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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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