that never topples over into cloying familiarity.” His name, María learned later: Miguel Desvern.

The woman, Luisa, Miguel’s wife, closer to 40, wears clothes by Céline. She was “as tall as him, olive-skinned, with shoulder-length, dark, almost black hair and very little make-up … She was clearly as pleasant and cheerful as he was, although her laugh wasn’t quite as loud.”

When the couple fail to show up for a number of days, María wonders, “How fragile they are, these connections with people one only knows by sight.” They have brought a ray of sun to her own life, a depressing existence she admits, spent catering to the whims of spoiled writers.

María thinks to herself, “You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no film.”

Something has gone awry in the lives of Miguel and Luisa Desvern; otherwise there would be no novel. What can it be? A note of premonition is introduced when María indicates that Luisa “… waited 20 minutes for him at a restaurant table, puzzled but not overly unconcerned, until the phone rang and her world ended, and she never waited for him again.”

A few days earlier María had her stomach turned by a picture in the newspaper of the murder of a Madrid businessman, stabbed to death. She didn’t make any connection with Miguel Desvern at the time. The photo was so different from her recollection of Miguel in the café: a man, “lying on the ground … in the street itself, without a jacket or tie … with his shirt unbuttoned and the tails hanging out … with a pool of blood all about …”

María didn’t know, until she was later told by her colleague Beatriz, who also breakfasted at the café, that the poor devil pictured in the news was the cheerful man she watched every day and who earlier had the “infinite kindness” to raise her spirits.

María gets up enough nerve some time later to approach Luisa, whom she sees with her children about to leave for school at the café. “Forgive the intrusion,” Maria says, “…You don’t know me, but my name is María Dolz…”

“Yes, of course, we know you by sight as well … We used to call you the Prudent Young Woman,” Luisa smiles in return.

Thus begins a friendship between the two women. It also signals María’s falling in love with a man she meets at Luisa’s house, Javier Díaz-Varela, and his role in the mystery.

“The Infatuations” is a stunning novel, complicatedly told as a Spanish morality play. It is, in the end, a “metaphysical enquiry” involving questions of “love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence” and how they relate to telling the truth.

The import of this is relayed to us by María, who listens raptly to Javier, who tells a story about a novella by Balzac. When she asks about the specifics of the book, Javier says, “What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events to which we pay far more attention.”

A word about the title translated into English. Alberto Manguel observes that “Infatuations” is the only possible English translation for the “enamoramientos” of the original title. Margaret Jull Costa (the translator), with her habitual skill, has rendered Marías’s precise, somewhat laconic Spanish into graceful and equally laconic English, but the title necessarily defeats her. “ ‘Enamoramiento’ is the act of falling in love, briefly but not less passionately; ‘infatuation’ (the dictionary tells us) is to become inspired with intense fondness, admiration, even folly; unfortunately, in the English term, love is absent.”

An example of “enamoramiento”? Consider María’s falling in love with Javier. At first she believes that Javier is only biding his time, postponable and provisional, waiting to take Luisa as his latest conquest.

As a result María thinks to herself, “We cannot pretend to be the first or the favourite, we are merely what is available, the leftovers, the leavings, the survivors, the remnants, the remaindered goods, … we manage to believe in these chance falls in love, and many think they can see the hand of destiny in what is really nothing more than a village raffle at the fag-end of summer … When we get caught in the spider’s web, we fantasize endlessly, and at the same time, make do with the tiniest crumb … knowing that he is still on our horizon, from which he has not entirely vanished, and that we cannot yet see, in the distance, the dust from his fleeing feet.” This is folly fully realized, yet acted upon: “enamoramiento.”

Later María comes to grasp that the random killing of Miguel Desvern on the street is not what it appears. It is a homicide that she has become privy to, making her an accomplice to murder, giving her a bad conscience and, as a result of her infatuation, and perhaps repugnance or fear of Javier Diaz-Varela, who may or may not have been complicit.

Marías turns the plot of “The Infatuations” on its head more often than one can count. He justifies his tergiversations by saying, “… the horrors that novelists think they invent are as nothing compared to the truth.”

I’m not so sure. As María says, “‘drip-feeding us with horror”: “It’s all a matter of time, infuriating time, but our time is over, time, as far as we are concerned, has run out, time, which consolidates and prolongs even while, without our noticing, it is simultaneously rotting and ruining us and turning the tables on us … Everything becomes a narrative and sounds fictitious even if it’s true …nothing is incompatible in the land of memory … No one is going to judge me, there are no witnesses to my thoughts.”

Is this so? I don’t think so. We are witnesses. It is this sensibility – that everything tends toward attenuation – that a superior novel like “The Infatuations” brings to judging life.

An important footnote: All too often the skill of a translator of novels is overlooked. This shouldn’t be so with Margaret Jull Costa, who renders Portuguese and Spanish literature so effortlessly into English. She is a longtime translator of Javier Marías and of Jose Saramago.

MICHAEL D. LANGAN

The Buffalo News, August 18, 2013

LE USThe Infatuations

“What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”

Being that there are so many ways in which one might consider a book’s overall effect (to say nothing of how certain elements may appeal to one reader over another), it can be rather arduous to convey what it is about a particular work that makes it resonate as it does. To some, prose is paramount. to others, believable characters and their development, with whom a reader can identify or at least empathize. Faithful dialogue, compelling plot, philosophical asides, broad scope, cross-cultural relevance, clever construction, unique narrative stylings, memorable voice, a timeless quality—all these and more are reasons often given when discussing what it is about a work of fiction that makes it so distinguished or outstanding. The one commonality shared by all the world’s great novels, however, be they past or present, is their remarkable ability to stay with us long after we’ve set the story aside. So it is with Javier Marías’s latest novel, The Infatuations (Los enamoramientos).

Published to wide acclaim in his native spain in 2011, the disputed king of Redonda’s most recent offering is a murder mystery par excellence. no mere formulaic thriller, Marías’s tale is one of perception, memory, grief, love, death, complicity, circumstance, doubt, chance, delusion, the multiplicity of motivation, and, of course, the nature of infatuation. Set within the capital city of Madrid and using a violent (and seemingly senseless) murder as its catalyst, the story follows María Dolz, a publishing house employee who entangles herself, however inadvertently at the onset, in the heinous crime’s aftermath.

All this information was published over a period of two days, the two days following the murder. Then the item vanished from the press completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don’t want to know why something happened, only what happened, and to know that the world is full of reckless acts, of dangers, threats and bad luck that only brush past us, but touch and kill our careless fellow human beings, or perhaps they were simply not among the chosen. We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten without leaving so much as a tremor of grief, not a trace. We don’t want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people’s misfortunes, as if, after each one, we thought: “How dreadful. But what’s next? What other horrors have we avoided? We need to feel that we, by contrast, are survivors, immortals, so feed us some new atrocities, we’ve worn out yesterday’s already.

Once morbid curiosity, fascination, and, perhaps, schadenfreude no longer fuel our fertile imaginations, a murder (nothing more) becomes as disposable as any of the myriad news stories that we’ve somehow indulged as being momentarily relevant to our lives. Marías works this pervasive and perverse social peculiarity to great effect—intriguing us enough to concern ourselves with the fate of his characters (with ever the freedom to simply turn or walk away), yet forever eroding the space around them from which we can watch safely from the periphery. It’s a deliriously intoxicating technique, one evinced by our daily obsession with celebrity scandal, political malfeasance, far-off disaster, or nearby crimes of passion. These truncated news stories and soundbites, in reality, often have not the slightest thing to do with our own lives, but end up somehow consuming us (however briefly) all the same—as if they were somehow vested with the weight of our own personal stake. María is unable to turn away and neither are we.

Whereas so many whodunnits content themselves with little more than revealing the perpetrator and their hackneyed impulses, The Infatuations seeks to explore and confront a much broader purview. with perceptive observations and often tender insights into thought, reason, emotion, judgment, and the murky fringes of reality, Marías draws us into an almost inescapable role of accomplice and witness. He is able to do this so effectively by extracting the reader from the mystery of the murder itself (with which so few of us can identify) and repositioning one within the more familiar confines of love lost, relationships torn asunder, and the inevitable self-doubt which follows.

We tend to hope that, of the people and habits we cherish, no one will die and none will end, not realizing that the only thing that maintains those habits intact is their sudden withdrawal, with no possible alteration or evolution, before they can can abandon us or we abandon them. Anything that lasts goes bad and putrefies, it bores us, turns against us, saturates and wearies us. How many people who once seemed vital to us are left by the wayside, how many relationships wear thin, become diluted for no apparent reason or certainly none of any weight. The only people who do not fail or let us down are those who are snatched from us, the only ones we don’t drop are those who abruptly disappear and so have no time to cause us pain or disappointment. When that happens, we despair momentarily, because we believe we could have continued with them for much longer, with no foreseeable expiry date. That’s a mistake, albeit understandable. continuity changes everything, and something we thought wonderful yesterday would have become a torment tomorrow.

Is the author manipulating us? Are we willing participants? Are we rendered prostrate simply because the story evokes the universal feeling of unrequited desire and heartbreak? What about the abhorrent murder? Is all grief transmutable and therefore inexorable? Are we failing to see beyond all that is shown?

I would never know more than what he told me, and so i would never know anything for sure; yes, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom.

Marías’s thirteenth novel (and the tenth to be translated into english), achingly beautiful and seemingly effortless like so much of his writing, could only have been carefully constructed by one possessed of a compassion and discernment alien to lesser writers. The Infatuations is not a flawless outing, but a remarkable and impressive one nonetheless. Marías’s exploration of doubt, truth, life, love, and violence does not answer any of the age-old questions of morality and mortality, but leaves us with the sense that there is much veracity and wisdom to be found within the shadows and gradations. A master of contemporary fiction (and regularly mentioned as a perennial candidate for world literature’s highest honor), Marías is among the finest european writers at work today.

The passing of time exacerbates and intensifies any storm, even though there wasn’t the tiniest cloud on the horizon at the beginning. We cannot know what time will do to us with its fine, indistinguishable layers upon layers, we cannot know what it might make of us. it advances stealthily, day by day and hour by hour and step by poisoned step, never drawing attention to its surreptitious labors, so respectful and considerate that it never once gives us a sudden prod or a nasty fright. Each morning, it turns up with its soothing, invariable face and tells us exactly the opposite of what is actually happening: that everything is fine and nothing has changed, that everything is just as it was yesterday—the balance of power—that nothing has been gained and nothing lost, that our face is the same, as is our hair and our shape, that the person who hated us continues to hate us and the person who loved us continues to love us. And yet quite the opposite is true, but time conceals this from us with is treacherous minutes and sly seconds, until a strange, unthinkable day arrives, when nothing is as it always was . . .

JEREMY GARBER

Three Percent, August 21, 2013

Marias01_bodyAN INTRIGUING INTERNATIONAL STORY

A celebrity in his native Spain, Javier Marías is puzzlingly unknown in the U.S. His novels are considered modern classics. He’s often tipped for the Nobel Prize. And his works have been translated into 42 languages in 52 countries. His latest prize-winning bestseller, The Infatuations, comes to America this month, and those who like their lit cerebral would do well to see what the fuss is about. Philosophical and provoking, a paradox of coolheaded intensity, this novel is, above all, addictive.

María Dolz, frustrated with her job in publishing, finds a small joy each morning in the café where she breakfasts, observing a beautiful couple who seem very much in love. One day they stop appearing, and María learns to her horror that the husband has been murdered. When the wife returns to the café, María offers her condolences—it is the first time she has ever spoken to the woman. The widow invites her to her home, and there she meets Javier Diaz-Varela, the husband’s best friend. María can see that the handsome Diaz-Varela is infatuated with the widow, and yet she becomes infatuated with him herself. They begin an affair. And from there, María finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery she would rather know nothing about—and must try to separate truth from fiction.

Marías’ style is distinctive: The story is told primarily through long internal monologues in which the narrator reflects on what has been said in conversation and even imagines whole conversations between others. Marías does this through long, drawn-out sentences, a sort of hybrid of Italo Calvino and Henry James. This description might horrify some and intrigue others, but the horrified shouldn’t turn away too quickly; somehow, this style manages to compel. Examining what underlies (and undermines) love, truth and justice, the prose never rambles but zeroes in on some of humanity’s most discomfiting characteristics, all of which relate to death and romantic love.

And uncertainty, perhaps the most uncomfortable element of human life, takes center stage. Marías keeps us guessing from beginning to end: about the crime, about the motivations, about what María is hearing from the other characters and what we can believe. A trip through the mind and heart that is somehow both quiet and edge-of-your-seat, The Infatuations fascinates as a whole new breed of psychological thriller.

SHERI BODOH

Book Page, August, 2013

ECCH PortadaReaders will fall in love with ‘Infatuations’

Every morning María Dolz, the main character in Javier Marías’ latest novel “The Infatuations,” eats breakfast in the same small cafe on her way to work. And every day she observes “The Perfect Couple”: a long-term married pair eagerly sharing breakfast as though on a first date.

But one day Miguel, the man, is brutally murdered on the way to his car. María comforts the widow and becomes involved in their world, first by falling for Miguel’s best friend and then by discovering, through a series of observations and overheard conversations, that Miguel’s murder is not as it seems.

Reminiscent of the writings of Albert Camus, “The Infatuations” (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 352 pages, $26.95) is equal parts mystery and metaphysical mediation on envy, influence, and the danger that comes when the dead come back to us — either literally (such as in the case of Colonel Chabert by Honoré de Balzac, which is heavily referenced) or figuratively.

“Yes, the dead are quite wrong to come back, and yet almost all of them do, they won’t give up, and they strive to become a burden to the living until the living shake them off in order to move on.”

But who is responsible for the dead? If a man is murdered, who must be held accountable — only the man who pulls the trigger, or also the man who plants the seed of murder in his mind and encourages its growth?

It’s clear to see why Javier Marías’ name is often mentioned in discussions of potential recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature, as “The Infatuations” beautifully tackles themes that strike at the heart of the human condition. Marías meticulously weaves philosophical arguments, classic literature, and real and imagined conversations together, resulting in a kaleidoscopic masterpiece.

This is by no means a quick read, and classic literature shouldn’t be: this is a book to be savored, discussed and read again.

LAURA FARMER

The Gazette, August 4, 2013