Entrevista americana

T I dobleNBCC Fiction Finalist Javier Marías in Conversation with MFA Student Gabriel Don

Thanks toThe School of Writing at The New School, as well as the tireless efforts of their students and faculty, we are able to provide interviews with each of the NBCC Awards Finalists for the publishing year 2013 in our 30 Books 2013 series.

Gabriel Don, on behalf of the School of Writing at The New School and the NBCC,  interviewed Javier Marías, via email, about his book The Infatuations, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Knopf), which is among the final five selections, in the category of Fiction, for the 2013 NBCC awards.

GD: The first sentence of the novel The Infatuations raises so many questions and pulls the reader immediately into the story seeking answers. How does one decide where to begin when writing fiction?

JM: When I start writing a novel, I never know much about the plot, and certainly not the ending. I simply have an idea, or an image, or a sentence that has been lurking for a while. So I suppose my first sentences have to be interesting and appealing enough to lead me down the path they reveal. I very much decide things on the spot, I improvise a lot. But, once I make a decision, I almost never go back on it. I stick to what I said on page 10, even if on page 200 I discover that it would have been easier to say something different on page 10. I realize this is absurd—and perhaps suicidal—but I apply to my novels the same principle of knowledge that rules life: at 40 you may wish you had made a different decision when you were 20, but you can’t go back. Well, in my novels it is the same. The funny thing is that many critics have pointed out that, often, on my very first page, there is a sort of “summary” of the whole novel. But, as I have said many times before, I don’t have a map when I write, just a compass. So I know I am heading “north,” as it were, but not the way I will get there.

GD: I very much enjoyed the long sentences throughout. They seemed to meander like a river, frequently extended by commas, like Proust, often arriving at unexpected places which is rare in contemporary fiction—post Gordon Lish and Raymond Chandler—which I feel favours short sentences with most of the information contained in the top half. What authors—contemporary or historical—do you admire and have influenced the way you structure sentences?

JM: Though I am a great admirer of Dashiell Hammett, for instance, I think that the widespread tendency to use short sentences in fiction is rather impoverishing and boring. To convey a complex or nuanced idea it is often necessary to use long sentences. This means—to a certain extent—that complex and nuanced ideas have been almost banished from literary fiction. However, I try to make my sentences as clear and understandable as possible. Even with the meandering you mention, my prose runs swiftly, at least in my mind and my own reading. Whenever I have read from my books in front of audiences, the pace is fast. I look not only to Proust, but also to Henry James, Faulkner, Sir Thomas Browne, Sterne and Conrad (I have translated work by the latter four, only poetry by Faulkner, though) as models for how to deal with complex ideas and how to do so “musically.” The rhythm of the prose is very important to me, and one of the reasons to use commas, which sometimes allow you to skip “sinces,” “therefores” and “howevers” that may feel like hindrances. Faulkner was once asked why his sentences were so long, and he replied, more or less: “Because I never know if I shall be alive to write the next one.” Thank you so much for liking mine, that is very kind of you.

GD: I was asked to write a wedding poem for the ceremony in India I just attended and I quoted a romantic section of The Infatuations:

“The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each others’ company…for there are people who can make us laugh even when they don’t intend to, largely because their very presence please us, and so it’s easy enough to set us off, simply seeing them, and being in their company and hearing them is all it takes, even if they they are not saying anything extraordinary or even deliberately spouting nonsense which we nonetheless find funny.”

The intriguing thing to me was how by admiring the beauty of this couple, the audience is made an accomplice with Maria as she stalks and finds solace in their relationship. Do you think by placing the narrative in the first person, a reader has already to some degree taken sides?

JM: Well, I have been writing my novels in the first person since 1986, with The Man of Feeling, so I have grown perhaps too accustomed to it. It has both advantages and disadvantages. Among the former, in principle everything is more “believable,” as fragmentary as our own knowledge of reality and of other people’s lives; and yes, it somehow encourages the reader to “take sides,” even if a first-person narrator is not always reliable or trustworthy, just as we are not in real life. Among the latter, you are forced to justify all your knowledge of things; unfortunately, you can’t just enter Madame Bovary’s bedroom, or mind, and say what is going on there, something a narrator in the third person is allowed to do. Throughout my literary career I have strived to find ways of entering characters’ bedrooms or minds without actually doing so.

GD: In contrast to the long sentences, the chapters in The Infatuations are brief, averaging 3-5 pages. Is this for pacing purposes? As an aspiring novelist, who has only written short stories thus far, I find figuring out when to end a chapter very complicated, and committing to and continuing on with chapters to shape a novel as a whole a conundrum. What advice do you have?

JM: Yes, it is for pacing purposes. In other novels my chapters are longer, sometimes very long. On this occasion I realized conventional chapter breaks would serve a purpose. You can start a new chapter without starting a new scene or interrupting a conversation between two characters. I notice that readers are more urgently compelled to go on reading after a chapter break. And, as I said, that break may only be formal, a convention. It is not that you “delude” the reader, but rather invite him or her to pause, and he or she will usually accept the invitation. We authors must be very grateful to readers who comply with us.

GD: Do you feel that something is lost, or possibly gained, in translation? Are their some things (words, meaning, concepts) you think cannot be transferred from Spanish to English?

JM: When I used to teach Theory of Translation (in Madrid, also at Oxford University and at Wellesley College), the very first day I said two contradictory things: 1) Translation is impossible. 2) Everything can be translated. And gave examples that supported both assertions. I believe both are true. For instance, in Spanish we have so many different diminutives that it’s a challenge not only to “properly” translate them, but even just to explain them. In Spanish, a “tonto” (a fool, a silly person) is not quite the same thing as a “tontuelo,” “tontín,” “tontito,” “tontazo,” “tontorrón,” “tontaina,” or “tontaco.” Similarly, English has “to look,” “to watch,” “to glare,” “to gaze,” “to stare,” “to peer,” “to peep.” Spanish doesn’t, so we must usually add an adverb. But I do think there are always ways of “compensating,” as it were, for what you might miss in one line of the text, perhaps in the next line. Certainly, if a translator is poor, then a lot is lost. And if he or she is excellent, then something may be gained. And, of course, once you know a second or third language, then you miss, in your own, certain words or expressions that are available in other languages. For a writer it is a challenge, sometimes, to try to “incorporate” into your own language what it lacks.


Critical Mass, February 21, 2014

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.


Cinco días, 24 de diciembre de 2013



The digressive and meditative tendencies of these writers are evident in Marías’s later fiction, particularly in his three-volume masterpiece Your Face Tomorrow, which has been hailed as one of the great works of twenty-first century literature. This Proustian spy novel maintains a taut, suspenseful narrative over 1000+ pages, while continually illuminating and questioning the unreliability of narrative, the (im)possibilities of translation, the contingencies of historical record, and the division between reality and fiction.

These concerns are returned to throughout his oeuvre. Dark Back of Time, a semi-fictional memoir, takes as one of its subjects the critical misattributions of factual and fictional elements in an earlier novel, All Souls, which describes the activities of a Spanish lecturer at Oxford, where Marías taught translation theory for two years in the 1980s. The publication of All Souls, which includes a biographical sketch of the English writer John Gawsworth, led in 1997 to Marías being named the King of Redonda, an unpopulated island in the Antilles formerly ‘ruled’ by Gawsworth. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of his reign is the annual conferral of duchies upon writers and artists Marías admires, which include John Ashbery (Duke of Convexo), A. S. Byatt (Duchess of Morpho Eugenia), Francis Ford Coppola (Duke of Megalópolis) and W. G. Sebald (Duke of Vértigo). His latest novel, The Infatuations, characteristically combines a mysterious and gripping plot with extensive deviations into recurring themes of secrecy, betrayal, and the passage of time.

The interview took place in Marías’s apartment, which overlooks a square in central Madrid. During our conversation, the windows of the apartment were alternately opened to aerate the smoke-filled room, and closed to keep out the sound of loudspeakers used by the many tourist guides below. Despite continually warning that he would not be, Marías was generous with his time, speaking for over three hours.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Your childhood was spent between Spain and America…

JAVIER MARÍAS — I was in America for two very short periods in my childhood, and the first one doesn’t even count because I was a baby. I was born in Madrid, and my father had been hired by an American college for that year, 1951. After the end of the Civil War, my father would have been a professor, or a writer, but he couldn’t be any of those things in Spain, he wasn’t allowed to. Coincidentally, the day I was born, he had to leave. As he used to say: I was born, he shook hands with me, and he left. Not that he was especially horrified at my birth, but that was the way it was. About one month after that my two elder brothers and myself were taken by my mother to Massachusetts and we spent the whole academic year there. Then afterwards, when I was 4 or 5, my father was hired by Yale University. Since it was for a whole academic year he decided he would go with the family as well and I spent 1955-56 in New Haven in Connecticut.

Casa New HavenThe rest of my childhood was a madrileño one. Though of course America had an influence – when you are a boy or a young child and you go to a country that is so different – and it was then from the Spain of Franco, 1955, can you imagine — of course it was a total discovery. My brothers and I always missed somehow the year we had spent there. ‘When are we going back to America?’, we would ask. And there were a few nice things there, of course, that we didn’t have here.

For the rest of the time it was a normal Spanish childhood. Though not so normal in the end, considering the decade we were in. There were some small characteristics in which I consider myself very fortunate. For example, the fact that I went to a co-ed school, which was not normal at the time in Spain at all. Most people of my age went to single sex schools, and many of them to schools ruled by nuns or priests, and I was lucky not to have that. I always lived together with girls. It was a rather liberal school. But now and then an inspector came from the Ministry of Education or whatever it was, and the teachers became very excited, saying ‘Run and separate, girls to this classroom, boys to that classroom!’, so that the authorities thought that we were in separate classrooms. It was an absolutely ludicrous situation in all aspects.

On that subject, there is a strange habit in Spain; football referees are always referred to with two surnames. I learned very recently this habit of calling referees by both names – if you have a very common first name like Garcia or Gonzalez or Rodriguez, it’s common to use two, but if you have an uncommon name, like Marías, it’s absurd to use two. But referees use two. I read that it comes from the early 1960s, that there was a referee in the Primera Liga whose name was Franco. It was decided that he should be called Franco Martinez in order to avoid the press saying: ‘Franco stole the match!’, or, ‘Supporters angry with Franco!’ So that started the tradition. Crazy.

THE WHITE REVIEW — You’ve said that your first novel, Dominions of the Wolf, was an homage to American cinema.

JAVIER MARÍAS — I wrote Dominions of the Wolf in a very unconscious, irresponsible way. It had more to do with the way I wrote a few things when I was 12 or 13 or so – I started writing because I wanted to read more of what I liked. I started because of emulation, which is a very much forgotten word, a very noble word, it’s not imitation, not mimicry, not plagiarism, it’s a very good thing. You feel like doing something similar to what you admire and enjoy. It’s a great stimulus for doing things. I loved William Brown’s stories and the musketeer novels. Once I’d read them all I said, I want more. And the only possibility was writing more. Dominions of the Wolf was done in this same irresponsible spirit, with no idea of publication, just for fun, just in order to do it. I gave it to a couple of friends, just to say ‘see what I’ve done’, that was the only idea. Then it was published – it was passed on to someone who said I like this, and it was published. I found myself at 19 years old with reviews of the book, and in some of those reviews I remember that some critics said – they were rather benevolent I would say – this novel has some value really, in the inventiveness, or the fantasy, the quickness of it, it’s very quick. It was more or less praised, but there was a very frequent objection: why does this young man talk about this rather than talking about his world, what is around him, our problems, Spain, the situation? Of course then it was 1971, the fashion was still more or less what was termed the social realistic novel.

LDDLVery naively many writers of the previous generation had thought that everything including literature should be a weapon against Franco and his dictatorship, which is ludicrous, because of course a novel can’t do anything. They wrote terribly boring novels. Well-meant possibly, but poor from a literary perspective. My generation didn’t do that. We were very committed politically, but as citizens; I’ve always made a differentiation between citizenship and being a writer. So I received this sort of reproach from the critics. But afterwards, I thought, in a way these people are wrong. In a way, I’m talking about my childhood in Spain, and the respite of American cinema and novels – detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler – they were a respite from our oppressive world. So while in one way I was running away from that mediocre, repressive world, I was also somehow reflecting with irony – it’s a rather ironical novel, very humorous – I was reflecting a way of escape from my own childhood. I thought that after writing the book, because I was obliged to by the critics. But my initial impulse was to emulate something I liked.

THE WHITE REVIEW — A common accusation levelled at you is your not being ‘Spanish’ enough. It’s been said many times that you write as if in translation.

JAVIER MARÍAS — I was accused of that for many years. My second novel featured British characters and a strange expedition to the South Pole or the North Pole, I can’t remember which. That was published in 1973, titled Voyage Along the Horizon in English. My first two novels didn’t have anything to do with Spain or Spanish people or political issues, and some people started to say, this is an English writer who translated himself into Spanish. It was said that my Spanish is full of syntactical inaccuracies, and it’s true – I have forced the syntax in my language very much, not only because of my knowledge of English, but also because languages should be more resilient than some academic people allow them to be. So I had this foreign writer label – and it was very derogatory – but then I’ve had several different labels throughout my very long career. I was finally accepted as a good writer, but too ‘brainy’ or cerebral, too cold. I think my novels are not particularly cold – there are passages which are rather passionate or at least almost lyrical, I would say. Then for another period they said, ‘Yes, but he writes for women,’ as if that was something bad. But that’s not true, I have all kinds of readers, and then everyone has more female readers, because women read more than men. People who don’t like you try to label you with derogatory things, but when a label falls down by itself, then they look for another one. I don’t know why. In my own country I’ve felt in general more resistance than support from my colleagues, from the literary establishment, not all critics but many of them.

THE WHITE REVIEW — How has your work as a translator influenced your own work?

JAVIER MARÍAS — What I can say is: yes, probably, if you are a translator and a writer as well and you do translate very good things – and almost everything I translated was excellent, from Browne to Sterne to Conrad to Thomas Hardy, poetry by Faulkner and Nabokov and Stevens and Auden and Ashbery and Stevenson, prose by Yeats, and Tennyson, great authors – you are heavily influenced, whether you like it or not, by what you translate. You learn a lot and you spend a lot of time with the work. What is most important of it all, and it has been said many times, is that a translator is a privileged reader, but also a privileged writer. What you do is re-write in a completely different language something that was written by a great writer. The wording is yours – of course you try to be faithful – but you have to choose, always.

When I was teaching theory of translation at Oxford, in the US, and in Madrid, I said to my students: ‘Everyone thinks they know how to translate “I love you” in English. You know, people have it on their shirts and all that. But there are about seven or eight different possible translations of that into Spanish.’ The most common words, the words common to everyone, are different in different languages. For instance, muerte, death, can’t be the same for a German, because in German death is masculine, whereas in French or Spanish or Italian, death is feminine. Of course they are represented: in German paintings and etchings, death is a man, and she is an old woman in southern Europe. Even the most common thing of all – death being the most common thing, besides life – you have to translate literally, bearing in mind that it’s not the same thing. You have to choose – you have to rewrite.

LA RELIGIONBorges said that translation was a very modest miracle, but one of the greatest on earth. That the text, having lost everything that made it possible – that is, the original language – could still be the same. You can say, yes, this is the same, having lost the rhythm, the pace, the alliteration – if it’s poetry, the rhyme, the meter, everything – but it’s still the same thing. It’s quite miraculous. If you do that acceptably in your own language of course you’re influenced by that work. I learned a lot from the authors I translated, that’s evident in my works. The big influence of Sterne, in the treatment of time in the novel, or Sir Thomas Browne – some of them did have an influence of which I’m aware.

THE WHITE REVIEW — You mentioned you deliberately cultivated a new kind of syntax, and you’ve spoken elsewhere of using commas as poets employ enjambment. What is your conception of syntax?

JAVIER MARÍAS — It has much to do with what is essential for me in any literary text, also in prose: the rhythm or pace of it. There is a musical element which I cannot disregard when I write, or a cadence, whatever you want. Of course it’s not something very studied or deliberate, in a way it’s just a sense of the pace you have. Sometimes I just suppress some supposedly necessary commas, because I think they’re a hindrance to that cadence or rhythm. Sometimes I use commas instead of full stops. If instead of a comma you use a full stop, you have to add pero, but, or aunque, which is ‘or’, or ‘however’, or words like that which sometimes I feel to be a hindrance. It also comes from Latin, which I studied as a boy and at university – I can’t read it now. There was something in Latin, called the absolute ablative in English, which describes sentences in which you didn’t have an action verb. It has to do with the learning of that formula which said you can say things without a proper verb, only a participle sometimes. I make these rows of sentence separated only by a comma and some of them are like that in a way. You make me think very hard on something I usually don’t do! I work very hard on each page; I never make two versions of my novels, but I do many versions of each page and once the page is done and I can’t do it any better it goes to the printer. When I’m writing one particular page I work on it as if it was separate from all others, like poets do, the only difference is I’m not thinking of metre. But sometimes I think I need one more syllable here – depending on where the stress goes in the word. Sometime I think I need one more syllable and it needs to be an esdrújula, where the stress would be in the antepenultimate syllable, so I think I have a strange sense of the length of sentences or the length of words. That is supposed to be lost in translation, but maybe it’s not.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Do you think prose is capable of musicality? Are music and literature comparable in their effects?

JAVIER MARÍAS — I wish it was comparable, but I don’t think it is. I’ve said that I think of music as probably the supreme art, and sometimes I wish I could do something similar to what music does with writing. But of course it’s always different which because words have a meaning. The meaning of words is always there, unless you make something very experimental. Music has this marvellous thing. It’s very mysterious to me why a few notes make you feel joyful or melancholy or sad or whatever, without having any words. The problem is that a literary text is always too influenced by the meaning of the words you are using, what you are saying, besides cadence. Cadence and rhythm are important, essential even.

Sometimes I have been asked, how do you explain the writer you are – not an easy one to read and all that – and that you have had so many readers. My books have sold over seven million copies throughout the world, which is a lot for an author like myself. I never know why exactly, but I think maybe it has something to do with the idea that sometimes my prose can be a little – a very frequent adjective has been ‘hypnotising’ or ‘bewitching’ or something like that. That only accounts for Spain in principle, and perhaps that has something to do with my own experience of translating. Some authors are very contagious in the good sense of the word. Translate Conrad, Sterne, Browne – all three are very difficult but there is something in their prose, it’s like a wave, once you are up on the wave it leads you somehow. Maybe this is why my books are appreciated in other languages, maybe I am the kind of writer who contaminates his translators.

THE WHITE REVIEW — You’ve said that you don’t prepare your novels in terms of narrative, but do you have a distinct style planned in advance for each. Do you see them as stylistically distinct?

LE Debolsillo GJAVIER MARÍAS — No, I think they are continuous. I’ve been using the first person since 1986. My narrators are cousins to say the least. They are very similar, but it’s never the same character, they have different names. In my latest novel, The Infatuations, where the narrator was a woman, that was a problem. In the end I think she’s a cousin to all the others as well. I don’t try to disguise that voice very much, which is not exactly my voice, but my ‘narrative voice’, maybe. I don’t think of changes of style, I certainly don’t belong to that kind of author who says, I don’t want to repeat myself, because it’s never the same book. I think that to force that is like looking for subjects, which for me is a ridiculous thing – there are people who are looking for a good story. Nowadays with the internet there is no mysterious story that actually happened that hasn’t been exploited by someone.

Looking for subjects is absurd. I’ve always written about things that matter to me in my own life, the things I think about, the things I worry about, that are rather universal I would say. Secrecy, confidence, betrayal and suspicion and love and friendship and death and marriage – things that I’m worried about, not as literary subjects, but just in life. I don’t ever look for something or plan something in general. Of course in some of my novels there are elements that come from facts, but always with an intent to talk about the things that really matter to me, and matter to everyone more or less, even if they are not always very conscious of it. So I don’t really plan my novels – you must have read in several places that I call my way of writing working with a compass rather than with a map.

THE WHITE REVIEW — What new limitations or freedoms were you aware of, if any, writing with a female narrator in The Infatuations?

JAVIER MARÍAS — In the beginning I was a little shy. I thought, well, this is a woman, maybe she wouldn’t make the same kind of jokes my male narrators do very often. There are some comical bits in most of my novels and also small jokes or ironies or things like that on the part of the narrator, so I thought maybe if I have this woman doing the same thing my other narrators do, it will seem a little unlikely or like one of them is dressed as a woman. So I was a little shy until a moment where I thought: there are many differences between men and women, but not so much in the minds. I have known many women in my life who are very similar in their minds to men – there are very stupid and intelligent men and the same for women, and very intelligent men and women. There are three things my narrators do: telling, observing and reflecting. I can’t see many differences between the way some men and some women do these things. So I decided, yeah, why not, she can make some jokes, she can be ironic in a similar way at least.

The result has been largely accepted, mainly by women. I think that some women were happy to see a novel in which the narrator was a woman who was not stressing all the time that she was a woman, which is something that happens very often in novels by men or women. There is an underlining of the fact that ‘I am a woman’, which is absurd because it’s not something women do in real life. So she just talks and she just says things, she wears a bra, but she’s not stressing all the time the ‘female condition’, as it were. Many female readers of the novel were thankful. There were a few ultra-feministic or supposedly ultra-feministic women who said the novel is not believable because women don’t think like that – and I said, this is male chauvinism. You can say a dog doesn’t do that, a cat doesn’t do that, but you can’t say a woman doesn’t do that. There are as many different types of women as there are men, of course.

THE WHITE REVIEW — You mentioned reflection as one of the three activities of your narrators. One of the characteristic elements of your work is its willingness to slow time down, to prolong the duration of brief moments, to allow for meditation or reflection to occur. What is the impetus behind this?

JAVIER MARÍAS — You can construct time in a novel, but time itself doesn’t exist. There is real time – one minute is sixty seconds – but for us in life it’s clear that things have a different duration, and this is very clear when we remember things. Even when things are happening, one thing we’ve all experienced is how long or short five minutes can be depending on the situation. One example among many is when you spend a whole night up arguing with a woman who is leaving you, and you argue and talk and explain, and that takes the whole night. Many people have lived that once or twice in their lives. And then once that thing is over, probably what your remember is one moment or sentence or the way she looked at you at one moment. Things that have a duration in life have a different duration in memory, and then the ‘real’ or important or essential duration is the one that stays with you. Probably when it happened you didn’t notice.

In a novel you can make these moments exist with their real duration. I say, I’m going to suspend this, because this is the important moment in time, I will make it important, the reader will remember this. Giving it to him or her in a way that life cannot give it to us but in memory – I’m giving it to you as it happens. I’m going to make time that doesn’t have the time to exist, exist – if that’s clear at all.

That’s one of the reasons I do that – it’s a way of recovering or experiencing the way we live things in fiction. We do live them like that, the problem is we only live them that way when they’re gone. I learned that from Sterne, and also from Proust. He does that wonderfully. There are moments in which someone in Proust comes to visit someone and they ask him to wait for a while in the lobby. And then there’s a moment in which the Proust’s prose goes on and on and the man starts remembering things and then twenty pages after that someone appears, the man the character is going to visit. He’s been waiting there for maybe three minutes but it took twenty pages, and in those pages a lot of things happen, as many things as happen in the mind as well, and that’s marvellously conveyed. It gives you a dimension of things that we normally don’t notice. I think that’s one of the great things a novel – probably more than poetry – can do, to convey that.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Regarding this impulse to retrieve lost, concealed or hidden moments – narratives or moments of history or individual writers that are overlooked or forgotten – do you feel a sense of duty or responsibility towards those who are overlooked?

JAVIER MARÍAS — I don’t know. I’ve always felt some weakness – what in French is faiblesse – or maybe it is pity, a special kind of pity for those things or people that are overlooked. Or for those people who died too young. For instance, what we say in Spanish, a word we have you don’t in English is malogrado. The kind of rather obscure, often solitary, people – I have a weakness for them and a weakness for people unfulfilled, because of circumstances or an early death. I have this anthology of texts I published in 1989 called  Unique Stories, and the idea was that there are many writers who have not even passed through the history of a genre because they didn’t write enough things, but maybe they wrote one excellent short story that is forgotten, forgotten even within in a genre. I made this anthology of excellent or not always excellent ghost stories by overlooked or forgotten writers, sent to oblivion.

It wasn’t quite like that in the end – for example, there was a story by Winston Churchill who was of course very famous, but not because he wrote a very good short story. Richard Middleton, who died when he was 21, has some excellent stories, more than one – what could this man have done? Or even Marlowe, who died when he was 28 or 29. Those people, I pity them a lot, and that’s much reflected in Dark Back of Time. I say, of those people who might have been, where are they? Where is what they did not do? It’s in the ‘dark back of time’. And it’s not a matter of obligation or duty, or anything of that sort – more a sympathy for them.

JulianínIn Dark Back of Time there is a passage in which I speak about my eldest brother whom I never met because he died before I was born when he was 3½. In that passage one of the things I remember saying is: this child was born to the same father and same mother, he was a brother, like my three other brothers, who would have been as natural to me as air, and what’s expressed is this sense of – not guilt, because it’s not guilt, but – why am I here? Why am I writing things? Who would he have been? What would he have done? Where is he? A few people would have met him, but most of the people who met him are dead now. I never met him. I know he did exist but he will stop existing in a few more years probably, even in the memory of people who did not know him, because I did not know him. He was born in 1945, died in 1948 or 1949. I was born in 1951. That kind of thing is easily expressed when I talk about that dead brother. It has to do with that feeling, the things that are forgotten or overlooked or unfulfilled, things that might have been. I have a weakness for all that. Not a sense of duty towards them, it’s more that I like to think that not everything is lost for everyone. Sometimes maybe that’s why I recover some of those people.

There is also a weakness for those who are very enthusiastic, for instance authors who are not very good.Ed Wood – you remember the film Ed Wood – I think that’s the best film by Burton, his latest films are almost unwatchable – he managed to make you see how enthusiastic that man was, how well meaning, but at the same time how he was not very gifted for what he wanted to do. We’ve all known people like that who are not very talented but enthusiastic, and you wish they could have some success or something, because they are really enthusiastic about what they do. That makes me feel a tenderness for them, as well as for the ones who couldn’t make it and maybe deserved to, but of course life is very unfair. Your intentions have nothing to do with what you achieve.

THE WHITE REVIEW — You talk about your brother’s toys in that passage, and there is the suggestion of an opposition between the loyalty or fidelity of objects and the unreliability or infidelity of narrative or verbal record. With this in mind, what role do images play in your text? Are they closer to objects or narrative?

JAVIER MARÍAS — The first time I did that was in All Souls, in 1989. It’s funny because some people when I did that again to a wider extent in Dark Back of Time, said it was Sebald-like. I liked Sebald very much, we exchanged a few letters in the last two years of his life. I liked his work and apparently he liked mine. But ‘Sebald-like’? I did it in 1989 (Editor’s Note: W. G. Sebald’s first book, After Nature, was published in 1988 in Germany, but does not contain any images) with two photos of John Gawsworth and  I remember the surprise of my publisher then – photographs in a novel? Yeah, why not. It was a really strange thing to do then, now it’s not strange any more of course.

The main reason is very simple. I discovered reading Erwin Panofsky and others, art historians or art theorists, what a pleasure it is to look at an image and read about it at the same time. When Panofsky describes something it you can check and say, yeah, he’s right, I can see it, I wouldn’t have thought of this but now he mentions it, I see it. And then it’s only fair, if in a novel someone talks about a painting or photograph, to show it to the reader a well. That’s mainly it. There is no hidden purpose or enhancement of things – I’m talking about an image, let’s show the image, let’s allow the reader to see it.

I had a big problem with that once in Your Face Tomorrow, an ethical problem, when the killing of the narrator’s uncle at a young age, 18, 17, during the Spanish Civil War, is discussed. The narrator mentions that his mother learned about her brother being killed only because she was shown a photo of him dead in a Republican prison. This episode was based on the real story of my own mother’s discovery that one of her brothers had been killed – she only knew because of the photograph of him in the prison. In the novel I described this photograph, but then I thought: should I include it? I’ve made it fiction, but it’s coming from this photograph. I’m not sure I should show a photograph of someone who actually lived and died many years ago aged 17 or 18. But he did live this way. He was killed. Why is it that the old tradition was to cover any dead person’s face? Now it’s not done, not any more or on all occasions. One of the reasons was not only to avoid people from having the shock of seeing a dead face, but to keep the dead one, who doesn’t control his features or expression any more, being exposed like that: he does not control his image any more. For a moment I thought, well should I include it? On the one hand I thought, I’m not playing fair with the reader. I’m purloining this image from the reader when my habit is to show the images I’m talking about, and this one does exist. I even thought I could include a drawing of the photo, which would maybe not be exactly the same thing, in order to be fair to the reader, or not completely unfair. But in the end I talked with Carmen, my partner, and it was she who said I mustn’t. In the end reality imposed itself on that occasion. This was an actual person, he was my uncle, I never met him, of course, but he shouldn’t be shown like that, even in a fiction.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Throughout your work you discuss the ethics of showing photos of violence, and are acutely conscious of how the ‘unreality’ of verbal report informs that debate – if an event stays within the bounds of language, there is the sense that something both happened and didn’t happen. Is your use of images ever a kind of ‘proof’?

JAVIER MARÍAS — On some occasions, yes. For instance, in Dark Back of Time there are some cuttings reproduced to show that this was actual, real news, that this happened. I have the cutting or photograph of this most novelesque man, Hugh Olaf de Witt, as it might sound like something completely invented. In the same way, in All Souls, most people thought John Gawsworth was invented, despite the two photos of him. It was so novelesque, people thought, that it had to be invented. They thought the rest must be autobiographical because I had been in Oxford and all that. But Gawsworth’s story was factual. And Hugh, who appears in Dark Back of Time and also seems unlikely, fought in the Spanish Civil War, was a prisoner of the Gestapo, met Franco and wanted to organise some guerrillas in the Caucasus. He wrote a couple of books and was a painter and a sculptor – and here’s a photo of him. Sometime you can use  images as proof.

TRM AlfaguaraIt seems as if everything that actually happened is doomed to become a fictionalised happening. If you’re told these days about a murder in the eighteenth century, let alone the fifteenth century, you listen to it, how terrible and horrifying, but you will listen to it more or less as you listen to a story, something fictional. Things – actual, factual – are doomed to become fiction, in a way, but at the same time, we must recognise that, though they are a fiction, at least they are still being told. The other option is that they are not told at all, as if they actually did not happen. Even the stories that are remembered and told or rediscovered by a novelist or by a historian, they are doomed in a way to sound like fiction, like a story. You won’t be much moved by an eighteenth-century murder now, even if you know it actually happened. Of course you are moved if you watch a film, or read a novel – because films in particular have a faculty of making you feel things as if they were happening – that’s one of the reasons we enjoy them. But you know it’s a film, you know it’s a novel. The problem is with actual things is that you go to them, when time has elapsed, more or less in the same spirit. That’s the fate of anything in the long term at least. Not when it is something that happened to your father, for example, but in the long term.

That’s one of the funny things about the Spanish Civil War. It finished more than seventy years ago. Why is that still people are not looking at the facts of the Civil War like fiction? That’s not happening yet. Maybe it’s because our own fathers suffered it, but in time it shall be like that as well. If we are told now about the Napoleonic War, it sounds like complete fiction. Even though we have the famous Goya paintings and all that, it sounds like Robin Hood. Why doesn’t the Civil War start to sound a bit like that? Maybe because it was a Civil War, not against a foreign enemy, or maybe because we are still suffering from it today. But that will happen in the end. It shall become fictional, and thank god, I must say. Sometimes I have said that fiction is the refuge of history. Yes, you have books of history, but history is read by a few. Literature too, but a wider few.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Do you consider your books as historical documents?

JAVIER MARÍAS — No, not really. You can’t count any more on the duration of literature. I always say that posterity is an idea of the past, contradictory as it may sound. Nowadays it would be ridiculous to think of posterity when things last only three months. I wrote a column after the publication of Your Face Tomorrow.The whole project had taken me eight or nine years, and after all that effort and time, it was finally published. About three months after publication I went to see a bookseller on Calle Major who is a very good friend. We talked for a while and I asked him what he’s selling. He said, oh the third volume of your novel sold very well, but now it’s prehistory. Yeah, probably you’re right, I said. Things are consumed nowadays so fast, they don’t last at all. I wrote a piece for my column starting with that anecdote and went on to say that one of the problems of today is that whatever is present is already past. Because of its being present it’s already old because it’s not being expected any more but existent – it’s already old. It happens with films, novels, music, everything, it seems things only exist as long as they don’t yet exist. There’s a new film by, say, Polanski, and while you didn’t have the film visible there’s some excitement about it, but the moment it’s watchable we’ve already watched it, it’s past, it’s prehistory, it’s old. It’s never happened before – things had a life. But nowadays it’s more and more like that – the very fact, the very circumstance of the existence of something makes it old, which is terrible in a way. It would be ludicrous now to think of posterity when things are like that. I am very lucky because my novels last longer than that, generally – The Infatuations, which just came out two years ago in Spain, is still selling, and still alive, as it were. And A Heart So White, published twenty years ago, is still somehow alive and living and selling, which is great. But thinking about posterity now belongs to a different era when things had a living and an afterlife – authors and books – which nowadays is very rare.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Speaking of the relationship between the present and past, a recurring notion in your work is that of ‘biographical horror’ or ‘narrative horror’, which expresses a fear that the narrative of a whole life can be overshadowed by some significant final act, a perverse or strange death or revelation of some secret. There is expressed in this idea a tension between the past and the present, a wariness about the power of the present to (mis)represent the past, and a sympathy with the past’s vulnerability to misrepresentation. Do you feel your novels attempt to resist the predominance of the present?

JAVIER MARÍAS — Yes, I suppose in a way. The only thing you can do about it if you don’t like that, which I don’t, is to stay impassible. To say, well, yes, I know things are like that – but in my own activity I’m not going to go on in the times, I’ll write about what I’m interested in, as if there was posterity or an afterlife – not for me, I don’t care about that at all – as if things could last. I’m going to take my time, I’m going to write slowly. I don’t have a computer so each time I do corrections of course I have to retype the page again. I type it five times. And people say to me, but you’re wasting your time, those corrections, you wouldn’t have to type the whole thing again on a computer. I say, I don’t care. I like to type it again. One of the reasons is that it’s different from when you reread it once – every time you type it you are getting accustomed to what you wrote, in a way you are taking responsibility for it and approving it. Making it yours, more yours than it was. Yes, it’s the first draft that’s new. Then you have to get accustomed to it – let’s see if I take responsibility for it as mine, if I approve it, if it’s acceptable, and then if you do it again, the same way students or boys or girls – I don’t know if they do it any more – used to copy out poems. They could read the poem in their textbooks, but very often they had to write it down themselves in a notebook, as if to make it their own. If I write it myself with my own hand I make it more my own. I suppose that was the unexpressed idea in boys’ and girls’ minds when they do that.

I don’t write to gain time: I write in order to lose it, to feel it, to feel it pass. I take my time. For an impatient reader my novels sometimes must be very enervating or irritating, as in the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow – come on, tell me if this man is gong to be beheaded or not! No, no. I won’t tell you yet, because that’s not really what matters. My intention now is to talk about a sword, and why are we so afraid of swords, what it means, for a few pages. There shall be these memories in the mind of the narrator and he will establish a connection between this situation he’s living and the last ten minutes in the bathroom, in a disco, with things that his father told him about the Civil War. I’ll take my time, I don’t care. If people like it and read it – good. If they don’t, well, what can I do?

THE WHITE REVIEW — Which contemporary novelists do you read?

PN BanvilleJAVIER MARÍAS — Not many now. For many years I tried to be up to date, not only in my own language but in others. I stopped while writing Your Face Tomorrow, because of sheer lack of time. I realised that after almost ten years of not being up to date it was an impossible task to catch up. On the other hand I realised I had lost a lot of time trying to be up to date, because of course sometimes you find good new things, but perhaps only one out of twenty? And, well, you get older, and you think there are many classics you haven’t read and there are a few you would like to reread. So nowadays I don’t read many contemporary authors except a few, like Alice Munro, for instance, I think she’s great. I read new things by Coetzee and, of course, I did read things by Sebald when he was alive and writing. John Banville. And now and then Ian McEwan. But not so many. On the other hand I realised also that the more you write, the less you read. The older you get the less you read new things as well. If I didn’t know myself, I wouldn’t read my works. If someone came to me and said you must read Javier Marias, Spanish guy, contemporary, written a novel of 1500 pages? Come on. Give me one Dickens I haven’t read and then maybe I’ll read it, but not this contemporary thing by a Spanish writer. I can’t help reading them as I write them, of course, but otherwise I don’t think I would read myself. And one of the reasons I published that very long book in three volumes – not the only but one of them – was that I hate very long books. I thought I should give people the chance to buy one volume and if they don’t feel like going on they won’t have bought the whole thing irremediably. In principle I mistrust very long books. I did it like that also because, for me, it was like writing a new novel each time. It’s the same novel, of course, but for me, psychologically, biographically, it’s like three novels.

THE WHITE REVIEW — Your narrators are often concerned with names and the relation of names to identity. Do you feel that names can have a predetermining effect upon identity, or are they rather flexible?

JAVIER MARÍAS — Not really – in fact, what is common or normal in my novels is that there is some hesitation about names. In The Infatuations in the very first sentence there is a hesitation over a name – is it Deverne or Devergnes – to begin with. Sometimes we use several. Names are precisely what are very variable. People change them, people use other names, writers have done that a lot with pen names and pseudonyms and whatever. Mark Twain is Mark Twain for good. Or Lewis Carroll. On the contrary, I think that names are a very moveable thing – which precisely helps to somehow escape identity, in a way. It’s much easier to change a name than to change anything else, particularly your face.

THE WHITE REVIEW — That would be a good place to end.

JAVIER MARÍAS — If you need five more minutes go for it, just in case you had something you prepared and didn’t have the time to ask. One of the strange things about writing nowadays, because of what we talked about before, this thing of the lack of duration of things, is sometimes – why do we do this? Write? It’s a strange thing because even for people who write on a computer, I suppose, it’s  very slow, to fill pages, even if you don’t correct anything, even if you write real trash,  it takes time. It takes time just to type. I remember, when I used to translate and I had to make a new final version and practically the final thing was just typing copy. I think that the most I could do was ten pages per day of just typing. It takes time to get through the pages – it’s like the work of an artisan.

There’s a very common question, when you launch a book, after two or three years’ work, from journalists: ‘What are you planning next?’ It happens also with football players, they’ve just won the Champion’s League and the journalists says, ‘Well, what next?’ Well, I just won the Champion’s League, leave me alone! And I always think: this is cruel! It’s inhuman! And you have the same feeling: I’ve just finished a book that took me three years, don’t ask me about the next one. I haven’t even thought about whether there should be a next one. Sometimes you wonder, why do I go on with this? It’s not like why you start – I started in order to read more. But why am I doing it now? Why do I go on? That’s harder to answer.


The White Review, November 2013

‘Las huellas dispersas’ en el Ciclo de Oxford

Las huellas dispersas

Introducción y edición de Inés Blanca
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

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

Alice Munro, Premio Nobel de Literatura

Alice+Munro+Photo_credit+to+Derek+Shapton_international+rights+cleared2-e1349861573238Alice Munro, Duchess of Ontario del Reino de Redonda desde mayo del 2005 en que ganó el Premio que concede la editorial Reino de Redonda, ha sido galardonada con el Premio Nobel de Literatura.

Javier Marías: Munro alcanza grandes cotas de hondura y de emotividad

El escritor español Javier Marías considera “muy justo” el Nobel de Literatura que ha ganado hoy la canadiense Alice Munro, y se alegra en particular de que la Academia Sueca haya reconocido a una autora que, sobre todo, escribe cuentos, un género que “desde hace varias décadas está muy dejado de lado”.

“Munro ha alcanzado en su obra, de una manera muy sobria, grandes cotas de hondura y de emotividad. Sus cuentos son emocionantes”, aseguraba hoy en declaraciones a Efe Javier Marías, que en más de una ocasión había dicho que “si algún escritor vivo merecía el Nobel por encima de cualquier otro era ella”. “Es una escritora excepcional”.

El novelista español no sabe “cómo lo logra Munro”, pero cree que también “es muy destacable” que sus relatos “consigan unas dosis de profundidad y de emoción sorprendentes” y lo hacen “con una considerable economía de medios, con sobriedad, sin casi nunca acentuar nada ni subrayar nada, hablando de personas más bien normales”.

Y en una época, subraya Marías, en la que se da tanto “la literatura de buenos sentimientos, que suele ser empalagosa, como la de malos sentimientos, llena de psicópatas y de estudios sobre la maldad, como si eso en sí mismo tuviera interés”, Munro ha hecho su obra sobre personas normales, “con sus ambigüedades, con sus partes oscuras”.

Al autor de “Corazón tan blanco”, entre otras obras, le alegra en particular que se haya premiado a una autora de cuentos, un género, asegura, que en otros tiempos “tuvo mucho predicamento, pero que desde hace varias décadas está muy dejado de lado y está considerado una especie de hermano menor de la novela, lo cual es totalmente erróneo”. “Hay poco interés en general en publicar cuentos”, asegura.

Munro es una autora que está, “en cuanto a calidad, a la altura de los mejores, de Chéjov, de Kipling o de Maupassant, incluso de Borges, aunque su mundo no tenga mucho que ver con algunos de ellos. Sí con el de Chéjov”, especifica.

Marías no sabe hasta qué punto hay elementos autobiográficos en la obra de Munro -“la procedencia del material de los escritores es indiferente. Lo que cuenta es el resultado”, subraya-, pero está claro que la autora canadiense “tiene una gran capacidad de observación” para la vida de las mujeres y las dificultades con las que se han encontrado a lo largo de la historia, “incluso en el mundo occidental”.

Desde el punto de vista personal, Marías está también contento porque Munro ganó en 2005 el Premio Reino de Redonda, que organiza y financia el propio novelista español.

Con ocasión de ese premio, se puso en contacto con ella “a través de correo ordinario” y le pareció “una mujer muy reservada, pero con mucho sentido del humor y muy simpática”.

“En una ocasión me mandó una foto de ella y de su marido disfrazados con unas túnicas y una especie de casco alado, como si fuera de Mercurio. Y ella está con un cartel en el que pone: ‘el fin se acerca”, recordaba hoy Javier Marías antes de comentar que Munro es el segundo premiado con el Reino de Redonda que luego ha obtenido el Nobel. “El primero fue Coetze”.

EFE, 10 de octubre de 2013

Alice Munro, una Nobel a la altura de los grandes cuentistas universales

Javier Marías recuerda que más de una vez ha declarado que es uno de los escritores vivos que más merecía el Nobel: “Me alegro que se haya destacado a una autora de cuentos, un género que gozó en su momento de gran prestigio pero que en las últimas décadas se le ha considerado algo secundario o como preparación para una novela, y no es así”. El autor y académico español no duda en afirmar que Munro está al nivel de los mejores como Chéjov, Maupassant o Borges. Y da claves de parte de su secreto: “Consigue transmitir una profunda emoción con personas fundamentalmente normales en una época en la cual se privilegia tanto los buenos y malos sentimientos de una manera que rozan la cursilería. Escribe sobre gente normal sin cargar las tintas y consiguiendo unos niveles de emoción y profundidad con poco parangón en la literatura actual”.

El País, 10 de octubre de 2013

Más información sobre la entrega del Premio Formentor

Foto. Nuria Ricón

Foto. Nuria Rincón

“El poder español quiere gente lo más iletrada posible”
Diario de Mallorca, 31 de agosto de 2013

Premio a un artesano de “épocas pretéritas”
Diario de Mallorca, 1 de septiembre de 2013

“La indignació actual és només una reacció epidèrmica”
Ara, 1 de setembre de 2013

Record del Formentor d’un temps

Ara Balears, 1 de setembre de 2013

Javier Marías: “Este Gobierno actúa de una manera muy poco democrática”

747e264059f03d59c810efcf09348c66_MEl escritor y académico Javier Marías, que recoge esta noche el Premio Formentor de las Letras 2013, es una de las voces más críticas y comprometidas de la literatura, y asegura que, después de esa especie de burbuja vacacional de agosto, la vuelta está llena de “desánimo”.

“Me temo -explica el autor a Efe– que, por mucho que diga el Gobierno que lo peor ha pasado, la situación es muy mala: sigue habiendo seis millones de parados y contratos más que precarios, del Medievo. Este Gobierno actúa de manera muy poco democrática en general, no sólo en los recortes económicos sino en recortes de derechos y libertades”.

“Hay un montón de cosas que están haciendo que pasan más inadvertidas -argumenta el autor- porque parecen noticias menores, pero son graves; porque resulta, por ejemplo, que ahora se va a poder juzgar determinados casos por el código militar, o que los detectives van a tener que hacer un informe de su trabajo para entregarlo a la policía. Con ello se acaba la privacidad. Son ejemplos, indicios de algo grave. Se cambian las leyes y todo eso es escasamente democrático”, sostiene el escritor, horas antes de recibir el Premio Formentor.

Para el autor de Tu rostro mañana o Los enamoramientos, que se encuentra inmerso de pleno en la escritura de su decimocuarta novela, la democracia no consiste simplemente en ganar unas elecciones, sino en gobernar democráticamente cada día. “Y eso es una cosa de la que este Gobierno no tiene ni idea”, precisa.

Pero para Javier Marías, que ha recibido el Premio Formentor, entre otras cosas, por ser uno de los escritores más admirados en Europa, “en España y en el resto de Europa, los políticos están impermeabilizados. No escuchan y les da igual lo que les diga la calle, la sociedad o un grupo de intelectuales que firmen un manifiesto”.

“Es difícil que un intelectual pueda hacer cambiar de opinión, a algún lector individual sí, pero a un político, no. Los políticos han desactivado el Parlamento, la justicia y la sociedad. Si les da igual lo que digan los ciudadanos que salen para pedir que no recorten en educación o sanidad, cómo van a hacer caso a un escritor, a lo mejor a un (Mario) Vargas Llosa, pero ni eso”, sostiene el académico.

En cuanto a un posible ataque a Siria por las matanzas de Damasco y el uso de armas químicas contra su población civil, Marías asegura que no tiene una posición clara y que no se “avergüenza” por ello. “Me irritan los tertulianos que chillan y parece que saben de todo, sin saber”.

“Hace diez años, en Irak, no había necesidad de ninguna intervención, pero en este caso, no lo sé muy bien, es muy difícil tener una opinión clara. Entiendo que lo que está haciendo (el presidente de Siria, Bachar) Al Asad es horrible pero entiendo también las dificultades de meterse en un asunto de este tipo, cuando están Rusia y China por medio son muy grandes”.

Marías desvela que tiene en proyecto entre manos con Hollywood para que su novela Tu rostro mañana sea llevada al cine muy pronto, pero no quiere decir más sobre quién la rodará.

Sin embargo, confirma que uno de sus cuentos, Mientras ellas duermen, va a ser dirigido por el cineasta chino Wayne Wang, el autor, entre otras, de películas como La caja china o Smoke.

El Premio Formentor, que se creó en 1961 por Seix Barral y las editoriales más importantes de Europa, se entrega en el hotel que lleva el mismo nombre, en medio de un paraje natural, con el silencio y el aroma de los pinos como únicos testigos, y dejó de entregarse en 1967 por la desconfianza del régimen de Franco, como también recuerda a Efe Marías.

Hoy, restaurado, dotado con 50.000 euros e impulsado desde hace tres años por el hotel Formentor y las familias Barceló y Buadas, recupera ese aroma “mítico y heroico” que tenía el premio y que en su primera etapa lo obtuvieron autores como Jorge Luis Borges, Samuel Beckett, Carlos Semprún o Witold Gomobrovicz.

Y en su segunda etapa, Carlos Fuentes, Joan Goytisolo y ahora Javier Marías.


EFE, 31 de agosto de 2013

Javier Marías. ‘Comme les amours’


Servie par une prose magistrale, cette fable morale sur l’amour et la mort ne peut que nous rappeler, par son intensité, les meilleures pages d’ Un cœur si blanc ou de Demain dans la bataille pense à moi. Comme par le passé, Javier Marías y dialogue avec les tragédies de Shakespeare mais également avec le Colonel Chabert de Balzac dont il nous offre ici une lecture brillante, complètement inattendue et strictement contemporaine.

La citation des Trois mousquetaires «Un meurtre, pas davantage» revient régulièrement. Est-ce le thème dont le roman constitue les variations, une position philosophique ou une constatation désabusée?

C’est une citation saisissante, dont j’ignore si elle a été suffisamment prise en compte. Comme si, d’une certaine façon, un assassinat n’était pas la pire chose possible, ou comme si les assassins étaient si normaux et communs que nous ne devrions jamais, au fond, nous étonner ni nous scandaliser devant eux. Ce n’est pas le thème de mon roman (il y en a plusieurs et ils sont tous importants), mais on trouve effectivement cette idée selon laquelle les crimes individuels, «civils», ceux qui ne sont ni massifs ni politiques, sont une constante au cours de l’histoire, dans toutes les époques et toutes les régions, sans que les gens ne les commettent, pour ainsi dire, par imitation ou «contagion», ou par folie collective. Chaque personne agit pour son compte et de sa propre initiative. Si l’on pense à cette constante, et si l’on pense au nombre de ces crimes qui sont restés impunis et le restent encore, et à ceux dont nous n’avons même pas connaissance, on ressent en effet comme un sentiment de déception vis-à-vis de la condition humaine. Et ceci est un autre thème du roman : l’impunité et la manière dont nos sociétés tendent de plus en plus à l’accepter.

Le pourquoi et le comment d’une mort sont-ils plus importants que la mort elle-même? 
Non, j’imagine qu’ils ne sont pas plus importants que la mort elle-même. En fin de compte nous savons bien que le temps nivelle toute chose, quand il ne l’oublie pas tout bonnement. Si l’on nous parle aujourd’hui d’un meurtre commis au XVIIIe siècle, nous n’écoutons certes pas avec indifférence, mais nous le considérons bien comme un récit, une histoire fictionnelle, plutôt que quelque chose de réel, qui s’est véritablement produit. Le temps a tendance à transformer les faits en événements «fictifs», et en ce sens le comment et le pourquoi sont ce qui «offre une bonne histoire» ou non. Ensuite, oui, il y a les morts ridicules, dont je parle dans les premières pages de mon roman Demain dans la bataille pense à moi. Il vaut mieux ne pas en être victime, car c’est sans aucun doute ce dont l’on se souviendra à notre sujet. Les morts trop marquantes sont injustes : elles effacent parfois la vie entière qu’a pu avoir une personne auparavant.

«La vérité n’est jamais nette, c’est toujours un embrouillement. Même la plus élucidée», écrivez-vous. Estimez-vous que la vérité est par essence minée?
Oui, très certainement. Il y a quelques années, dans mon discours d’entrée à l’Académie royale espagnole, j’ai parlé «De la difficulté de raconter». Il est presque impossible de détenir la vérité sur quoi que ce soit – demandez donc aux historiens, qui ne sont jamais à l’abri de rectifications, de corrections, de démentis et d’amendements. De même, il est presque impossible de raconter ce qu’il s’est passé et que nous avons vu, ou même notre propre biographie, qui nous apparaît immanquablement parsemée de zones d’ombres. Qui furent mes parents avant d’être mes parents, par exemple? Et par conséquent, de qui suis-je issu en réalité et pourquoi suis-je né? C’est peut-être pour cela que nous écrivons et lisons des romans, pour que quelque chose, une fois, bien que ce soit inventé, puisse être pleinement raconté. La vérité n’entre pas dans un roman et n’en sort pas non plus, car celui-ci se déroule dans une dimension au sein de laquelle il n’y a ni mensonge ni vérité.

Pour vous, le monde est-il un gigantesque mensonge? Ou plutôt une gigantesque hypocrisie?
Ni l’un ni l’autre. C’est plutôt ce que Faulkner disait du pouvoir de la littérature, ce qu’elle peut faire de plus, et que j’ai cité à de nombreuses reprises. «C’est comme une allumette que l’on enflamme au milieu de la nuit, au milieu d’une forêt : la seule chose qu’elle parvienne à illuminer est l’obscurité qui l’entoure.» Ou quelque chose comme ça, je ne me rappelle pas exactement. Le monde est une gigantesque obscurité, même à l’heure où nous croyons presque tout savoir et pensons pouvoir espionner, filmer et enregistrer presque tout. Même ainsi nous sommes enveloppés d’obscurité.

Gallimard, août 2013

Comme les amours, un fin quatuor psycologique signé Javier Marías

‘Una celebración de la lectura de Javier Marías’

Cervantes 4


Presentación de Julio Ortega

El coloquio «Una celebración de la lectura de Javier Marías» ha estado organizado en colaboración por el Instituto Cervantes y la Universidad de Brown; lo ha moderado Julio Ortega, de la Universidad de Brown, y diversos autores han participado exponiendo sus aproximaciones a la obra del escritor madrileño: Elide Pittarello —de la Universidad Ca’ Foscari de Venezia—, Jordi Gracia —de la Universidad de Barcelona—, Heike Scharm —de la Universidad de South Florida— y Juan Luis Cebrián —de la Real Academia Española—. El propio Marías interviene tras ellos para hablar sobre su reacción ante las palabras que le han dirigido y sobre su proceso de escritura.

Javier Marías: a postscript to the critique

1569792w300I’m going to the States next week, so may not get much time to blog for a while.   I thought you might like a little more material to peruse on the superb Javier Marías, subject of my recent 3-part critique here at Tredynas Days. There follow links to three fascinating podcasts in which Marías is interviewed.

Live From the New York Public Library (this link takes you to the whole list of podcasts; scroll down to  the date of broadcast –3 Dec. 2009, three days after vol. 3 of Your Face Tomorrow [YFT] was published in the USA –  then click on the MP3 icon).

This interview hosted by Paul Holdengräber is just over 90 minutes long, and allows him to afford the guest the opportunity to expand upon his literary themes, writing style, notions of translation, and so on. Javier Marías’ humour is evident, as he playfully suggests he doesn’t know when he starts a novel  exactly where it will go; he uses a compass for direction, he says, not a map! He talks about translating Sterne, whose cock and bull shaggy-dog story Tristram Shandy is obviously a key influence on YFT, and he reveals that the huge portion of the novel sequence devoted to the scene where Tupra pulls out an antique sword and brandishes it over De la Garza’s cringing head (it runs to dozens of pages, but lasts just a few seconds in real time) was inspired by the moment in Don Quijote where the hero confronts a foe (the Vizcaino or Basque) and a sword fight seems imminent; an equally lengthy digression ensues, but the combatants are left poised, swords aloft, and the scene is never resumed!  At least, Javier Marías jokes, he finished his scene!

(It’s worth noting that there’s a great deal of complex narrative play in the Quixote: Sancho Panza is unsure about the source of  the soubriquet he gives to his dolefully countenanced master; Cervantes twines his narrative around related lexical sets involving the truthful  representation of the ‘triste figura’ of Quixote on his shield, thus ambiguously  mediating between Quixote’s true ‘rostro’ (face), the ‘imagen’ on his shield representing that sad, gaunt face and the impact this has on those who look at it, and the name given to Quixote (which, like Deza’s in YFT, varies according to whom he’s with). Similarly the MS illustration of the battle with the Basque alluded to in ch. 9 of Part 1 of the novel differs from the earlier description of the battle itself; it tells a different story. This failure to weave together the ‘signs’ with the ‘face’ anticipates the moment in the inn when ‘sign’ and ‘face’ are slowly brought together, because Sancho ‘no era buen lector’ (wasn’t a good reader) – see the chapter: ‘The matter of naming in Don Quixote’ in Unspeakable Subjects: the genealogy of the event in early modern Europe, by Jacques Lezra  [not ‘Deza’!] (Stanford UP, 1997). Here in Cervantes’ playful, slippery narrative ambiguities  we can see where much of Marías’ inspiration came from.)

Another major literary influence on him, of course, is Proust, whose writings are ‘systems of parenthesis’ –a great phrase for describing Javier Marías’ own work– who also likes to give time its ‘real duration’, for this is where real action and feeling lie. Although this slowness of narrative pace, with its long, apparently irrelevant digressions can be irritating for the reader, he concedes, if we show patience we will be rewarded. So in this scene with Tupra and the sword our natural inclination is to want to know what happens next; the lengthy delay is a homage to Cervantes, and brings its own aesthetic pleasure, above and beyond the simplistic gratification of turning the page to achieve narrative closure. As Marías says, he loves watching films and reading page-turner novels, but rarely remembers soon afterwards what the plot consisted of. Action and plot aren’t particularly interesting to him. Marías prefers to see plot as ‘bait’; there are other things to savour  in literature (and in his own novels): he requires us to stop, pause, reflect, think.

A final revelation is made near the end of this interview: he writes, he says, ‘suicidally’ – as I noted earlier, he doesn’t map out his plots in detail as most writers do. In a 1200-word novel sequence like YFT this caused him some headaches; because he doesn’t use a computer for writing with he couldn’t readily find detailed references to, for example, colours of characters’ eyes, so maintaining consistency and continuity was tricky. He didn’t even know, he says, until very late in the writing, what the cause or source of the bloodstain on Wheeler’s stair – a motif which recurs constantly throughout the three volumes -actually was– or even if he’d reveal it at all.

It’s a delightful interview, full of wit and intelligence: well worth listening to.

Back in 2010 the inimitable Michael Silverblatt interviewed Javier Marías  on his KCRW podcast show, Bookworm. With his deceptively soft, slow way of speaking Silverblatt has the ability to ask probing, intelligent questions that evidently inspire the respect and affection of his guests – he’s always worth listening to, and I’d recommend you subscribe to the series. Each broadcast lasts around 25 minutes.

Bookworm interview pt 1: THU FEB 18, 2010

‘What if Henry James —the patron saint of convolution— could be resurrected?   What if he wrote a novel of espionage so complex it became a trilogy?’ (from the KCRW Bookworm podcast website)

Bookworm interview pt 2: THU FEB 25, 2010

‘What if ten minutes of espionage took a hundred pages to fully describe? Here we explore time and consciousness in what will possibly be the greatest trilogy of our new century.‘


Tredynas Days, June 14, 2013

Entrevista a Javier Marías


Javier Marías: «Ahora vivimos orgullosos de nuestra ignorancia»”

De literatura y fútbol, del desánimo cultural que nos rodea, de su polémica relación con los premios, de su próxima novela, de su infancia y su familia. En esta entrevista, Javier Marías conversa de todo ello y dinamita su fama de huraño

Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951) es uno de nuestros escritores más vendidos, dentro y fuera de España; pese a todo lleva colgado el sambenito de ser un poco huraño. Lo desmiento. Esta conversación, aunque ustedes la lean en versión reducida de tres mil palabras, duró cerca de dos horas, lo que equivale a once mil palabras, que demuestran que Javier Marías abre las puertas de su casa de par en par. Ahora trabaja en su nueva novela y está a punto de recibir el Premio Formentor.

Se me ha ocurrido empezar la entrevista preguntándole qué le gustaría que le preguntase…

¿Me va a trasladar su trabajo? Por mí no diría nada porque, para empezar, cuando tengo algo que decir, normalmente lo digo por escrito. Hay autores a los que supongo que les gusta mucho hablar de lo que han hecho. Yo lo hago porque no queda más remedio. No soy un huraño, aunque alguna gente pueda creer que sí. Lo que uno hace, ahí está. Los libros deberían valerse por sí mismos, como sucedió durante siglos. La gente sabía apenas nada de los escritores; ni conocía sus caras.

¿Entonces le gustaría preservar un cierto anonimato?

En televisión procuro no salir. Hay un elemento ahí, en la televisión de escaparate, que intento evitar si puedo. Tampoco es que me niegue absolutamente. Hace dos semanas hice una entrevista en una televisión sueca. Pensé: «Es Suecia. No vivo allí y nadie me va a conocer por salir en televisión». Eso también es algo que prefiero.

Vayamos con la polémica del Premio Nacional, que rechazó hace poco.

En octubre. Expliqué en su momento que era porque tengo por norma no aceptar nada del Estado, ni siquiera invitaciones a los Institutos Cervantes, por ejemplo, ni del Ministerio de Cultura; ni siquiera de las universidades estatales. Me siento más cómodo sin aceptar dinero del Estado, sin aceptar invitaciones institucionales.

Una regla bien tajante. ¿Así ha sido siempre?

Desde el principio, no. Debe tener en cuenta que yo empecé en el pleistoceno, en el año 71; fue cuando publiqué mi primera novela, con 19 años. Creo que viene desde el año 94-95. En esos años, que eran los llamados «años de la crispación», comenzó a haber en España reportajes sobre quién va a dónde y quiénes son los escritores que sí están beneficiados, que van invitados a esto o lo otro…

Hubo una polémica, me acuerdo, por el Salón del Libro de París; una polémica por unas listas. En principio, no estaba invitado por el Ministerio de Cultura. Finalmente me invitaron, entonces yo dije que no: «No, mire, prefiero mantenerme al margen». Acabé yendo, pero invitado por el Ministerio de Cultura francés. Con un país extranjero no tengo problemas. Hace dos veranos, recibí el Premio Nacional austriaco de literatura europea. La entrega la hizo la ministra de Cultura austriaca y era un premio, por supuesto, institucional, pero de un país que no es el mío, en el cual no pago impuestos, no vivo. Eso no me causa problemas.

¿Se ciñe al territorio español?

Sí, a lo institucional de mi propio país. Con motivo de todas estas polémicas, pensé: «A mí no me pillan en este tipo de mezquindades. Lo más sencillo es no aceptar nada». En el fondo, el Estado no tiene por qué darme nada por hacer algo que nadie me obliga a hacer. Yo escribo porque quiero. Por ejemplo, a los zapateros no les dan el premio al mejor zapatero del año.

Cuando montan ciclos o encuentros sobre su obra y son otros los que hablan, ¿se mantiene también al margen?

A veces me da un poco de apuro. Si puedo evitar este tipo de cosas, prefiero también no estar.

¿Y la relación directa con los lectores, por ejemplo en eventos como la Feria del Libro de Madrid, que está a punto de cerrar sus puertas?

Eso no tiene nada que ver. La gente es muy amable. Como todo, alguna vez, hay gente que no me ha dicho cosas agradables. Uno se expone a ello y lo hace con gusto.

Tiene fama de huraño, como ha señalado. Yo diría también que es tímido y un poco antisocial, lo cual alabo.

Son cosas, algunas de ellas, que las he aprendido de mi padre y de mi madre. Recuerdo algo que me contó mi padre, hace ya muchos años, cuando me dieron el Premio Fastenrath por Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí. Yo estaba entre los finalistas, y mi padre, que era académico en el jurado, en el momento en que vio en que estaba la novela de uno de sus hijos allí, dijo: «Yo me ausento. No quiero en modo alguno coartarles con mi presencia en sus deliberaciones». Me parece lo lógico, lo normal. Son cosas básicas que en España se han perdido.

¿Qué otras normas lleva usted a rajatabla?

Nunca me presento a premios. Me he presentado, creo, a uno en toda mi vida, que fue el único que gané, en el 86. Me parece que fue el Herralde de novela, y no me he vuelto a presentar a ninguno. Una cosa es si a uno le dan un premio, le eligen mejor libro del año o lo que sea, y otra cosa es si son los premios, digamos, comerciales, de editoriales, a los cuales uno se presenta, o los de periodismo. El mero hecho de presentarse a un premio me parece un poco pretencioso. No soy jurado tampoco de ningún premio, ni siquiera del que organizo en Reino de Redonda. Lo organizo, lo financio, pero no voto. No me gusta tampoco que alguien gane o deje de ganar algo por mi criterio. No tengo nada en contra de quien se presenta a un premio, me parece muy lícito.

¿No le da miedo que eso pueda considerarse falsa modestia o le importa poco lo que piensen los otros?

No me importa mucho, a estas alturas. Lo que la gente piense es inevitable, que cada uno piense lo que le parece. En el momento en que uno se somete, haga lo que haga, al criterio del público, tiene que empezar por aceptar que cualquiera puede decir lo que quiera sobre lo que uno ha hecho. Usted escribe en un periódico y tiene que saber que si alguien dice «Vaya porquería su artículo», está en su derecho a decirlo; o si alguien dice: «Me cae como un tiro esta persona, y este es un pedante y un idiota». Lo que no se puede es estar actuando conforme a qué pensarán los demás. Siempre hay alguien que piensa mal. En el fondo, da igual.

Vayamos al estado de la nación. En concreto, al estado cultural de nuestra sociedad. Deprimente, ¿no?

Sí, la verdad es que se ha producido una especie de rebajamiento del nivel de exigencia, del nivel de expectativas y del nivel de interés también. Es curioso, porque eso se ha producido en un plazo de no demasiados años. Si uno mira, por ejemplo, las listas de «best sellers» –por tomarlas como guía de lo que a la gente le gusta, o lo que la gente lee más– de hace veinte años, uno normalmente se encontraba con que había libros de calidad entre ese tipo de obras. Hablo de la sociedad española durante esos años, y también en los ochenta. Hubo como una cierta tentativa por parte de la gente, de la gente en general, de mejorar, de ser más moderna, más cultivada, de hacer un poco de esfuerzo pensando que el esfuerzo podía valer la pena. Y de pronto, no sé exactamente a partir de qué momento, se ha producido una especie de enorgullecimiento de la ignorancia. Por ejemplo, de esos años son mis novelas Corazón tan blanco y Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí. Se vendieron mucho. Eso diez años después habría sido imposible.

IGNACIO GIL¿Saldremos de este ciclo sin fin de ignoracia?

Tengo la sensación de que está durando demasiado, y sobre todo, en general, veo más bien una tendencia a un rebajamiento mayor. Espero que haya un momento en el cual la gente empiece a decir: «Oye, que estamos siendo un poco demasiado brutos».

Depuremos responsabilidades: ¿quién o quiénes tienen (o tenemos) la culpa?

Hay que partir de la base de que en realidad la literatura siempre ha sido una cosa marginal en el conjunto de la sociedad. Los libros han tenido y tienen una gran importancia para el desarrollo del conjunto de la sociedad, pero eso no quiere decir que los libros sean leídos o hayan sido leídos siempre por muchos. Lo que pasa es que cuando un libro tiene importancia –sea filosófico, científico o literario–, acaba trascendiendo y permeando incluso a la gente que no lee. A través de la gente que lo lee llega a la gente que no lee.

La lectura, propiamente dicha, siempre ha sido cosa de muy pocos. Yo le he oído contar a mi padre que las tiradas de un libro de Baroja o Valle-Inclán o Unamuno a veces eran de 2.000 o 3.000 ejemplares y tardaban años en hacer una segunda edición. Había otros autores mucho más populares, empezando por Blasco Ibáñez, por ejemplo. Hay que partir de la base de que incluso el libro más leído del mundo en realidad es algo minoritario.

¿Es una visión un tanto optimista, como si nadie tuviera culpa de nada?

Hay que tener un poco de optimismo. Nos estamos olvidando de que hace no demasiados años el número de personas que leían lo que fuese, incluso libros llamémoslos bazofia, era infinitamente inferior. Y bueno, a mí no me parece mal que se lea un libro muy malo, siempre y cuando se lea. Hay un elemento que quizá sí es un poco más preocupante: la rendición por parte de las editoriales. Han dicho: «Si el gusto del público es el que es, le voy a dar más de esto mismo». Si cada uno renuncia; si los autores a veces se rebajan, porque tienen que vivir de algo y dicen: «Está de moda la literatura policiaca de nuevo, pues voy a hacer una policiaca, que no la he hecho nunca, o una novela histórica…»; si los autores renuncian a sus intereses verdaderos y renuncian a la idea de conseguir o de crear sus propios lectores; si se amoldan a los gustos preexistentes; si los editores se suman a lo mismo; si los críticos empiezan a hacer lo mismo…, entonces ahí ya se está produciendo una especie de rendición incondicional. Y eso sí es peligroso.

¿Sabe qué volumen de libros ha vendido, contando las traducciones?

Pues creo que son siete millones y pico, ahora. Más de siete millones.

¿Cuál es la lengua más extraña, o la que le ha sorprendido más, a la que ha sido traducida su obra?

Me parece que ahora son 43 lenguas. La última que se ha incorporado quizá sea de las más raras: el malabar. Suena como de Tintín. Es de una región de la India. Una lengua minoritaria, pero por lo visto la hablan 45 millones. Han contratado dos novelas para traducir. Y luego, no sé, el coreano y cosas así.

¿No tiene miedo de perder el favor del público, tal y como van los gustos litearios?

Yo nunca pierdo de vista que podría haber escrito exactamente los mismos libros que he escrito y tener 10.000 lectores. Y no serían desdeñables, ojo. No ya el autor, sino el propio editor, diría que es un éxito… Podría haber hecho exactamente lo mismo que he hecho, y mi suerte con los lectores, con la crítica o con los reconocimientos en forma de premios, podría haber sido distinta. Si eso lo pierdo un día, no tendría derecho a quejarme.

¿Cuándo presenta nueva novela?

Estoy trabajando en una de la que llevo no sé exactamente cuánto, yo creo que la llevo mediada. Empiezo muy inseguro, sigo muy inseguro, y termino muy inseguro. Quizá, con suerte, para el año que viene. A lo largo de 2014 podría estar lista, siempre y cuando –eso lo digo con todas–, una vez que la termine, le dé el visto bueno. Los enamoramientos, por ejemplo, estuve a punto de no publicarla. No estaba nada convencido de ese libro. Nunca estoy seguro. El hecho de que te haya salido supuestamente bien el libro anterior no te garantiza que el siguiente te salga. El talento, si es que es una cuestión de talento, no está asegurado para nadie. Mi grado de duda con la última novela publicada, Los enamoramientos, fue mayor, hasta el punto de que le dije a mi agente: «Llama a Pilar [su editora], avísale, dile que no la va a tener como le anuncié, y que a lo mejor no la va a tener en absoluto, porque me la voy a mirar otra vez». La miré y me pareció interesante. Al final opté, pero tuve dudas. Luego le ha ido muy bien a este libro, y me alegro.

Usted es un gran aficionado al fútbol y seguidor del Real Madrid. Tengo curiosidad por saber el porqué de esa fiebre intelectual por el fútbol que ahora tanto se lleva.

Cuando tenía siete años fue cuando empezó a gustarme el fútbol. Era un niño normal, que jugaba a las chapas y esas cosas. No tenía ninguna vena literaria ni nada que se le pareciera. A mí me viene gustando desde entonces. Luego hubo unos años –los últimos del franquismo, cuando yo era universitario– en los cuales el fútbol estaba un poco mal visto ante cierta gente intelectual, más o menos de izquierdas, y se consideraba que si Franco había hecho la utilización del fútbol… Por esa época era todo ridículo: «El que bebe ”whisky” es de derechas, porque es capitalista», «Ir a los toros también es de derechas, y el fútbol también». Y decías: «Bueno, ¿y el cenicero, qué?: ¿de izquierdas o de derechas?».

Luego simplemente eso se normalizó, como tantas otras cosas. Ahora vuelve a haber tonterías de estas otra vez. Si está uno a favor de los toros parece que también sea de derechas. Es una estupidez, pero bueno. Estoy de acuerdo con esa cita ya famosa de Camus: «En el fútbol yo he aprendido mucho más sobre la condición humana y sobre la ética de los hombres que en casi ningún otro lugar». Todo este tipo de cosas, en realidad, se empiezan a aprender en el patio del colegio.

Lo normal sería que le preguntara por un escritor, pero le voy a preguntar por un futbolista.

¿Por un futbolista? ¿Que cuál es mi favorito?

Por ejemplo. Como con un escritor no me va a contestar…

No, mujer. Para un escritor yo tengo mi preferencia… Esta [señala una insignia que lleva en la solapa] la compré en una subasta en Inglaterra. Es un alfiler de corbata y perteneció a Robert Donat, el protagonista de los 39 escalones, de Hitchcock, que también era autor de teatro. En ella aparece Shakespeare, al que le debo varios títulos de novelas mías, con lo cual mi agradecimiento es un poco especial. Pero también, para los que hemos llegado a ver a Di Stefano en la infancia, es imposible que no lo tengamos mitificado o que no lo consideremos el mejor jugador que ha existido, porque es el que nos deslumbró.

Habla de la infancia como libro de aprendizaje. He leído que la familia Marías, durante sus años en Estados Unidos, vivió debajo de Nabokov.

No exactamente. Entonces, en el Wellesley College, residíamos en una casa que de hecho era de Guillén, que estaba de sabático ese año. Por eso mi padre fue ese curso a enseñar allí. En el piso de arriba, antes, había vivido Nabokov, que también había enseñado en Wellesley. En un artículo dije simplemente que, de haber durado Nabokov un poco más allí, a lo mejor mis llantos de bebé le hubieran molestado, pero era como una figuración, porque no hubo coincidencia.

¿Qué otros recuerdos le han marcado?

Es una infancia un poco de esa época, normal. Las primeras lecturas, la primera pasión por los libros de aventuras. No era un niño raro, leía novelas de aventuras y novelas de mosqueteros, de Guillermo Brown… Como toda la gente de mi generación, tenemos una deuda con Richmal Crompton, ese nombre raro era una señora. El hecho de haber estado en contacto con un país extranjero, Estados Unidos, nos dejó a mis hermanos y a mí una especie de conciencia de que el mundo no se terminaba en España; y la existencia de varias lenguas, el hecho de que las lenguas se complementan.

Y luego, una cosa que sería absurdo no decir, aunque salta a la vista: que también he sido muy afortunado de tener unos padres como los que he tenido, que eran personas, tanto mi padre como mi madre, cultas, muy razonables, básicamente decentes. Entiéndase decentes en un sentido amplio, con esa cosa que se llama principios y que resulta hoy un poco anticuada, y no tendría por qué. Y además, tuve la suerte de disponer de una biblioteca excelente. Yo admiro mucho a la gente que no ha tenido libros en la infancia y que, sin embargo, han llegado a ser escritores magníficos, porque yo en ese sentido soy un privilegiado. Mis padres eran más bien pobres, pero bueno, desde el punto de vista material, no tengo la sensación de que mis hermanos y yo careciéramos de lo básico en absoluto. Ahora, desde el punto de vista de la educación y de un ámbito propicio a la cultura, pues sí, sí fui un niño privilegiado.

Ha residido y trabajado fuera de España mucho tiempo. ¿Ahora se marcharía?

España nunca me ha parecido un país en el que uno tuviera asegurado el poder vivir siempre. Ahora, en cambio, cuando voy a países en los cuales me he sentido muy cómodo durante muchísimos años, ya no me siento tan cómodo: los veo cambiados, en manos de gobernantes cada vez más mediocres. Ahora mismo hay una gran falta de horizonte en general en todo el mundo. España, si no otra cosa, ha sido un país bastante animado; incluso en la época de Franco era un país animado. En los últimos dos años empiezo a notar algo que casi me parece insólito. En la propia calle uno nota cierto tono deprimido, no solo por lo malo de la situación actual, sino porque no se ve mucho horizonte. «Paciencia y barajar», como decía Cervantes: alguna vez tienen que venir las cartas mejor dadas. Esperemos que así sea y que no tarde demasiado.


Fotos. Ignacio Gil

Abc Cultural, 15 de junio de 2013

PDF. “Incluso el libro más leído es algo minoritario”

Javier Marías, ante tiempos ridículos

Foto. Cristóbal Manuel

Foto. Cristóbal Manuel

El título Tiempos ridículos lo encontró Javier Marías leyendo un “modesto artículo” del New York Times sobre el ocaso de los neuróticos ante “la superabundancia de ellos”. Lo usó para una de sus columnas en El País Semanal, en la que trataba —al hilo del polémico safari del Rey en África— de elefantes aún mayores: la desmesura, la iracundia y la histeria colectiva que nos inunda. Tiempos ridículos es ahora el título del volumen (y la cita, recuerda el escritor, es de una catedrática de Psiquiatría: “Vivimos tiempos ridículos, y si a uno le parece que todo tiene sentido, lo más probable es que no esté bien”) que, editado por Alfaguara, reúne 96 artículos publicados durante los últimos dos años.

Artículos combativos unos y “de tregua” otros, como define Marías a los que escoran hacia la autobiografía. “Involuntariamente autobiográficos”, matiza, “más bien evocativos, en los que recupero anécdotas familiares o de viajes. Quizá en ellos está lo más parecido que jamás haré a unas memorias o a unos diarios, que siempre me resultan pretenciosos a no ser que uno tenga una vida llena de aventuras, y no es el caso”.

El libro arranca con un texto de febrero de 2011 en el que el escritor se mofa de una guía “ecofeminista” que desde la Junta de Andalucía proponía “potenciar el lenguaje periodístico desde una perspectiva de género medioambiental”. Es fácil imaginar el sofoco del escritor ante la propuesta. Él mismo lo justifica en el arranque de la columna: “Con razón me consideran un pesado, pero siempre aduciré en mi descargo la vieja excusa infantil: ‘Yo no he empezado’. Si la realidad es insistente y pelma, además de con frecuencia imbécil, hay que salirse al paso una y otra vez”.

Una y otra vez, sí, hasta febrero de 2013, fecha en la que Marías dedica la columna dominical que cierra el libro para celebrar sus 10 años y, de paso, cuestionarse la inutilidad del esfuerzo. Lo titula Piel de rinoceronte o desdén y con él ilustra la sensación de esterilidad que le ronda. Para ilustrar esa sensación recrea una chocante anécdota, el reencuentro casual con un ex ministro de Aznar a quien hace años criticó duramente en un viejo artículo y que ahora le saluda, incluso extiende la invitación de “una copita”, como si nada. “Pero qué quieren: si ni siquiera los ‘damnificados’ me tienen en cuenta las ‘damnificaciones’, ¿ustedes creen que vale la pena que siga con estas columna después de diez años? La pregunta es retórica, no hace falta que me contesten”, escribe.

portada-tiempos-ridiculos_grande“Después de 18 años como columnista, primero en EL Semanal y después en EL PAÍS, es inevitable cierto cansancio”, explica sobre una tarea que suele concluir en sábado o domingo, dos semanas antes de su publicación, después de al menos dos versiones, últimas correcciones a mano (“rebajo el tono, quito adjetivos”) y una misma eterna pregunta: “¿Y de qué hablo hoy?”. “Por un lado, opinar demasiado agota. Soy consciente de que me repito y, en general, procuro disculparme con el lector, pero es que la realidad es tan pesada como uno. Y, por otro, uno siempre tiene la sensación de que la utilidad real es poca. No es que pretenda cambiar las cosas pero no deja de sorprenderme el absoluto desprecio de los políticos por la opinión los intelectuales”. Esos oídos sordos de los políticos a la crítica le recuerda una anécdota de su padre, Julián Marías: “En 1978 dedicó un artículo crítico a la Constitución y Adolfo Suárez lo llamó para hablar con él y consultarle. Algo así es hoy totalmente impensable, a los políticos o no les importa o no les interesa lo que nadie escriba sobre ellos”.

Aunque quizá la respuesta está en la página 92 del libro. Ese domingo los lectores se tomaron el café y el zumo con una pregunta: ¿Por qué quieren ser políticos? El autor de Los enamoramientos asegura que no solo procura argumentar sus opiniones “evitando exabruptos”, sino que también tiende de manera innata a ser positivo. “En mi caso, el pesimismo es el territorio de la novela”, dice, “mientras que el optimismo debería ser el de la lectura de periódicos, por eso procuro no amargar el desayuno de los lectores y sí de vez en cuando el de algunas personas concretas. Pero quizá a veces he pecado de dar demasiados ánimos y no acertar con mis predicciones”. En vano o no, Marías sigue, “chinchando lo que pueda, aunque nadie te haga mucho caso”.


El País, 27 de mayo de 2013

Javier Marías habla de ‘Tiempos ridículos’

EFE TR 2“No acabo de entender que el Gobierno esté tan sordo”

El escritor Javier Marías tiene la sensación de haber hablado en exceso de la crisis y de los políticos en sus artículos de los últimos meses. Pero no le queda otro remedio en un país donde el Gobierno se ha puesto “en contra a todo el mundo” por las medidas y los recortes que aprueba.

“No acabo de entender que el Gobierno actual esté tan sordo, porque tiene enfrentada, no a gente de izquierdas o contraria al Partido Popular, sino a todos; a gente normal y de orden, como los médicos, enfermeros, profesores, rectores, jueces y abogados”, afirma Marías en una entrevista con Efe.

En su casa de Madrid, en cuya entrada se amontonan los libros porque no para de recibir ediciones de sus novelas en el extranjero, el escritor habla de su nueva obra, Tiempos ridículos (Alfaguara), en la que ha reunido los artículos publicados en El País Semanal entre febrero de 2011 y febrero de 2013.

Considerado uno de los mejores novelistas en lengua española de las últimas décadas y con su obra traducida a 43 idiomas, Marías es también un excelente articulista como lo reflejan esos textos que publica desde hace dieciocho años, los diez últimos en la citada revista y los anteriores en El Semanal.

De vez en cuando le entran dudas sobre si seguir o no con esta labor, porque ya se ha pronunciado “sobre todo lo habido y por haber”.

“También, cada vez más, se da uno cuenta de que servimos de poco los que ahora escribimos en prensa. Las cosas han cambiado mucho en los últimos años, y uno tiene la sensación de que no se influye nada en la gente con capacidad de decisión, sobre todo en los políticos”, señala el escritor.

“Yo creo que los políticos se han blindado ante cualquier crítica”. Y, como recuerda Marías en uno de los artículos, no hace tanto que sí se tenía en cuenta la opinión de los intelectuales: a su padre, el filósofo Julián Marías, lo llamó Adolfo Suárez, cuando era presidente del Gobierno, para consultarle sobre el texto de la Constitución.

“Los políticos actuales desprecian a los intelectuales. Y en eso, lamento decirlo, entroncan con el franquismo, que se distinguió siempre por el desprecio y hostilidad hacia la cultura y el mundo intelectual”, asevera el autor de libros esenciales como Corazón tan blanco, Tu rostro mañana o Los enamoramientos, esa última novela que tantas dudas le suscitó y que no deja de darle satisfacciones: se ha traducido ya a más de veinte lenguas.

portada-tiempos-ridiculos_grandeEn la nueva recopilación de sus artículos hay piezas emotivas, entre ellas cuando recuerda la muerte de su tío, el músico Odón Alonso, o la conmovedora carta de un lector, y las hay también divertidas, como cuando recrea su expulsión de una librería de Viena o cuando habla de fútbol -“estoy deseando que se vaya Mourinho”, asegura-.

Pero en Tiempos ridículos predomina el tono sombrío porque reflejan la realidad de un país en el que los políticos “son percibidos como uno de los problemas más graves”, abundan los casos de corrupción y la gente está “desmoralizada por la impunidad que hay para los causantes de la crisis”.

Y un país en el que, tras un año y pico de gobierno del PP, el paro no deja de aumentar y “sigue sin condenarse a nadie por corrupción”.

“Si un Gobierno toma medidas viernes tras viernes, que atentan contra la idea de Estado tal como la hemos aceptado y si aplica una política de ‘sálvese sólo quien pueda, y el que no, que hubiera ganado más dinero antes’, está quebrando el pacto esencial y se deslegitima a sí mismo”, decía Marías en un artículo de julio de 2012.

Y añade ahora en la entrevista: “La democracia no consiste sólo en ser elegido, sino en gobernar día a día democráticamente. Y eso supone tener en cuenta a las minorías, a la oposición, a la sociedad, y no imponer una cosa detrás de otra porque se tiene mayoría absoluta. Eso es despotismo legalizado”.

Es posible que sean necesarios los recortes, comenta, pero “dónde se aplican es una de las cosas que define a un político, y este Gobierno los ha aplicado sobre todo en las cosas que a la población le importan más: la sanidad, la educación, la cultura y la justicia. No recortan en sueldos de políticos ni en celebraciones innecesarias”.

Entre esos gastos innecesarios, opina el escritor, quizás estén los de la “Marca España”. A Marías le pidieron permiso para utilizar su imagen en un vídeo promocional de nuestro país, que se presentará en Bruselas el 4 de junio, y ha dicho que no.

“¿Qué hace mi imagen en un vídeo propulsado por este Gobierno que ha tenido un presupuesto de cero euros para las bibliotecas públicas y que ha subido del 8 al 21% el IVA del cine y de los teatros? Todo esto es pura contradicción”, indica.

En el artículo que sirve para titular el libro, Tiempos ridículos, Marías considera “desproporcionadas” las críticas que suscitó el viaje del Rey a Botsuana para cazar elefantes, y que llevó a algunos dirigentes políticos, tertulianos y analistas a cuestionar la validez de la monarquía.

El escritor no es monárquico, pero no le gustaría que “el Jefe del Estado fueran Aznar, Aguirre, Bono o Zapatero”.

“Nos ha ido bien con esta monarquía. En toda la historia de España no hemos tenido jamás un período tan largo de democracia o de algo que se le parezca. Es preferible que haya una institución que no gobierna en ningún caso (‘El rey reina pero no gobierna’, recuerda), que no políticos”, añade.

Ante la situación que se vive en España, no descarta “en absoluto” que pueda haber un estallido social, aunque él intenta “ser optimista” y espera que “la gente no se ponga a hacer el cafre. No serviría de mucho y sería aún más desastroso y más grave”.

“Pero da la impresión de que los responsables políticos no atienden a nada, tiran de la cuerda, y la cuerda se puede romper por el lugar más impensado”, advierte.


EFE, 23 de mayo de 2013

‘Cuando Rajoy habla, dan ganas de ingresarlo en un Psiquiátrico’

Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951) ha practicado durante cuatro décadas todas las variantes de la literatura, hasta convertirse en uno de los autores más considerados a escala global. También es ahora mismo el columnista que mejor sintoniza con la indignación asociada a la crisis. Celebra la traducción de una de sus novelas al estonio y la obtención del legendario premio Formentor.

–Para que se haga cargo del tipo de entrevista: “¿El premio Formentor huele a Nobel?”
–No necesariamente, y en mi caso tenga por seguro que el Nobel no tiene el menor fundamento, ni pienso en él. El Formentor lo recibo con muchísimo gusto.

–¿Escribe para competir?
–Ni siquiera conmigo mismo. El “siempre más difícil o mejor” me parece circense. Tengo suficiente incertidumbre con cada página, porque siempre pienso que “esto es una tontería, esto nunca va a interesar a nadie, esto está fatal”.

–”Sofisticación y accesibilidad”, dice de usted The New Yorker, que no suele equivocarse.
–En inglés, sophistication es un “falso amigo”. No tiene traducción literal y es más bien “perfeccionismo”. En cuanto a la “accesibilidad”, es probable que sea así, porque es inexplicable que con una literatura no facilona haya conseguido tantos lectores.

–¿Piensa en ellos cuando escribe?
–Pienso en publicar, en abstracto.

–La primera inquietud al concederle el Formentor era si iba usted a aceptarlo.
–Es una inquietud un poco gratuita, porque he aceptado muchos premios. Rechacé el Nacional de Narrativa porque los Estados no tienen que destinar el erario público a premiar a artistas o escritores. Al fin y al cabo, nadie nos obliga a hacer nuestro trabajo.

–Borges y Beckett le han precedido en el Formentor.
–Quizás me quedo con Borges, al que conocí y que era amigo de mi padre. Espero que no me pase como a él, por otra parte infinitamente superior a lo que yo haga nunca. Cuando empezó, fue considerado un escritor inglés y hoy es el autor argentino por antonomasia. Después de haberme llamado “angloaburrido” y de acusarme de que mis novelas parecen traducidas del inglés, espero no convertirme en el escritor español contemporáneo más representativo.

–¿Cómo ha conseguido ser el columnista que mejor conecta con el castigado ciudadano actual?
–Ojalá fuera así, pero tengo la sensación de que los artículos sirven de poco. Aunque ya es mucho que bastantes lectores me digan que les sirven de consuelo, son inútiles a efectos prácticos.

–Frente a la memoria histórica, usted ha reivindicado el derecho al olvido histórico.
–Como dije en un artículo, no tengo las cosas claras sobre esta cuestión. Es importante que se sepa qué ocurrió pero, sin ciertas dosis de olvido, la vida es una tortura infinita. Dicho sea con todo el respeto a quienes desean recuperar sus huesos.

–¿Tiene opinión sobre todo?
–En absoluto, hay cosas de las que no sé nada y me admiran las personas que se convierten en expertos improvisados en cuanto pasa algo, Al día siguiente de Fukushima, todo el mundo opina sobre reactores nucleares.

–¿Le irrita más Mourinho o Rajoy?
–Rajoy, porque Mourinho me irrita muchísimo y deseaba que se fuera, pero afecta a una parcela reducida de mi vida y no preocupa a los no madridistas. El Gobierno perjudica a todos.

–Rajoy ha dado valor político al tópico literario de la incomunicación.
–Tengo la duda de si en el fondo no hace bien. Cada vez que habla o comunica, dan ganas de ingresarlo en un Psiquiátrico, porque dice una cosa y la contraria. Quizás su silencio no es opción sino necesidad.

–Le solivianta el PP, pero sin llegar al escrache.
–No me gusta esa palabra, prefiero hablar de execraciones a domicilio y, con independencia de los merecimientos que han hecho sus destinatarios para ser vituperados, tiene algo de vil, de muchos contra uno. Además, se vuelve contra cualquiera. Por ejemplo, contra quienes votan a favor del matrimonio homosexual.

–Usted puede permitirse cinco DVDs, pero sólo compra dos porque otras personas están en crisis.
–Me noté de pronto con este pudor, y era desastroso. Si unos no compran nada porque no tienen, otros porque están ahorrando, y quienes nos lo podemos permitir tampoco lo hacemos por evitar la mala conciencia, ¿quién va a consumir? Para suprimir esa tentación, me fuerzo a hacer compras no enteramente necesarias.

–Le leo preocupado por sus ahorros.
–Cualquier persona ha de estarlo, después de la posible exportación del modelo de Chipre. Se temía a los comunistas porque nos lo iban a quitar todo, y ahora resulta que nos lo hace el capitalismo salvaje.

–Creo que no le he llamado Julián ninguna vez.
–No me ha llamado nada, una manera prudente para que no se le escape. Me llevaba bien con mi padre, y no me molesta cuando alguien comete el lapsus de llamarme “Julián”. No he leído todos sus libros. Uno de los mejores para mí es Cervantes, clave española pero, cuando habla de Problemas del cristianismo, no lo leo.


Diario de Mallorca, 11 de mayo de 2013

Gli innamoramenti. Entrevista, reseñas, y más

LE it grandeAnatomia dell’ amore
Il Messaggero, 30 dicembre 2012
La verità secondo María
24 Ore, 16 dicembre 2012
Marías, l’innamoramento è un thriller di parole
Il Messaggero, 15 dicembre 2012
Questa volta ho voce di donna
Il Cittadino, 13 dicembre 2012
La passione e le colpe inconfessabili
Gazzetta di Parma, 8 dicembre 2012
Comportamenti amorosi
Letras Libres, 13 dicembre 2012
Due ragazze scomparse e una strana coppia perfetta
La Nuova, 17 dicembre 2012
Se osservi due che si amano, il loro amore ti contagerà
F, 23 gennaio 2013
Gli innamoramenti
Mucchio, 1 gennaio 2013
Alta letteratura con un tocco noir
Libero, 14 dicembre 2012
Poesía del matrimonio…
Corriere di Bologna, 26 gennaio 2013
Madrid, misteri e amori. Il nuovo incanto di Marías
QN, 20 gennaio 2013
L’ amore secondo lei
Liberal, 15 dicembre 2012
Elogio della fantasia e della spietatezza amorosa
Panorama, 6 febbraio 2013
Dire buon Natale regalando un libro
Corriere Nazionale, 16 dicembre 2012
Il Giornale, 26 gennaio 2013

Digressive progress: Spanish author Javier Marías

mariasdepieWith plenty of observations, reflections and suppositions, Marías likes telling readers things ‘they didn’t know they knew’

When Javier Marías was a student of English Philology in Madrid in the 1970s he says it was with a sense of “awe and reverence” that he would buy copies of “the then grey-spined Penguin Modern Classics. The authors ranged from Conrad to James, Faulkner to Joyce, Thomas Mann to Ford Madox Ford, Woolf to Camus. Not even Nabokov was allowed to be there.” Last year Marías himself became one of just a handful of living writers to join that same list. “I must assume, therefore, that these are much less demanding times than the 1970s,” he explains modestly. “But, still, I feel very honoured, even if I can’t help thinking I must be a fraud.”

Far from being a fraud, it is difficult to think of many other living writers who are such an obvious fit for the list. In brute commercial terms, as was noted at the time, you could say his inclusion is not a bad hedge bet from his new publisher Penguin in the event of his winning the Nobel prize, something he is regularly tipped to do. In purely literary terms there is an even more compelling case. Few writers have sustained such an engagement with the classic (Anglophone) canon. As a translator he has rendered into Spanish work by Hardy, Yeats, Conrad, Nabokov, Faulkner, Updike, Salinger and many others. As a novelist, he has threaded his work with traces of these writers, and is explicitly underpinned by an empathy with Shakespeare and Sterne, as well as Cervantes and Proust.

“I’ve never had a literary project and feel I have been improvising all my career,” he recently claimed. “But I do recognise certain recurring themes: treason, secrecy, the impossibility of knowing things, or people, or yourself, for sure. There is also persuasion, marriage and love. But these things are the matter of literature, not just of my books. The history of literature is probably the same drop of water falling on the same stone only with different language, different manners, different forms adequate to our own time. But it remains the same thing, the same stories, the same drop on the same stone, since Homer or before.”

This flair for improvisation has seen him selling millions of books that have been translated into more than 40 languages. His 12th novel, “The Infatuations”, has just been published in English, and works such as “All Souls, A Heart So White” and, more recently, his monumental “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy have received almost universal critical acclaim. And he has not only been garlanded with prizes. Among his other titles is King of Redonda, a real, if uninhabited, lump of Caribbean rock, the monarchy of which has been passed down through a line of writers.

“I’ve taken my responsibilities lightly,” he smiles, “but I do follow the tradition of an intellectual nobility.” He funds a literary prize and awards dukedoms to the winners, which so far have included among others Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, William Boyd and Umberto Eco. “J.M. Coetzee was the first winner, and I was delighted that he accepted and joined in with the playfulness of it. Maybe it is time that I should start thinking about an heir. I inherited through an abdication, so I shall have to find another writer, as it is not passed on by blood but by letters.”

Marías has never visited Redonda and lives in a book-packed apartment overlooking one of Madrid’s oldest squares where he works on an electric typewriter, doesn’t have internet and is equally old-fashioned in his prodigious cigarette consumption. He has a long-term partner, but she lives in Barcelona. “And that is usually my lot. Either my girlfriends have been married at a time when there was no divorce in Spain, or they lived somewhere else or there was something else in the way.”

“The Infatuations”, featuring a rare Marías female narrator, is, among other things, a cool-eyed examination of love; in fact “Los enamoramientos”, the Spanish title, could also be translated as “The Crushes”. Maria has breakfast in the same café every morning, where she observes a married couple with the same routine. Some time after the couple stop coming to the café Maria learns that the husband has been brutally murdered, and she becomes embroiled in the life of the widow and the emotional ramifications of the husband’s death.

“Loving and falling in love have a very good reputation,” he says. “That may be justified sometimes, but sometimes it is the opposite. I have seen very generous, kind and noble people behave very badly because they are in love. Equally there is this idea of destiny. People remember how they met and wondered what would have happened if they hadn’t gone to that restaurant or that dinner. But we are in fact very limited in our choices of partner by location, class, history and who is willing to accept our advances. How many times are we not the first choice? Or even the second, or the third?”

The book has sold more than 160,000 copies in Spain and was awarded the national narrative award, which Marías declined because the 20,000-euro prize was funded by the state. He has been criticised as a novelist for not engaging directly in Spain’s turbulent political life although in fact the civil war and Franco’s rule have been dark presences in his books — but he has shown no reticence about engaging in the day-to-day as a newspaper columnist for the last 18 years.

“As a columnist I write as citizen and maybe have too many opinions” — he has published a whole book of just his football articles — “but writing as a novelist is different. I don’t like the journalistic kind of novel which is now rather fashionable. If a book or film takes a good subject from the everyday press — say domestic murders in Spain, which are a historic disgrace — everyone will applaud, but it is easy applause. Who will say it is bad? People say the novel is a way of imparting knowledge. Well, maybe. But for me 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. You find this in Proust, who is one of the cruellest authors in the history of literature. He says terrible things, but in such a way that you know that you have experienced those thoughts too.”

Marías was born in Madrid in 1951, the fourth of five sons. Three of his brothers — the eldest died before he was born — went on to have careers in the arts. Their father was Julián Marías, a leading philosopher whose republican activities had seen him briefly imprisoned following the Spanish Civil War, an episode (Javier) Marías drew on in “Your Face Tomorrow”. Their mother, Dolores Franco, was a translator and an editor of an anthology of Spanish literature before starting a family. As a child Marías was taken for several trips to America where his father was teaching, having been blacklisted at home. Back in Madrid, his early writing came directly out of his reading; he created his own musketeer and Just William stories when he had finished all the books. “Richmal Crompton had been very popular in Spain since my parents’ time.”

The family home was full of books, art and elevating conversation. But Marías’s introduction to professional writing was facilitated by an uncle who was a maker of horror films. During the six weeks the 17-year-old Marías stayed at his uncle’s Parisian apartment he not only watched 85 films but also broke the back of a debut novel, “Los dominios del lobo” (“The Dominions of the Wolf”), which was published in 1971 when he was only 20.

“It was a sort of a tribute and parody of American films of the 1940s and 1950s. A youthful work, but not the usual autobiographical story of most young writers. And also not deadly serious in the way young people often are. As such, I’m actually not ashamed of it.”

He says the dominant trend in Spain at the time was social realism. “Franco was still alive. 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.”

In fact over the next decade he published only another two novels as his career as a translator came to the fore, most notably with his 1979 version of “Tristram Shandy”, which won the (not state-funded) national translation prize. He categorises a translator as both a “privileged reader and a privileged writer. If you’re capable of rewriting in a different language something by Conrad or Sterne then you learn a lot. I’ve not got involved with the creative writing industry, but if I ever had my own creative writing school I would only admit people who could translate, and I would make them do it over and over again.”

During his years translating he found that some writers helped the translator by being stylistically contagious. “There is a pace and a rhythm of prose that, if the translator catches it, you can surf the wave of cadence. I certainly felt it with Conrad and in a way with Sir Thomas Browne. But it is not essential to good writing. It was not there with Yeats’s prose, or Isak Dinesen’s or Thomas Hardy’s. I like to think that my prose has some cadence that can contaminate, in the good sense, and help a translator. And I always want to help as much as I can because I remember being so annoyed that I couldn’t ask Conrad what he meant.”

He says that what is now regarded as his own distinctive style — the long, digressive, almost musical sentences that loop around observation, reflection and supposition — took many years to achieve and wasn’t really in place until his 1986 novel about an opera singer, “A Man of Feeling”. “I had written four novels before then. The impatience of the publishing world today might mean that I wouldn’t have been given a chance to get that far. So many worthwhile writers must have been lost because of this impatience. The change has been brutal.”

His next novel, “All Souls” (1989), based closely on his experiences teaching at Oxford in the 1980s, was a success, but it wasn’t until “A Heart So White” in 1992 that he first became a fixture on the bestseller lists. After selling well in Spain it became a global hit after “the Pope of German critics”, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, recommended it on television. “He was known as a tough critic who had once, literally, ripped up a Günter Grass book. But he said some exaggerated things about my book and that it should be No 1. Obediently, as sometimes Germans in their history have been, they went out and bought it.”

The book sold 1.3 million copies in Germany and later won the Impac prize. Marías’s novel-writing technique — “which I know could be suicidal” — is to set out with only minimal planning (all his notes for the 1,200-page “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy were scribbled on just four sheets of A5 paper; not all of them were used) and then not to redraft the book, “although I do go back to change a Tuesday to a Thursday and things like that”. It is a high-wire act that is sustained by what must be a remarkable memory as he shapes his story round complicated digressions and repetitions. “What Sterne said always struck me as true: ‘I progress as I digress.’ And you realise that what seemed anecdotal is actually part of the story. I like to use a system of echoes and resonances and characters that reappear not only within the same book, but from one book to another.”

He describes the present situation in Spain as “scary”, and lambasts the government for using the economic crisis to impose labour reforms, toughen abortion laws, cut education and culture spending, and privatise the health system. “Those opinions I stand by. It is not quite the same as a novelist. A novel is a more savage and wild thing in the sense that you can say anything, and your narrators or characters can say anything. Yet it still arrives at a kind of truth. It is like the theatre where you know the name of the playwright, but when the curtain rises the accepted convention is that the audience doesn’t take all the actions or opinions on the stage as the author’s. It is the same with a book. You turn from the cover to the biographical note, then maybe a dedication until you reach page one and the curtain rises. From that moment on the name on the cover doesn’t matter any more.”


Gulf News, Weekend Review, 4 April 2013