Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Vintage, April 22, 2014
“This is writing at its purest: elegant, stylish and subtle. The work of Javier Marías transcends such bromides as: “I couldn’t put it down!” It insists that you savor every word; that you stop and reflect on what you have just read; that you parse the sinuously snaking sentences for every nuance they reveal. It is a virtuosic performance that makes it obvious why such literary giants as Bolaño, Sebald, Coetze and Pamuk have lavishly sung his praises. You will understand why he is a shoe-in for the Nobel Prize. And, you will scratch your head in utter befuddlement at the lack of a wider audience for his work in America. Read it and be amazed.” —Conrad Silverberg
“Whatever else we may think is going on when we read, we are choosing to spend time in an author’s company. In Javier Marías’s case this is a good decision; his mind is insightful, witty, sometimes startling, sometimes hilarious, and always intelligent . . . The masterly Spanish novelist [has] a penetrating empathy.” —Edward St. Aubyn, on the cover of The New York Times Book Review
“The Infatuations is mysterious and seductive; it’s got deception, it’s got love affairs, it’s got murder—the book is the most sheerly addictive thing Marías has ever written . . . Marías is a star writer in Europe, where his best-sellers collect prizes the way Kardashians collect paparazzi. He’s been hailed in America, too, yet he’s never broken through like Haruki Murakami or Roberto Bolaño. This should change with his new novel, The Infatuations, which is the ideal introduction to his work.” —Fresh Air/NPR
“The work of a master in his prime, this is a murder story that becomes an enthralling vehicle for all the big questions about life, love, fate, and death.” —The Guardian
“Blindingly intelligent, engagingly accessible—it seems there’s nothing Marías can’t make fiction do . . . Marías’s rare gift is his ability to make intellectual jousting as suspenseful as the chase scenes in a commercial thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A haunting masterpiece . . . The lasting challenge to literature is to achieve a satisfying marriage between high art and the low drives of a simple plot. The Infatuations is just such a novel . . . Just as Macbeth is a thriller that’s also a great tragedy, The Infatuations is a murder story that’s also a profound story of fatal obsession . . . Don Quixote was first published as long ago as 1620. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Infatuations soon acquired an equally devoted following.” —The Observer
“Extraordinary . . . Marías has defined the ethos of our time.” —Alberto Manguel, The Guardian
“Marías [is] a consummate stylist . . . Magic, stupendous.” —Booklist
“Absorbing and unnerving . . . A labyrinthine exploration, at once thrilling and melancholy, of the meanings of one man’s death—and a vivid testimony to the power of stories, for good or ill, to weave the world into our thoughts and our thoughts into the world.” —The Sunday Times (London)
“A novel that further secures Marías’s position as one of contemporary fiction’s most relevant voices.” —Publishers Weekly
“Hypnotic . . . The Infatuations plays off Marías’s enchantingly sinuous sentences. They suck you in and lull you along with their rhythm, which gives the unusual and palpable awareness of how masterfully Marías has made time itself his peculiar object of investigation . . . Powerful.” —Bookforum
“A masterpiece . . . Here, great literature once again shows its true face.” —ABC Cultural (Spain)
“Keeps us guessing until almost the last page. Yet what lingers in the reader’s mind is not the murder mystery, compelling though it is. Rather, it is the author’s examination of the ebb and flow of flawed relationships; the chances that bring us together and the fates (in this case, murderous intent) that pull us apart.” —Financial Times
“I ended up getting angry with myself for not having rationed the reading so it would last longer.” —El País
“Uniquely luminous . . . Like Beethoven, Marías is a brilliant escape artist . . . But Marías is original; he cannot help it.” —Times Literary Supplement (London)
“The Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration masquerading as a murder mystery . . . Quietly addictive.” —Spectator
“Smart, thoughtful, morally challenging, and consistently surprising in its tense twists.”—Scotland on Sunday
“Haunting. . . . Evokes verbal puzzle-makers like Borges, and Marías’s ingenious chessboard plots bring to mind the 20th century’s grand-master strategist, Vladimir Nabokov.”—Los Angeles Times
“An arresting story of love and crime.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The unspoken romance at the heart of Marías’s work is the recuperation of old-fashioned adventure within perfectly serious, cerebral contemporary fiction.”—The Daily Beast
“Great art often emerges from breaking, or at least tweaking, rules. A work that transcends its conventions can produce special results. Here’s such a book . . . The Infatuations takes you where very few novels do.”—Paste magazine
“A masterly novel . . . The classical themes of love, death, and fate are explored with elegant intelligence by Marías in what is perhaps his best novel so far . . . Extraordinary . . . Marías has defined the ethos of our time.”—The Guardian (UK)
“Marías has created a splendid tour de force of narrative voice. . . . A luminous performance.”—Wichita Eagle
“Javier Marías is a master of first lines. He’s a master of other things as well . . . All Marías books feel like chapters in one much longer book. And it’s one you should start reading, if you haven’t already.”—Slate
“Beyond the interesting ideas his work draws on, Marías’s novels are simply a pleasure to read . . . The Infatuations, containing the qualities of Marías’s best work, is an important addition to his oeuvre.”—The Millions
“Marías’s novel operates on so many levels simultaneously, it becomes a piece of evidence itself, an artifact that proves its own argument.”—The Onion, A. V. Club
“Marías’s novel weaves an intricate web, but its triumph is in the power of its narrator. Marías has found the ideal voice—detached, inquisitive, and vigilant—for one of his finest novels.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
Everyone needs something to get through the day. For some, it’s faith. For others, drugs, shopping, sex, or love. Reserved, thirty-something María Dolz relies on a man and a woman she sees almost every morning in the café where she has breakfast. Still laughing and joking like the best of friends after years of domestic union, they are, she thinks, the Perfect Couple: a vision of marital bliss. “It was the sight of them together that calmed and contented me before my working day began,” María tells us. Without them, she felt depressed. Then one afternoon the husband is stabbed to death by a homeless man. A tragic accident? Or the perfect crime?
From this scenario and three books (Balzac’s Colonel Chabert, Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, and Shakespeare’s MacBeth), the acclaimed Spanish novelist Javier Marías spins an exquisite web of confessions, lies, and sticky half-truths. That’s only the beginning. For The Infatuations is not merely a tale of love gone wrong, it’s also an evocation of modern sexual manners, a meditation on the relationship between the living and the dead, and a dazzling portrait of the master criminal as a kind of gorgeous spider: careful, patient, venomous. Not since Tom Ripley have I met such a cunning, and envious, creature.
Marías himself likes to work in delicate circles. His sentences are long, conversational, circuitous, their tension constantly redirected by his characters’s shifting doubts, evasions, and desires. More than anything, his prose reflects the brooding tenor of María’s cautious, intelligent mind — a mind agitated by her contact with a widow’s desperate grief and a womanizer’s deft manipulations. For after the Perfect Husband dies, María Dolz falls in love with his best friend: a man she meets only in his apartment, only when he calls her. Thus does one infatuation pave the way for another.
Javier Marías’s has long been acclaimed as one of Spain’s most exceptional writers: an author who builds intoxicating cocktails of philosophy and noir. His masterful murder story culminates in an scene of unforgettable ethical ambiguity. The most sinister thread his novel, however, is the silken connection that Marías traces between crime and confusion. For when the killer is finally cornered, a smokescreen of doubt is enough to enable the unrepentant to escape:
“When you don’t know what to believe,” Marías writes, “when you’re not prepared to play the amateur detective, then you get tired and dismiss the entire business, you let it go, you stop thinking and wash you hands of the truth or of the whole tangled mess—which comes to the same thing.” 
In other words, hidden crimes go unpunished not because criminals can’t be caught, but because of our own unwillingness to undertake the burden of sifting truth from deception, crime from camouflage. Thus our apathy abets the spiders of this world.
Critical Mass, March 11, 2014
THE INFATUATIONS – WHY THIS BOOK SHOULD WIN
The Infatuations by Javier Marías rolled into its publication date with more baggage than the Coast Starlight, more anticipation than the Wells Fargo wagon in The Music Man.
Immediately, the griping and whining started. “It isn’t his best book.” “It isn’t as good as (fill in the blank with any of his previous books).” “I really loved the trilogy, but this…” “Knopf paid serious money for the book, did they know what they were getting?” I even heard someone suggest the book was slighted because of readership loyalty to New Directions, Marías’ previous publisher.
However, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, and Slate all made it through their reviews without an audible groan – and for good reason. This is a really good book.
Marías is writing in genre, and he appears to be having a hell of a good time doing it. It’s cerebral in ways similar to Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder. It’s less about the crime, less action, and more about the paths and perception – more philosophic than forensic.
I’ve read a boatload of mysteries, but I can’t remember one that does exactly what The Infatuations does. Not going to outline the plot, but the ending, no spoiler alert here, is dropped in your lap.
I love Marías. I don’t care if what he writes is High Fecking Art or not. And you shouldn’t either.
This book should win The Best Translated Book Award.
Three Percent, March 12, 2014
COMME LES AMOURS DE JAVIER MARÍAS: UNE DÉAMBULATION TROUBLANTE DANS LE JARDIN DU BIEN ET DU MAL ….
«Vous me croyiez mort, n’est-ce pas, comme je vous croyais morte? Notre position est vraiment étrange ; nous n’avons vécu jusqu’à présent l’un et l’autre que parce que nous nous croyions morts, et qu’un souvenir gêne moins qu’une créature, quoique ce soit chose dévorante parfois qu’un souvenir.» Alexandre Dumas, extrait Les trois mousquetaires.
Editrice madrilène à l’existence discrète, lasse des atermoiements des auteurs dont elle a la charge, María prend chaque matin à proximité de son lieu de travail un petit-déjeuner qu’elle accompagne d’une contemplation: celle d’un couple dont la perfection enchante ses journées et en rend tolérable l’ennui.
Un émerveillement de courte durée quand elle apprend l’assassinat sauvage de l’homme, Miguel Desvern, producteur de renom et époux de Luisa avec laquelle il composait cette partition de conte de fées. Privée de tout optimisme, la vie de María reprend un cours sans saveur et lorsqu’elle croise à nouveau la femme elle ose enfin décliner son identité et lui révéler la joie que lui procurait leur couple. Dévastée par l’absence de l’être aimé, Luisa évoque la ténacité du chagrin et c’est par la petite porte des confidences qu’elle autorise María à entrer dans son intimité, lui présentant quelques proches dont le très séduisant Javier Díaz-Varela, qui fut l’ami de son compagnon. Très vite, le hasard mettra Díaz-Varela sur le chemin de María. De cette rencontre imprévue naîtra une mélodie bien plus sombre, une variation empreinte de duplicité où s’invitera un tout autre deuil: celui de la perte des illusions…
Unaniment salué de par le monde littéraire, le savoir-faire de Javier Marías prend dans ce roman une dimension de conte philosophique à faire pâlir d’envie Monsieur Perrault en personne. S’aidant d’une langue altière et impeccable dont il demeure l’un des indiscutables garants, Javier Marías livre une réflexion exigeante sur les insuffisances de nos jeux de l’amour et du hasard et c’est avec une cruauté délectable qu’il nous invite à méditer sur les roueries et petits arrangements dont peuvent s’entourer les plus nobles sentiments. En choisissant de se glisser dans la psyché et les palpitations d’une narratrice, il témoigne de sa vaste connaissance de l’intériorité féminine et de de sa disposition séculaire à tomber en amour pour ce qui lui échappe, laissant ainsi à l’homme un autre emploi bien connu: celui du prédateur à l’effleurement sensuel animé par la convoitise.
En filigrane de cette incursion dans la fable, Javier Marías se réapproprie avec agilité une autre thématique: celle de la mort et plus largement celle de notre faculté d’oubli. Car une fois la perte du proche acceptée, souhaitons-nous vraiment la réapparition des défunts dans nos vies? Ne préférons-nous pas l’espace cotonneux du souvenir? Une savante digression qu’il met en abyme en nous offrant une relecture admirable de modernité du Colonel Chabert auquel Honoré de Balzac fit dire cette phrase tristement célèbre «J’ai été enterré sous des morts, mais maintenant je suis enterré sous des vivants, sous des actes, sous des faits, sous la société tout entière, qui veut me faire rentrer sous terre.»
Un très grand roman, une écriture délectable parce que rare. Saisissant et venimeux . Beau et imparfait «comme nos amours»…
Laisse parler les filles (Blog), 18 Janvier 2014
COMME LES AMOURS
Si Laura Kasischke joue avec le lecteur et l’inconscient, Javier Marías place la manipulation au cœur même de son sujet avec une brillante déambulation dans les méandres de la conscience. Une performance à déconseiller aux amateurs de péripéties musclées, mais qu’apprécieront les passionnés de grande littérature.
À force de prendre son petit déjeuner chaque matin dans la cafétéria à côté de son bureau, María Dolz remarque l’heureuse complicité qui anime un couple d’habitués. Petit à petit, leur présence agit comme un rituel réjouissant avant de commencer une ennuyeuse journée de travail. Elle ne s’inquiète guère de ne plus les voir à son retour de vacances jusqu’à ce qu’elle apprenne que l’homme, Miguel Deverne a été assassiné de seize coups de couteau par un sdf déséquilibré qui l’accusait de vouloir spolier ses deux filles de leur héritage.
Bouleversée, elle rend visite à Luisa, sa veuve qui la reconnaît, l’accueille et lui confie vivre un chagrin insurmontable. Lors de cette entrevue, elle fait la connaissance du meilleur ami de la victime, Javier Díaz-Varela, un séduisant parleur dont elle pressent qu’il est amoureux de Luisa et avec qui elle entame néanmoins une liaison. Involontairement, María va se retrouver au cœur d’une conspiration diabolique en relation avec la mort de Miguel qui l’obligera à sonder ses propres gouffres, tester son courage, sa loyauté ou sa lâcheté, sa capacité à se convaincre d’une version ou d’une autre, suivant qu’elle apaise ses états d’âme ou non.
Que savons-nous de ceux qui nous entourent? De leurs pensées intimes, de leurs réelles intentions ou de ce qu’ils ont fait par le passé? Quelle vérité nous parvient d’eux au bout du compte? Et quelles mains invisibles pétrissent parfois notre propre destin? D’introspection en fausses pistes, de correspondances littéraires en rebondissements, Javier Marías élabore une réflexion machiavélique sur l’amour, la mort, le deuil et le travail falsificateur du temps.
Par une multitude de circonvolutions, toujours pertinentes, qui passent par une relecture étonnante du Colonel Chabert, ainsi que des références à Shakespeare ou Dumas, il diffuse, à dose homéopathique, un suspense dont les digressions étudient la moindre palpitation du cheminement de María. Mensonges, trahisons, autosuggestion alimentent cette construction philosophique complexe, qui explore chaque recoin de nos douteux arrangements avec la vérité et la morale.
La Semaine, 3 Novembre 2013
Los premios de la Crítica de Nueva York distinguen a África
La escritora nigeriana Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie es la vencedora de los National Book Critics Circle Awards con su novela Americanah (que en marzo publica Random House), una historia sobre la raza y la identidad que ha sido elegida la mejor del año por esta asociación de críticos de Nueva York.
El escritor español Javier Marías estaba nominado por Los enamoramientos a este premio literario, uno de los de más repercusión en Estados Unidos, y era el único hombre aspirante en una categoría en la que también competían Alice McDermott, por Someone; Ruth Ozeki, por A Tale for the time being, y Donna Tartt por El jilguero (que en marzo publica Lumen).
Americanah, una historia de amor, feminismo y racismo situada en el país de Adichie, había sido elegida como una de las mejores novelas de 2013 por The New York Times. Los enamoramientos (Alfaguara) a su vez ha sido ensalzada en las críticas de algunos de los periódicos más importantes de Estados Unidos y llegó a ser portada del suplemento The New York Times Book Review.
En la categoría de no ficción, el libro ganador fue de la ganadora del Pulitzer Sheri Fink, por Five days at memorial: life and death in a storm-ravaged hospital.
Los premios del National Book Critics Circle fueron creados en 1974 y reconocen trabajos en las categorías de ficción, no ficción, biografía, autobiografía, poesía y crítica publicados en Estados Unidos. A lo largo de sus cuarenta años de historia ha destacado a otros autores de prosa en español, como el chileno Roberto Bolaño por su libro 2666, o a literatos de origen latino radicados en Estados Unidos como el dominicano Junot Díaz, por La maravillosa vida breve de Oscar Wao.
Solo una novela en español ha obtenido ese premio en sus 40 años: Roberto Bolaño por 2666. Entre los ganadores figuran escritores como Alice Munro, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Louise Erdrich, Ian McEwan y John Cheever.
El País, 14 de marzo de 2014
Chamamanda N Adichie se impone a Javier Marías en los premios de la Crítica de New York
La escritora nigeriana Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie se ha impuesto hoy a Javier Marías en los National Book Critics Circle Awards con su novela Americanah, elegida la mejor del año por esta asociación de críticos de Nueva York.
El escritor español estaba nominado por Los enamoramientos a este premio literario, uno de los de más repercusión en Estados Unidos, y era el único hombre nominado en una categoría en la que también competían Alice McDermott, por Someone; Ruth Ozeki, por A Tale for the Time Being, y Donna Tartt por The Goldfinch.
Americanah, una historia de amor, feminismo y racismo situada en el país de Adichie, había sido elegida como una de las mejores novelas de 2013 por el New York Times.
Javier Marías no acudió a la ceremonia y Los enamoramientos ha sido ensalzada en Estados Unidos en las críticas de algunos de los periódicos más importantes del país y llegó a ser portada del suplemento The New York Times Book Review.
En la categoría de no ficción, el libro ganador fue de la ganadora del Pulitzer Sheri Fink, por Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.
Los premios del National Book Critics Circle fueron creados en 1974 y reconocen trabajos en las categorías de ficción, no ficción, biografía, autobiografía, poesía y crítica publicados en Estados Unidos.
A lo largo de sus cuarenta años de historia ha destacado a otros autores de prosa en español, como el chileno Roberto Bolaño por su libro 2666, o a literatos de origen latino radicados en EE.UU. como el dominicano Junot Díaz, por The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Otros premiados han sido Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, Ian McEwan y Cormac McCarthy.
Efe, 14 de marzo de 2014
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Javier Marías, Andreï Makine longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
Karl Ove Knausgaard, the author about whom Zadie Smith wrote, “I need the next volume like crack”, is on the longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014 for A Man in Love, the second volume of his blockbuster My Struggle. This is his second time on the longlist, and he goes head to head with contemporary greats such as Spanish writer Javier Marías, frequently tipped for the Nobel Prize, for his crime novel, The Infatuations, and Prix Goncourt winner Andreï Makine, author of Brief Lives that Live Forever.
This year’s 15-strong longlist was chosen by a panel of five judges from a record number of entries and languages – 126 titles from 30 source languages.
Boyd Tonkin, senior writer and columnist at The Independent and one of this year’s judges commented: “Every year this unique prize delivers to our doorsteps an outstandingly rich harvest of the world’s finest fiction. This year, a record number of submissions has resulted in a longlist as diverse and powerful as any in its history. From Iceland to China, Israel to Iraq, Spain to Japan, the contenders – served by a selection of the most gifted translators at work today – represent a huge variety of nations and cultures, all bound together in the border-free republic of talent and imagination.”
The list features a number of pairs: two female Japanese writers; two German writers, both tackling the shadow of East Germany; and two Iraqi authors, Hassan Blasim and Sinan Antoon, offering very different pictures of post-Saddam Iraq. There’s also an Icelandic duo: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Jón Kalman Stefánsson, an astonishing achievement for a nation of 320,000 people.
Four newcomers are translated into English for the first time: Andrej Longo whose short story collection Ten uncovers the darker side of southern Italy, and Man Asian prize shortlistee Hiromi Kawakami for her unconventional romance, Strange Weather in Tokyo. English-language readers can also discover Hubert Mingarelli for the first time (A Meal In Winter) and Birgit Vanderbeke, whose debut novel The Mussel Feast was first published in 1990 and is viewed a modern German classic.
Readers of Sayed Kashua, a Palestinian Israeli writing in Hebrew, whose title Exposure is on the longlist, might be intrigued to know that he is also the author of Israel’s best-known sitcom, Arab Labour.
The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize celebrates the work of authors and translators equally. Translator Anthea Bell, who won in 2002 for her translation of Austerlitz by W G Sebald, is longlisted for her translation of Julia Franck’s Back To Back. Franck herself made the shortlist in 2010. Margaret Jull Costa, Javier Marías’ translator, has also been shortlisted before. Sometimes, of course, authors translate their own work, and in 2008 Paul Verhaeghen won with his self-translated Omega Minor: this year, Sinan Antoon, who was shortlisted for the International Prize of Arabic Fiction 2013, (the “Arabic Booker”) has translated his own work into English. Ma Jian’s work is translated by his wife, Flora Drew, representing an unusually special bond between author and translator – this is the second time they appear on the shortlist.
This year’s books tackle some challenging themes including war, corruption and totalitarian regimes. Some of the writers have faced oppression in their own lives: Ma Jian’s work has been banned in his own country and he also cannot now return; Andreï Makine, a Siberian Afghan War veteran fled to France from Soviet Russia; while for years anyone who wished to read Hassan Blasim in Arabic could only do so online. Their lives and work are a stark reminder of the power of fiction, still seen by many of the world’s governments as dangerously subversive.
Penguin Random House is the publisher most represented on the list with seven books, with four from Harvill Secker, two from Chatto & Windus and one from Hamish Hamilton. Five independent publishers have made the list including Comma Press, MacLehose Press, Portobello Books, Pushkin Press and Peirene Press. The final publisher securing a place is Yale University Press.
British writer, broadcaster and former stand-up comedian Natalie Haynes, one of the judges, said: “This is a very strong list, reflecting both the enormous diversity of nationalities, themes and subjects which we received. It shows that there has never been more of an appetite for translated fiction in the UK, and from every corner of every populated continent. It ranges from the intellectual to the emotional via the political, and no-one could come away from reading these books without having a greater understanding of a complex world. In the face of so much bland globalisation, it’s both a relief and a delight to see world fiction remains as quirky and individual as ever.”
The £10,000 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is awarded annually to the best work of contemporary fiction in translation. The 2014 Prize celebrates an exceptional work of fiction by a living author which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom in 2013. Uniquely, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize acknowledges both the writer and the translator equally – each receives £5,000 – recognising the importance of the translator in their ability to bridge the gap between languages and cultures. The Prize is funded by Arts Council England, supported by The Independent and Champagne Taittinger, and managed by Booktrust.
Previous winners of the Prize include Milan Kundera in 1991 for Immortality translated by Peter Kussi; WG Sebald and translator, Anthea Bell, in 2002 for Austerlitz; and Per Petterson and translator, Anne Born, in 2006 for Out Stealing Horses. The 2013 winner was The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker translated from the Dutch by David Colmer (Harvill Secker).
The shortlist will be announced on April 8th and the winning author and translator will be announced and awarded their £10,000 prize at a ceremony in central London at the Royal Institute of British Architects on May 22nd.
A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli and translated from the French by Sam Taylor (Portobello Books)
Back to Back by Julia Franck and translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)
Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andreï Makine and translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan (MacLehose Press)
Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon (Pushkin Press)
The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon and translated from the Arabic by the author (Yale University Press)
The Dark Road by Ma Jian and translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (Chatto & Windus)
Exposure by Sayed Kashua and translated from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsberg (Chatto & Windus)
The Infatuations by Javier Marías and translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Hamish Hamilton)
The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim and translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Comma Press)
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke and translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Peirene Press)
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa and translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
The Sorrow of Angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson and translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton (MacLehose Press)
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell (Portobello Books)
Ten by Andrej Longo and translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis (Harvill Secker)
The Irish Times, March 7, 2014
Judge Shaun Whiteside on The Infatuations:
‘A woman is enthralled by a couple she sees in the street every day, and invents a life for them. When the man is murdered, she is drawn into their world and forced to re-examine everything she thinks she knew. A richly allusive murder mystery about love, death and literature.’
Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014: Our long-list reveals a fictional eco-system of staggering diversity
In a week when the Norsemen stormed the British Museum, how fitting – if purely coincidental – that two books long-listed for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize should hail from the most authentically Viking land of all.
Between them, the novels by Icelanders Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir and Jón Kalman Stefánsson – one a quirkily comic road-movie of a tale, the other a snow-blasted highland odyssey – show that fine fiction can adopt a dizzying array of shapes even in a country of just 320,000 people.
This year, the judges for the £10,000 award – divided equally between author and translator, and supported once more by Arts Council England, Booktrust and Champagne Taittinger – had a higher-than-ever mountain to climb: 126 books, a record entry, translated from 30 different languages. Joining me on the ascent are author, broadcaster and Independent columnist Natalie Haynes, ‘Best of Young British’ novelist Nadifa Mohamed, award-winning translator Shaun Whiteside, and artist, writer and academic Alev Adil.
Our long-list of 15 reveals a fictional eco-system of staggering diversity. Three accomplished sets of linked short stories make the cut, by Hassan Blasim (Iraq), Andrej Longo (Italy) and Yoko Ogawa (Italy). Hunting for a thinking person’s murder mystery? Try Javier Marias (Spain). The latest instalment of a volcanic semi-autobiography? Go to Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norway).
A Dickensian blockbuster that follows one fugitive family? Ma Jian (China). A thriller about imposture and paranoia rooted in the unease of minority culture? Sayed Kashua (Israel). From Germany, Birgit Vanderbeke and Julia Franck explore the burden of history; from Japan, Hiromi Kawakami crafts an eerie inter-generational romance; from Iraq, Sinan Antoon looks into the abyss left by tyranny and invasion. French writers Hubert Mingarelli and Andrei Makine find new ways – oblique, lyrical, humane – to address the Nazi and Soviet past.
I warmly recommend each of our chosen books, both for their own singular virtues and the skill and flair of their translators. Odin knows how we will rise to the next peak: the shortlist of six, due to be announced at the London Book Fair on 8 April.
The Independent, March 7, 2014
Uses of Uncertainty
No novel, reflects María Dolz, the narrator of Javier Marías’s The Infatuations, “would ever give houseroom to the infinite number of chances and coincidences that can occur in a single lifetime … It’s quite shameful the way reality imposes no limits on itself.” The world, Marías’s latest novel reminds us, continually exceeds our attempts to account for it through narrative. And whether we find this fact disheartening or encouraging, The Infatuations exemplifies an attitude with which to face it, which is a healthy distrust of the plausible story. Marías gives us, if not houseroom for infinite coincidences, a brilliant meditation on the uncertainty that such distrust entails. His protagonists, faced with situations of life-or-death severity, make of their skepticism a resource: they become essayists in the manner of Montaigne.
The Infatuations is about the aftermath of a senseless and violent murder and the resulting loss of ordinary certainties in life. Dolz opens the novel with news of the death of Miguel Desvern or Deverne (she alternates uncertainly between the names), a man whom she barely knew but who had formed part of her daily routine. She only finds out his name from the newspaper report of his death. Each morning before work, she had seen him and his wife at breakfast at a café, very much in love. The “sight of them together … calmed and contented me before my working day began,” Dolz explains, “as if they provided me with a vision of an orderly, or if you prefer, harmonious world.” Deverne’s apparently unmotivated murder by a homeless man puts an end to a world about which Dolz knew very little but whose abrupt curtailment she experiences as a kind of paradise lost.
With the murder and the rupture of this happy pair Dolz loses a feature of her own life that was reassuring both in the apparent certainty of its recurrence and its lack of demand on her to know anything specific about it. Comfort in modern life, The Infatuations suggests, relies on such thoughtless certainties, on what precisely we don’t need to know about people in order for them to behave in predictable ways (the great sociologist Georg Simmel called this “confidence under complex conditions”). When such certainties are lost, we are apt to become questioners, philosophers—even murder investigators. For Dolz this transformation comes unwillingly: “I lack the detective instinct, it’s just not me.” Her aloofness attracts others and she briefly becomes the confidante of Deverne’s widow, Luisa Alday, and, less briefly, the lover of the dead man’s best friend, Javier Díaz-Varela. Deverne’s murder turns out to be more complicated than first thought, and much of the novel consists of extended dialogues between Dolz and Díaz-Varela on the motivations behind and consequences of this death, and on the relationship between life and fiction (it’s no coincidence that the characters’ first names, compounded, nearly produce the name of their author). The dialogues report on speculation and sometimes are speculation: Dolz, for example, often imagines Díaz-Varela’s thought processes and composes accounts of his former encounters, including those he had with his murdered friend. The layers of prose, each rich and gripping in its own right, are skillfully framed.
There’s a moment in these dialogues when Dolz recounts the nostalgia of Díaz-Varela for the lost decency of hired assassins. Between hit men now, he laments,
There’s no sense of camaraderie, no sense of belonging: if one of them gets caught, tough, let him sort himself out, it was his fault for getting nabbed. He’s expendable, and the organizations accept no responsibility, they’ve taken the necessary measures so that they don’t get tarnished or tainted … And so those who are arrested respond in kind. Nowadays, all anyone cares about is saving his own skin or getting his sentence reduced.
Though it comes in a serious context (an attempt to account for an unaccountable murder), it’s a wry plaint. And not only because the subject matter of organized murder undermines the clichés at hand for lamenting social decay—the disintegration of corporate bonds, the triumph of selfish individualism—but also because it neatly conveys a preoccupation of the novel. To say that hit men aren’t what they used to be is to suggest that the world may be a fallen one—but then it always was. We are never, in fact, falling from former certainties, even when we think we are, because things have never been certain.
And so The Infatuations, whatever else it is, is a novel about the uses to be made of uncertainty. Provoked by the uncertainty surrounding Deverne’s death, Dolz becomes neither a nihilist nor a dogmatist, but adopts the style of an essayist, a speculator on the human condition. It’s a style that avoids certainties and recognizes that life is more complex than any plot. “The truth is never clear,” Dolz comments, “it’s always a tangled mess. Even when you get to the bottom of it. But in real life almost no one needs to find the truth or devote himself to investigating anything, that only happens in puerile novels.” Statements like these are not usually found in murder mysteries: The Infatuations aims to broaden our palates by weaning us from a diet that caters to our craving for certainty.
In place of certainty, we are offered the resources of fiction. The novel suggests that fictions “have the ability to show us what we don’t know and what doesn’t happen,” and this what is like other people’s lives, which we also don’t know, and which don’t happen to us. We can only know other people’s lives in the way we know fictions, and this raises the stakes of fiction. What happens in a fiction matters less, insists Díaz-Varela, than “the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”
The novel’s many literary allusions reinforce its preoccupation with the relationship between fiction and life. For instance, Dolz disagrees with Díaz-Varela’s use of the “possibilities and ideas … communicate[d]” by a Balzac novella, Le Colonel Chabert. Díaz-Varela had quoted a catalog of crimes that a character in the novel, the lawyer Derville, offers as evidence of human depravity. In particular, Derville claims he had “seen women administer lethal drops [gouttes] to a legitimate child born of the marriage bed in order to bring about its death and thus benefit a love-child.” But María objects to Díaz-Varela’s translation of the word “gouttes,” and thus to his use of the story. For her, “‘tastes’ (or perhaps ‘inclinations’)” should be substituted for “drops.” She speculates about what to make of this substitution:
The meaning still wasn’t very clear even in that interpretation, nor was it easy to imagine what exactly Derville meant. To give or instil in a child tastes or inclinations that would bring about his death? Drink or opium or gambling or a tendency to criminal behaviour perhaps? A taste for luxury that he would be unable to give up and that would lead him to commit crimes in order to satisfy that taste? A morbid lust that would expose him to diseases or propel him into rape? A character so weak and fearful that the slightest setback would drive him to suicide? It was obscure and almost enigmatic.
This version, Dolz reflects, might point to an even more perverse and sustained crime than outright murder: more horrifying because more plausible, and because a mother might easily claim she never intended to commit it. A well-meaning mother could raise a monster out of good intentions and excessive compliance.
This quibble about a single word hints at The Infatuations’ picture of human relations, at “the possibilities and ideas” that this novel “communicates to us.” Instead of the direct, intended actions of one person upon another, Marías offers something more “obscure and almost enigmatic.” People indirectly bring others to ruin all the time; equally indirectly, they enliven and restore them. But how are we to tell when and how this happens? And yet it is a difference that makes all the difference. The Infatuations is such a brilliantly disturbing novel because it raises doubts about whether any narrative can explain anything fully enough; and it implicitly enjoins on us closer attention to the high stakes of our everyday uncertainties.
Public Books, February 1, 2014
It is the habit of María Dolz, a prudent young woman who works in a nearby publishing house, to have breakfast every morning before work at a certain café in Madrid. There, she regularly and contentedly observes Miguel and Luisa Desverne, a husband and wife who she comes to think of as the Perfect Couple. Sometime later, she is shocked to learn that the husband has been brutally stabbed on the street near his home.
“’What happened is the least of it.’”
While coming to grips with the sudden death of someone she barely knows, María meets Desverne’s wife and Javier, his best friend. As she becomes entangled with Javier, she gradually discovers that the murder was not random. In this contemplative and literary novel by award-winning Spanish author Marías what happens is of far less importance than how possibilities and events are interpreted by the main characters. More a philosophical essay than a psychological thriller and more emotionally reflective than suspenseful, this is the story of a murder that is, at the same time, just a murder and much more.
Portland Book Review, February 3, 2014
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
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Penguin, February 27, 2014
Las ediciones inglesa y americana de la novela de Javier Marías, Los enamoramientos, finalista del prestigioso National Book Critics Circle Awards, se publicarán en formato de bolsillo los próximos 27 de febrero y 22 de abril respectivamente.
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE ANNOUNCES ITS FINALISTS FOR PUBLISHING YEAR 2013
The National Book Critics Circle today announced its 30 finalists in six categories -autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry- for the best books of 2013. The winners of an additional three prizes were announced as well. The National Book Critics Circle Awards, founded in 1974 at the Algonquin Hotel and considered among the most prestigious in American letters, are the sole prizes bestowed by a jury of working critics and book-review editors. The awards will be presented on March 13 at the New School, in a ceremony that is free and open to the public.
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE FINALISTS, PUBLISHING YEAR 2013:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Knopf)
Alice McDermott, Someone (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Javier Marías, The Infatuations, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Knopf)
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Viking)
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown)
ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE
The National Book Critics Circle was founded in 1974 at New York’s legendary Algonquin Hotel by a group of the most influential critics of the day, and awarded its first set of honors the following year. Comprising nearly 600 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country, the NBCC annually bestows its awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States. It is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the publishing industry. The finalists for the NBCC awards are nominated, evaluated, and selected by the 24-member board of directors, which consists of critics and editors from some of the country’s leading print and online publications, as well as critics whose works appear in these publications.
New York, January 13, 2014
In an effort to get to know our Oxford University Press staff better, we’re featuring interviewing our staff in different offices.
What are you reading right now?
Javier Marías’ new novel The Infatuations. It’s a haunting, beautiful murder mystery. I’ve already gifted several copies. Bedside, I’m enjoying evenings with one of Oxford University Press (OUP)’s own — The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. It’s an adventure story at heart.
Open the book you’re currently reading and turn to page 75. Tell us the title of the book, and the third sentence on that page.
The Infatuations: “All those speaking objects have been left dumb and meaningless, as if a blanket had been thrown over them to silence and soothe them, making them think that night has come, or as if they, too, regretted the loss of their owner and had withdrawn instantaneously, strangely aware that they had become redundant, futile, and were thinking: “What will we do here now?”
Oxford University Press’s Blog, January 11, 2014
2013 a breakout year for unknown writers such as Drndic, Ledgard
Unlike 2012, 2013 was low on releases from heavyweight authors, but this was no bad thing, as it meant there were more surprises for the reader from breakthrough or unknown writers.
Trieste by Daša Drndic was an outstanding debut novel with Sebaldian undertones about the Nazi occupation of northern Italy. Drndic blended fact and fiction and incorporated photos, maps and lists of Jewish deportees to produce a harrowing, affecting and gripping reading experience. Submergence by J M Ledgard flitted between a kidnapped spy in Somalia and a scientist exploring the depths of the ocean; a third strand covered their romance in a snowbound French hotel; powerful prose with lyrical flurries and characters that mattered kept me entranced. Two established writers continued to work wonders: John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth and Javier Marías’s The Infatuations proved that certain old masters are still rich with ideas and the talent to express them.
The National (Abu Dhabi), December 25, 2013
La lista norteamericana por excelencia es la de la revista de libros del The New York Times. O, mejor dicho, listas –así, en plural– porque publica varias. La más influyente es “Los 10 mejores libros de 2013” –cinco títulos de narrativa y cinco de ensayo– en la que destacan tres novelas muy mencionadas en otras clasificaciones de medios estadounidenses y británicos; son, seguramente, los tres libros del año en inglés.
La otra gran lista del periódico neoyorquino es la de “Los 100 libros notables de 2013”, en la que destacan dos títulos traducidos del español: Los enamoramientos, de Javier Marías, y El ruido de las cosas al caer, del colombiano Juan Gabriel Vásquez, ambos editados por Alfaguara. No es un logro menor si tenemos en cuenta que el mercado norteamericano es casi impermeable a las traducciones, que apenas suponen un 3% del total.
JOSÉ LUIS IBÁÑEZ RIDAO
Zoom News, 2 de enero de 2014
Este año, The New York Times confió la selección de cien libros notables del 2013 (50 de ficción y 50 de ensayo) a los editores del Sunday Book Review. Tan solo dos autores, que representan las dos orillas del castellano fueron incluidos en la selección. El español Javier Marías, con Los enamoramientos (The Infatuations. Knopf) y el colombiano Juan Gabriel Vásquez, con El ruido de las cosas al caer (The sound of things falling. Riverhead), Premio Alfaguara 2011.
El País, Blog Papeles perdidos, 1 de enero de 2014
By Javier Marias
Sometimes the mystery is not what leads up to a murder, but what happens after. Javier Marías’s existential thriller about a crazed attack and the shockwaves it sends through the lives of fatally intertwined Madrid citizens couples the grace and patience of Henry James with the delicious tension of a Hitchcock film.
Barnes and Noble Review, December 18, 2013
Globe Books: What we learned from what we read in 2013
My reading life in 2013 continued with more novels that seemed to unravel in my hands. The master of this technique is the Spanish novelist Javier Marías. His backlist will reward new readers, so be prepared to lose a month or two. This immersion is particularly interesting with Marìas, whose novels and short stories interlock and reference one another. The characters reappear, and his chosen style, a swirling and smothering and loquacious stream (thanks to superb translations by Margaret Jull Costa) allows for epic digressions. Make a TV show from, for instance, Marías’s trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, and it might feature a man sitting and smoking remembering another moment he was sitting and reading, remembering another moment he was sat speaking to a mysterious man, remembering another moment: the time he discovered a single drop of blood on a staircase, and then somewhere within these trapdoors of remembrance, Marías finds a way to weave in a profound examination of Franco’s Spain. Maybe Jon Hamm could pull off such a scene.
To read Marías is to surrender expectations: his latest, The Infatuations, is a murder mystery, but the author is too concerned with what might have happened, or what could have happened, too concerned with love, sex, infatuation, to rush into the machinations of a whodunit. His trilogy – I can’t offer anything better than this description – has been called a Le Carré novel as written by Proust. “I had opened myself up too much to evocations,” his narrator confesses halfway through book two, “although without ever becoming bored…” It’s true. For some reason it’s never boring. I will, Marías seems to be saying, give you a long sentence, a multi-clause monster, so that you can disprove everything they say is happening to attention spans these days and enjoy one of the less-discussed formal pleasures of sticking with a sentence and following its contours right to the last stop, right to the end. They unspool and unspool.
The Globe and Mail (Canadá), December 27, 2013
In Javier Marías’s mesmerising The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton), the narrator María’s compulsive daily observation of a model couple in a Madrid cafe morphs from romance to murder mystery and on into metaphysics. The magic of Marías’s writing derives from the fluidly shifting conjectures, qualifications and modifications of his prose, unravelling individual perception into nuanced medications on love, time and death. The result is a magisterial evocation of emotional flux and preoccupation with the ordering containment of art. In a 2013 Guardian interview Marías stated that the novelist’s function was “a way of imparting, recognition of things that you didn’t know you knew”. There is a quality of fantastic normality in his novels as he dredges up the familiar from bizarre, claustrophobic, almost gothic events and obsessions.
The Infatuations by Javier Marías (Hamish Hamilton) is a completely new take on murder. Marías’s insight into the human condition is acute. In language that is intelligent and a joy to read, this novel is about the coalescence of reality and fantasy, obsession, and the lengths people will go to in the state of el enamoramiento: the madness of being in love. The plot is elicited in glimpses, gradually enabling the reader to disentangle truth from lies. I wish I hadn’t read it, then I would still have the pleasure of unknowingness one has when reading it for the first time.
The Guardian, December 28, 2013
Beaucoup de fins lecteurs pensent -à juste titre- que Javier Marías serait un excellent candidat pour le prix Nobel de littérature. Une opinion que confirme Comme les amours, roman qui, dans tous les pays où il a été traduit, a remporté un vif succès critique, et qui paraît aujourd’hui en France.
Si vous n’avez aucun goût pour l’analyse psychique, si les recoins ombreux de l’âme humaine ont peu d’attrait pour vous, vous passerez votre chemin. Mais si ce n’est pas le cas et si vous n’avez jamais ouvert le moindre ouvrage de Javier Marías -l’auteur d‘Un coeur si blanc et de Demain dans la bataille pense à moi (Rivages, 1997 et 1998)-, il serait dommage de rater cette occasion. Une grandiose porte d’entrée dans l’univers subtil, intelligent et raffiné d’un envoûteur hors pair, né à Madrid en 1951, et devenu sans conteste l’un des meilleurs stylistes espagnols.
Au premier abord, rien de spectaculaire. Une simple histoire d’amour accrochée à un fait divers. Une vaste étude sur des thèmes classiques: raison et sentiments, trahison et loyauté, destinée et libre arbitre… Dès les premières pages, la narratrice observe un couple. Dans la vie professionnelle, María Dolz est éditrice. Elle a pour habitude de prendre chaque matin son petit déjeuner dans un café proche de son bureau et d’y fixer son attention sur ce couple inconnu. Miguel Desvern et Luisa Alday sont mari et femme. Un couple régulier, mais qui “rit, parle, plaisante et se stimule” d’une manière qui semble ne laisser aucune place à l’usure des jours.
Est-ce cela qui fascine tant María? Cette habileté qu’ont certains à s’amuser de la vie et à préserver dans leur regard cette lueur confiante et rieuse qu’elle décèle chez Miguel et Luisa? Un jour pourtant, le couple ne vient pas et l’éditrice apprend par la presse que Miguel a été assassiné par un fou au sortir de sa voiture. Même si elle ne lui a jamais parlé, María décide de se rapprocher de Luisa, la veuve inconsolable. Dans son entourage, elle fait bientôt la connaissance de Javier Díaz-Varela, que Luisa lui présente comme “le meilleur ami de Miguel”. Mais tout cela serait trop simple. Lorsque María et Javier deviennent amants, María comprend que les liens qui unissent Luisa à l’ex-meilleur ami de son défunt mari ne sont pas, loin de là, sans ambiguïté. Et tout cela jette soudain un éclairage fondamentalement différent sur le couple et son passé.
L’épaisseur de l’ombre
Que Varela soit un menteur et même peut-être un assassin, le lecteur s’en doute assez vite. Mais qu’importe. Ce qui compte chez Javier Marías, ce n’est jamais l’histoire à la lettre – même si celle-ci est ici si prenante qu’on ne peut s’empêcher de tourner les pages. Non, c’est plutôt les mille possibilités de récits qui sont en germe. Latents. Comme des ramifications silencieuses de l’histoire principale. C’est le cheminement infiniment complexe et troublant de la pensée. Le silence. Les mensonges. Toute cette machinerie lourde que l’on voit se mettre en branle dans les cerveaux des personnages afin que chacun puisse arriver à se mentir à lui-même en toute bonne foi. Que sommes-nous capables de faire et de justifier par amour? De quoi parvenons-nous à nous convaincre? Sur quelles trahisons et quelles impostures sommes-nous prêts à fermer les yeux?
Fermer les yeux. La littérature est là au contraire pour les déssiller. “Elle nous aide à penser ce que l’on n’ose pas penser en temps normal”, dit Marías, de passage à Paris. Après réflexion, il ajoute: “Faulkner s’interrogeait sur le pouvoir de la littérature. Et il disait à peu près ceci: “Ecrire, c’est comme craquer une allumette au milieu de la nuit, en plein milieu d’un bois.” Ce que vous comprenez alors, c’est combien il y a d’obscurité partout. La littérature ne sert pas à mieux voir. Elle sert seulement à mieux mesurer l’épaisseur de l’ombre.”
Javier Marías a refusé le Premio nacional de narrativa (“Prix national du roman”, doté de 20.000 euros) attribué à Comme les amours. “L’Etat venait de suspendre ses aides aux bibliothèques, je trouvais cela déplacé”, dit-il. Espérons, si on le lui proposait un jour, qu’il ne dirait pas non aux jurés de l’Académie Nobel.
Le Monde des Livres, 18 décembre 2013
Le Monde (édition papier), 4 octobre 2013
The holiday newsletter at Third Place Books, Washington
The holiday newsletter at Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
The Infatuations, by Javier Marías
Someone dies unexpectedly and all at once reality shifts for everyone within range of the deceased, whether they knew him or not. María, protagonist and narrator of Javier Marías mesmerizing 14th novel, is in the latter category, familiar with the dead man and his wife only from seeing them most mornings at a café. Her account starts as a meditation on chance, fate, and how so many unknowns make us who we are— philosophical observations drawn from the shock of the killing, which seemed like bad luck or a mistake and which, falling on the victim’s birthday, “doesn’t make any sense, precisely because it seems to.” María gets to know the widow and falls in love with a friend of the couple’s—a man she wouldn’t have met without the death—and her musings extend to thoughts on love, romance, and whether one person can ever really know another. As compelling as are these ideas and the psychological complexity they convey, the novel gains yet greater depth and tension as the existential mysteries segue into those of a murder mystery. The accidental death wasn’t an accident after all, and María plunges into a chilling world of passions so powerful they turn decent people into evildoers. Marías’s sinuous, graceful prose is reminiscent of Saramago’s conversational fluidity, and his language beguiles as surely as does its brilliant story.
Writers’ favorite books of 2013
San Francisco Gate, December 13, 2013
Books Gift Guide Part II: Spuds, spies and sports
Irish Examiner, December 13, 2013
Laura van den Berg’s 6 favorite unconventional mystery novels
The Week, December 8, 2013
Books of the Year
As in years past, my favourite novel of those I read this year is one by Javier Marías, The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton). This time the narrator is a woman, although there is also a character named Javier. As usual, a fiendishly complex little plot triggers wave after wave of achingly beautiful prose whose mood of ecstatic disquiet becomes addicting. Perhaps slightly less bristling than usual, his sentences often begin with a proposition that soon gets modified, and so on till the end, which can be a radical transformation. This peeling-of-the-onion operation has once again been superbly performed by the translator Margaret Jull Costa…
The Times Literary Supplement, November 27, 2013
Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Chatto) is a revelation, brilliantly demonstrating the undemure existence of this widely admired novelist: a louche Irish husband, debt, a poverty-stricken life on sinking barges and council flats lie behind a facade of mild English eccentricity and powerfully original (often very un-English) work. It reads like a Fitzgerald novel.
I was dazzled by Javier Marias’s The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton): nobody else writes so hypnotically of obsession, suspicion and the murky areas of love and crime.
Similar themes characterise Edna O’Brien’s short stories in The Love Object (Faber), each one a masterclass in her quintessential qualities of delicacy and toughness.
Lucy Riall’s Under the Volcano: Revolution in a Sicilian Town (Oxford) tells the story of an 1860 peasant revolt on an English-owned Sicilian property: a classic of microhistory, raising large issues of landlordism, violent history and mutual incomprehension, with distinct Irish echoes.
The poems that meant most to me in 2013 were Seamus Heaney’s, read with a revived intensity after his loss. But of new publications, I was deeply impressed by Martin Dyar’s Maiden Names (Arlen House): funny, astute, marvellously judged, and a genuinely new voice.
[Roy Foster is Carroll professor of Irish history at Hertford College, Oxford]
The Irish Times, November 30, 2013
PW’s Top 10 Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2013
Marra’s pick: The Infatuations by Javier Marías (Knopf)
“Sometimes the book you’ve been looking for, without even knowing it, finds its way into your hands, and for me, this year, that book was The Infatuations. It’s billed as a metaphysical murder mystery—imagine if Proust had a murder instead of a madeleine and you begin to get a sense of the stylistic synthesis on display. Rather than the forward momentum of plot, Marías relies on a downward drop into psychology; instead of hurtling through events, the reader plunges through the thick strata of contradictions, deceptions, and unvarnished need lining the hearts of the novel’s fully realized characters. It’s the best and truest kind of mystery—one of enduring questions rather than delayed answers. But what makes The Infatuations the most personally moving novel of the year for me are its asides, digressions, and tangents, which are so integral you almost get the sense that Marías constructed his suspense story to scaffold his riffs. He ruminates on the loss of a loved one in what are the most unsentimental, clear-eyed, and honest passages on either loss or love I’ve read in some time. The book finds hope, or at least consolation, in the ceaseless mutability of the human psyche. Someone you once couldn’t live without becomes someone you now can’t live with at all, to paraphrase Marías, and the person you were when you were in love becomes a ghost you simply move away from. And while ghosts do populate the novel, its ultimate power comes in letting them dissolve.”
Publishers Weekly, December 6, 2013
– 2013 must have been a very busy year for you. But did you have time to read other 2013 books? Any you especially enjoyed or would recommend?
It’s been an amazing year for fiction, but four I particularly enjoyed are “The Infatuations” by Javier Marias, “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo, “A Marker to Measure Drift” by Alexander Maksik, and “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” by Bob Shacochis.
CS Monitor, December 4 ,2013
100 BEST BOOKS FOR CHISTMAS
The Telegraph, December 7, 2013
THE BEST FICTION OF 2013
The Guardian, December 3, 2013
I LIBRI PIÙ BELLI DEL 2013 SECONDO LA STAMPA ESTERA
Panorama, 5 dicembre 2013
Luisa et Miguel forment un couple parfait. La narratrice, María, les observe tous les matins prendre leur petit déjeuner dans la cafétéria où elle va, elle aussi, prendre un café avant d’aller travailler.
Je l’avais vu de nombreux matins où je l’avais entendu rire et parler, presque chaque fois au cours de ces quelques années, de bonne heure, mais pas tant, car j’arrivais au travail avec un léger retard pour avoir l’occasion de me trouver un instant avec ce couple, pas avec l’homme seul –que l’on ne se méprenne pas– mais avec eux deux, c’étaient eux deux qui me faisaient du bien et me réjouissaient, avant d’entamer la journée.
Oui, mais voilà. Dès le premier chapitre, on apprend que Miguel vient d’être assassiné: il meurt bêtement, un coup après l’autre, encore et encore, sans lui laisser une chance, avec la volonté de le rayer du monde et de l’expulser sans délai de la surface de la terre, là-bas et à ce moment-là.
María les a beaucoup observés. Ils semblent s’entendre parfaitement, et prolonger de quelques minutes leur tête-à-tête avant que lui ne s’éloigne pour son travail. Elle, s’attarde parfois encore un peu après son départ. Un matin, ils ne viennent plus. María, en voyage, ne sait pas le drame qui s’est joué non loin de la cafétéria en son absence. C’est une collègue qui évoque l’accident devant María, qui travaille dans une maison d’édition (portrait très drôle d’écrivains à l’égo démesuré). Le soir, sur Internet, elle découvre l’horreur de la situation: un matin, Miguel Devern a voulu garer sa voiture, lorsqu’un indigent faisant office de voiturier s’est mis à divaguer et injurier le malheureux mari, qui n’était pour rien dans les accusations portées contre lui.
Mais le voiturier s’est emporté et s’est jeté sur lui par-derrière, le poignardant d’une dizaine de coups de couteau mortels.
Commence alors une fausse enquête policière, au cours de laquelle María, témoin indirect du couple, qui la surnommait la Jeune Prudente, va rencontrer, dans la même cafétéria où elle venait avec son mari, cette femme devenue veuve. Une Luisa qui ne se remet pas de ce coup du sort. Fascinée par la tragédie, María va pénétrer le giron de cette famille, et y rencontrer Javier Díaz-Varela, l’ami intime du couple. Javier, devenu le confident de Luisa, l’ami indispensable qui console, et dont María va s’éprendre jusqu’à ce qu’une mystérieuse conversation surprise chez lui fasse basculer radicalement la situation.
Avec beaucoup d’habileté Javier Marias nous parle d’amour et de trahison. Il place son récit sous l’égide de plusieurs grands textes: Le Colonel Chabert de Balzac, l’histoire de ce soldat que tout le monde croyait mort et qui revient, bien vivant, retrouver son épouse remariée; celle de Shakespeare, Macbeth, avec la fameuse tirade du hereafter: He should have died hereafter ou il aurait dû mourir plus tard, comme le dit mystérieusement le meurtrier, ou encore Dumas et ses Trois Mousquetaires.
Javier Marías n’a pas son pareil pour sonder l’âme humaine, notamment dans ses lâchetés et ses mensonges. Ce n’est pas qu’une fausse enquête policière, à la recherche de la vérité, mais aussi un roman superbement mené parce que épousant totalement les pensées les plus intimes de la narratrice, nous guidant pas à pas dans son cheminement. On ne saura jamais définitivement ce qui a provoqué la mort de Miguel Devern, et tant mieux, le lecteur est libre de se faire sa propre opinion. Mais l’essentiel se situe ailleurs.
Peut-on aimer quelqu’un qui a commis un acte répréhensible? L’amour excuse-t-il la trahison? Où partent les amours une fois que l’être cher a disparu?
Si j’ai mis un peu de temps à entrer dans l’histoire, la seconde partie a tout rattrapé et ce roman est désormais mon coup de cœur de la rentrée littéraire en matière d’auteur étranger.
Intelligent, pertinent, avec beaucoup de style, Javier Marías nous livre en effet un splendide récit d’amour et de trahison, qui s’enracine dans la tradition de la littérature européenne.
Le nom de Miguel Desvern ne disparaît pas tout à fait, même si je ne l’ai jamais connu et que je l’ai vu de loin, tous les matins avec plaisir, alors qu’il prenait son petit déjeuner avec sa femme. Comme ne s’en vont pas non plus tout à fait les noms fictifs du Colonel Chabert et de Mme Ferraud, du Comte de la Fère et de Milady de Winter ou dans sa jeunesse Anne de Breuil, à qui on lia les mains derrière le dos et que l’on pendit à un arbre, afin que mystérieusement elle ne meure pas et revienne, belle comme les amours.
Bíblío blog, 6 decembre 2013
L’amour et la mort au cœur d’une histoire orchestrée avec maestria par l’écrivain espagnol Javier Marías. Où il sonde les méandres de l’âme humaine en tenant son lecteur en haleine avec un suspense étonnant.
Nous ne pouvons prétendre être les premiers, ou les préférés, nous sommes tout simplement ce qui est disponible, les laissés-pour-compte, les survivants, ce qui désormais reste, les soldes, et c’est sur des bases si peu nobles que s’érigent les amours les plus grandes et que se fondent les meilleures familles, nous provenons tous de là, de ce produit du hasard et du conformisme, des rejets, des timidités et des échecs d’autrui […].” Tout est là du regard sur nos vies de Javier Marías qui, d’une écriture raffinée, généreuse, enveloppante, livre avec “Comme les amours” une magistrale fable morale sur l’amour et la mort, entités siamoises. Ce, en mêlant suspense et réflexion, à travers les pensées, les intuitions, les interrogations d’une narratrice hors pair.
Avant de se rendre à son travail dans une maison d’édition, María aime prendre son petit-déjeuner dans un établissement modeste du quartier. Elle y observe quotidiennement deux êtres qu’elle admire pour leur complicité rayonnante et l’optimisme qu’ils lui procurent. A son retour de congé, le “couple parfait” a disparu. Elle apprend que le mari, Miguel Desvern, a été sauvagement assassiné par un indigent déséquilibré. Un jour, María ose aborder Luisa, la veuve de ce riche héritier d’une compagnie de production cinématographique. Le temps d’une soirée, elle deviendra son oreille attentive et compatissante. C’est alors qu’elle rencontre Javier Díaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel, dont l’attitude et la présence auprès de Luisa se révèlent des plus ambiguës. Très vite, Javier et María (personnages créés par Javier Marías…) deviennent amants. Malgré elle, María en vient à s’interroger sur l’histoire du couple et les circonstances de la disparition de Miguel. Alors que Javier la cantonne au rôle de partenaire de distraction, elle ne peut toujours réfréner ses espoirs de devenir bien plus.
Selon Javier Marías (“Un cœur si blanc”, “Demain dans la bataille pense à moi”), si le roman peut être rapidement oublié, sa force est d’inoculer possibilités et idées permettant au lecteur de mieux appréhender le réel. Ainsi convoque-t-il Shakespeare, le Balzac du “Colonel Chabert”, le Dumas des “Trois Mousquetaires” pour tisser une toile d’une rare intelligence autour du temps qui superpose en nous “ses fines couches indiscernables” , de la vérité qui est “toujours un embrouillement” , du hasard qui orchestre nos vies, des choix qu’on croit poser en toute liberté, de la place que les morts occupent auprès des vivants, de l’engouement amoureux, seul à même de pouvoir faire barrage à l’indifférence et l’ennui. Brillant de bout en bout.
La Libre Belgique, 21 octobre 2013
Javier Marías, maître de l’ambiguïté
Le titre français de ce dernier roman de Javier Marías, l’un des écrivains espagnols les plus subtils mais aussi l’un des plus énigmatiques de sa génération, n’évoque sans doute pas grand-chose et n’a même qu’un rapport assez superficiel avec la substance véritable du récit. Mais on pourrait en dire de même du titre original, los Enamoramientos, que l’on traduirait plus prosaïquement par “les Engouements amoureux”.
C’est que, comme l’explique l’auteur par la voix d’un de ses deux personnages centraux en prenant l’exemple balzacien du colonel Chabert, l’important dans un roman n’est pas tant l’histoire qu’il raconte et dont on oublie souvent les péripéties et même la fin une fois qu’on l’a terminé, mais ce qu’il inocule dans notre imaginaire de possibilités et de suggestions prêtes à battre librement la campagne. Sur ce thème où ne manquent pas non plus les références shakespeariennes chères à l’auteur d’Un Coeur si blanc ou de Demain dans la bataille, pense à moi, Javier Marías développe une intrigue criminelle où tout se joue dans l’imagination insatisfaite, à la fois distante et sentimentalement engagée, d’une jeune éditrice en quête d’une vérité ambivalente et jamais parfaitement atteinte.
María Dolz, en prenant chaque matin son petit déjeuner dans une cafétéria madrilène proche de son lieu de travail, a été fascinée par l’image de parfait bonheur qu’offrait un couple inconnu, élégant et rieur, partageant les mêmes habitudes aux mêmes heures matinales après avoir conduit les enfants à l’école. Or, apprenant au retour de vacances que le mari a été assassiné dans des circonstances aussi tragiques qu’imprévisibles, elle cherche à en savoir davantage, noue une amitié compassionnelle avec Luisa, la veuve inconsolable de ce “couple parfait”, et, de fil en aiguille, devient la maîtresse du meilleur ami du défunt. Celui-ci ne lui cache en rien sa dévotion pour la femme de son ami qu’il ambitionne un jour d’épouser quand son chagrin sera atténué.
Au gré de circonstances fortuites mais assez bien fondées, surgit néanmoins dans l’esprit de María, la narratrice, le soupçon que son amant a commandité l’assassinat de son ami pour satisfaire ses projets amoureux. Et le lecteur, avec elle, à travers elle dont les hypothèses occupent la plus grande place du récit, serait tout prêt de conclure à une infâme trahison — thème récurrent cher à Marías — si une autre explication ne venait in fine rebattre les cartes d’un jeu où « l’embrouillement des vérités et des mensonges » ne débouchera sur aucune certitude moralement apaisante, l’ambiguïté existentielle demeurant aux yeux de nos auteurs contemporains une échappatoire presque obligée.
Javier Marías n’échappe pas à cette facilité mais son propos est évidemment moins d’élucider une énigme dramatique que de pénétrer le coeur et les raisons de son témoin privilégié, ce qu’il réussit avec une virtuosité stylistique quasi proustienne. Il en résulte une sorte d’envoûtement dont on ne se déprend pas au fil des pages, malgré d’excessifs étirements dont Balzac, si souvent cité, se montrait beaucoup plus économe en utilisant le même pouvoir suggestif dans la triste et courte histoire du colonel Chabert.
Valeurs actuelles, 5 novembre 2013
Par accoutumance, Maria prend chaque jour son petit-déjeuner dans un café, tout proche de la maison d’édition où elle travaille. Ce moment-là, la jeune madrilène ne le manquerait pour rien au monde. Elle y puise un souffle qui l’accompagnera tout au long de sa journée. La réservée et mesurée Maria passe ce temps à observer ou plutôt contempler un homme et une femme qui s’installent non loin d’elle, quotidiennement. Ce couple parfait, comme elle le nomme, la fascine. Leur amour est tellement palpable qu’il irradie jusqu’à elle. Ainsi, chaque matin, Maria prend une bouffée de ce bonheur, par procuration.
Mais voilà que le rituel se brise. Les chaises où le couple avait l’habitude de s’asseoir restent désespérément vides. De longues semaines sans leur présence. Puis, Maria apprend enfin l’origine de cette absence : l’homme, Miguel, s’est fait poignarder le jour de ses cinquante ans par un déséquilibré.
Sa veuve, Louisa, réapparaît enfin. Maria ose l’aborder. Les deux femmes vont alors au domicile de Louisa et s’entretiennent longuement. Durant leur discussion, un homme, Diaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel qui veille désormais sur Louisa fait irruption. Maria tombe amoureuse de lui. S’en suivra une liaison dont elle n’a rien à attendre, ce dernier aimant passionnément Louisa.
La prose de Javier Marias est remarquable et son intrigue à mi-chemin entre le roman policier et le roman psychologique est subtilement élaborée. De réflexions en analyses, d’hypothèses en faits, de digressions en révélations, il promène le lecteur au fil des pages sur d’innombrables chemins. Le récit est sciemment lent puisque l’auteur part en exploration, il prospecte l’âme humaine, la sonde.
Il est évidemment question de la mort, du deuil, mais surtout de l’amour qui lui subsiste ou pas… de l’absence de la personne aimée, de la notion de temps, de l’amité, de la trahison, de la passion, de la reconstruction, de l’oubli, de la mémoire, de la manipulation, du doute, autant de sujets abordés qui assaillent le lecteur de toute part avec une justesse dans les mots et dans le ton.
Judicieusement, Javier Marias propose des points de vue très personnels sur le roman de Balzac Le Colonel Chabert, sur Les Trois mousquetaires de Dumas et sur MacBeth de Shakespeare, illustrant différents aspects de la mort, du crime, du remords, de l’absurdité et de l’égarement de l’esprit.
Un roman épatant où les idées foisonnent, l’ironie plane, la poésie s’invite, le style percute, les sentiments se confondent et les zones d’ombre planent. Une histoire captivante qui nous entraîne dans un enchevêtrement de questionnements sur l’amour et la mort.
Les mots de la fin, 18 octobre 2013
DIE STERBLICH VERLIEBTEN
Fischer Taschen Bibliothek
Fischer Verlag, Oktober 2013
Ask an American why certain international imports, say, soccer and French film, have yet to be fully embraced by the culture and he or she may answer, “Because nothing really happens” in them. Perhaps the same complaint could be leveled at acclaimed Spanish author Javier Marías, who has sold more than seven million books in forty languages world-wide but has yet to find a significant following stateside. Marías is a master of crafting plots that are light on the action and accelerated pacing American readers have come to expect. In his novels, pages upon pages, entire chapters even, are devoted to isolated, apparently stagnant scenes in which characters contemplate and/or discuss from every angle the sometimes minor, often bizarre circumstances in which their author has placed them. Marías’ latest novel, The Infatuations is no exception and it is splendid.
Though born during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who imprisoned Marías’ philosopher father Julián for his opposition to the regime, Marías has mostly refrained from injecting politics into his work, though his nation’s history often casts a shadow. In February, 2013, he told The Guardian, “The idea was that writers, as far as censorship would allow, must try to raise the consciousness of the people about the terrible situation. I thought it was well meant, but had nothing to do with literature. My generation knew that a novel couldn’t end the dictatorship, and so as writers we did as we wanted.” His first novel, Los Dominios del Lobo (The Dominions of the Wolf), published when Marías was twenty years old, was what he calls a “tribute” to mid-twentieth century American cinema. He published several more novels while at the same time establishing himself as a translator of American and English writers before achieving international acclaim with the publication of 1992’s A Heart So White. Known for his sprawling narratives, dark, intellectual humor and, at times, tryingly digressive voice, Marías is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize. The Infatuations, his twelfth novel, is the first to be released in the United States by a major publisher.
The Infatuations is the story of a murder as seen through the eyes of a woman who becomes part of the victim’s life in the aftermath of his death. Marías has a fondness for beginning his books with an act of violence then spending the course of the novel realizing its significance, both to the characters and to the greater metaphysical truths of life. In Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me, a man’s attempt to start an affair with a married woman ends when the woman dies in his arms. In A Heart So White, a new bride shoots herself in the heart. In The Infatuations, a happy husband is stabbed to death by a homeless man he has never met. The murder has great psychological consequences for the narrator, María Dolz, a timid Spanish woman who has been secretly admiring from afar the husband and his elegant wife at the café where she enjoys her breakfast each morning:
“The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him,” writes Marías in the novel’s first line, “which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word.” Such an opening triggers a tantalizing series of questions: Why does the murdered man have two last names? Who is the narrator and what is at stake for her in this gruesome affair? And, of course, how and why did the murder happen?
Rather than using the revelation of the crime to kick off the plot’s sequence of events, or to start answering these questions, Marías immediately decelerates into the first of countless digressions in which he allows his characters to ponder the philosophical minutiae of their circumstances.
His last thought must have been that the person stabbing him was doing so by mistake and for no reason, that is, senselessly, and what’s more, not just once, but over and over, unremittingly, with the intention of erasing him from the world and expelling him from the earth without further delay, right there and then. But why do I say ‘too late,’ I wonder, too late for what? I have no idea, to be honest. It’s just that when someone dies, we always think it’s too late for anything, or indeed everything – certainly too late to go on waiting for him – and we write him off as another casualty.
In the pages that follow, Marías provides what might be considered by American standards as parenthetical, if not completely unnecessary details to a plot device as bold and dynamic as murder: María, the narrator, describes how observing the couple each morning provided her with “a vision of an orderly or, if you prefer, harmonious world;” she goes into extensive detail about the pair’s looks and personalities, her reasons for admiring them and her fantasies of their life together that, before Desvern’s passing, gave her “a feeling of relief that in the real world there could exist what I believed to be a perfect couple;” she recalls the day when the couple failed to appear at the café leaving her with an existentially uncomfortable awareness of “‘how easy it is for a person simply to vanish into thin air.’” Marías spends an entire chapter in the publishing house where María works as she interacts with her pretentious clientele, a scene which touches more on the arrogance and oddness of writers – “you have to be slightly abnormal to sit down and work on something without being told to” – than Desvern’s death.
The crime, set up in the provocative opening line, seems to promise a narrative packed with high drama, offering the relentless twists, turns and confrontations one might expect from a thrilling albeit highly literary whodunit. But as this is a Javier Marías novel, actual events are few and far between. After forty-three pages of contemplation and digression, María finally approaches Luisa in the café, which is only the second “event” of the plot after the murder. And what is the plot? Desvern is murdered (some time before the novel begins), María befriends his wife, meets and becomes lovers with a family friend who has been tasked with caring for the grieving widow, then discovers the apparently random murder may not have been so random after all.
The five main events of the plot – the murder, the meeting between the women, the beginning of the love affair, the moment of discovery and subsequent conversation revealing the truth – are the points that move the story forward, though it may be more accurate to describe them as the ties in the thread that carry the reader through an exploration of ideas. Rather than laying the tracks of a well-ordered plot, the author seems more invested in exploring themes. Thus, what may seem like tangents or superfluous meditations might be better interpreted as the real purpose of the author’s work.
Marías separates the novel into four parts; each part presents a plot event and muses upon one of the book’s themes. In part one, Desvern is murdered and María befriends the wife, which leads to a meditation on death. In part two, the characters explore romantic desire and the nature of existence, including the advantages of death, after María becomes lovers with Javier, the Desvern family friend, and finds out there may be more to the mystery of Desvern’s death. Part three revolves around a conversation between the lovers and takes crime as its theme, while part four shows María’s life after the mystery is solved and ponders truth.
Thus, what makes up the bulk of the novel are the characters’ lengthy meditations and conversations about the circumstances in which they find themselves and the larger metaphysical issues arising from them. These passages lay the philosophical and psychological groundwork from which the readers are invited to engage with the few doses of actual plot.
For example, when María approaches Luisa in the café, more than a month after Desvern’s death, Marías writes, “That was when I decided to go over to her. The children had left in what had been their father’s car, and she was alone.” A more conventional plot structure might require María to go directly to the table where a conversation would begin. Instead, María moves inward, “‘How many small eternities will she experience in which she will struggle to make time move on,’ I thought, ‘if such a thing is possible…You wait for time to pass during the temporary or indefinite absence of the other…as our instinct keeps whispering to us, and to whose voice we say: ‘Be quiet, be quiet, keep silent, I don’t yet want to hear you, I’m still not strong enough, I’m not ready.’”
María introduces herself, the two women bond over having noticed one another in the café then end up in Luisa’s home where, for the next three chapters of the novel, they talk about Luisa’s feelings about the crime. The passages are made up mostly of an extensive monologue in which Luisa reveals her angst –
“The most painful and irremediable thing is that the person has died,” she says, “and the fact that the death is over and done with doesn’t mean that the person didn’t experience it…What came after that moment is beyond our grasp, but, on the other hand, when it took place, we were all still here, in the same dimension, him and us, breathing the same air”
– and María’s thoughts about it –
Perhaps Luisa clung to me that afternoon because with me she could be what she still was, with no need for subterfuge: the inconsolable widow, to use the usual phrase. Obsessed, boring, grief-stricken.
Marías provides tidbits of information readers will need to make sense of the revelation at the novel’s end, but mostly María’s internal monologue and the prolonged dialogue between the women is a philosophical examination of mortality. As is the case throughout the novel, the movement for readers to follow is not the movement from one plot event to the next, but from one thought to the next or one thought cycling back to a previous thought. At times, movement stops altogether in order for the characters to linger to the point of exhaustion on one idea alone. There is even hypothetical dialogue, for instance the imagined conversation in which Desvern asks Javier to take care of his wife should something happen, which lasts eleven pages.
“You shouldn’t confuse us, the living me and the dead me,” Desvern says in María’s imagination. “The former is asking you for something that the latter won’t be able to question or remind you about or else check up on you to see whether or not you have carried out his wishes. What’s so difficult, then, about giving me your word? There’s nothing to prevent you from failing to keep it, it will cost you nothing.” Contemplation is the action here, not only for the characters but also for readers.
Death is the overarching theme, a menace that obsesses each character. It is the unpredictability of death, its instantaneous erasure of the individual from the planet, that haunts María as she imagines beginning “a day like any other with not the faintest idea that someone is going to take your life” and fixates on reports that the murderer killed Desvern while screaming, “You’re going to die today and, by tomorrow, your wife will have forgotten you!”
She also contemplates death vicariously through Luisa: “You cannot fantasize about a dead man, unless you have lost your mind,” María thinks, “and there are those who choose to do that…those who consent to do so while they manage to convince themselves that what happened really happened, the improbable and the impossible, the thing that did not even have a place in the calculation of probabilities by which we live in order to get up each morning without a sinister, leaden cloud urging us to close our eyes again, thinking: ‘What’s the point if we’re all doomed anyway?’”
Some of the book’s more original, and often humorous, reflections on human mortality consider the tiny inconveniences of death and its aftermath: “From the start, though, we know – from the moment they die – that we can no longer count on them, not even for the most petty thing, for a trivial phone call or a banal question (‘Did I leave my car keys there?’ ‘What time did the kids get out of school today?’), that we can count on them for nothing. And nothing means nothing.”
Is Marías suggesting life is ultimately pointless? “You only have to glance around the room of the person who has vanished to comprehend how much was interrupted and left hanging,” he writes, “how much becomes, in that instant, unusable and useless; yes, the novel with the page turned down, which will remain unread, but also the medicines that have suddenly become utterly superfluous.” Perhaps human beings are useful only for the life they bring to other things – to their belongings, to relationships, to other people’s days – and so are useless in and of themselves. “They’re alive one moment and dead the next,” says Luisa, “and in between there is nothing.”
The leitmotif in which all other themes are rooted in the book is certainty. Marías uses the word and words like it – precise, irremediable, definitive, solid, firm, concrete, final, guarantee – repeatedly throughout the novel. The characters may seem obsessed with mortality, love and truth, but really they are all on a search for certainty in life when there is none; or, at least, they seek a return to the illusion of certainty with which they lived before Desvern’s murder.
They suffer because of the uncertainty of life and also the uncertainty of love – whether it will be returned, whether it will last, whether it will be interrupted by death, whether it even exists in the first place. “I could never be certain that my visit would end up with our bodies entangling,” María says of her rendez-vous with Javier. “I both liked and didn’t like that strange uncertainty: on the one hand, it made me think that he enjoyed my company…on the other hand, it infuriated me that he could hold off for so long, that he didn’t feel an urgent need to pounce on me without further ado.” The novel begins with María more or less spying on the couple because of a desire to see the world as “orderly” and “harmonious,” a desire Desvern’s death crushes.
It is particularly challenging to suspend the need for action near the end of the novel when the mystery of the murder is on the verge of being solved. Marías goes into an extensive interpretation of the psychology of the character about to reveal the truth and even repeats some of the ideas he has already covered extensively in the preceding pages.
In the Paris Review, Marías discusses his penchant for taking such detours by describing a scene from his novel Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Two, in which a character is about to slit another character’s throat until the action is interrupted by, “a reflection on the sword: what a sword means, what a sword has meant in history, what it means nowadays and how anachronistic it is, and how, precisely because of this, it is feared maybe even more than a gun because a gun—the possibility of its being drawn—is something that you would expect if you are attacked. There is a long reflection for many, many pages. No one knows what has happened to that sword that has just been drawn. If someone would skip those pages to find out whether the man is going to be beheaded, they are free to do that, but my intention—my wishful thinking—is that all digressions in my books should be interesting enough in themselves to make the reader wait, not just for the sake of waiting, but to say, OK, this writer has interrupted this and I would like to know what happens with the sword, but what he is telling me next instead of what happened with the sword is something that I am interested in, too. I try the reader’s patience on purpose but not gratuitously.”
The Infatuations is packed with dense, obsessive, unanswerable and inconclusive ruminations about life, love and death. In Reading for the Plot, writer Peter Brooks called plot “the internal logic of the discourse of mortality” and that, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, “we seek in narrative fictions…that knowledge of death which is denied to us in our own lives.” There is meaning in death because its finality allows us to craft stories with beginnings and ends, stories forever linked to the endless cycle of life. Though clarity may seem to emerge from those stories, Marías warns, “the truth is never clear, it’s always a tangled mess. Even when you get to the bottom of it.” María’s search for answers in Desvern’s demise mirrors a universal search for certainty and meaning, a futile search but one that gives life its shape.
Moreover, it is these ruminations that distinguish Marías’ work from his American counterparts’ as he offers a rare opportunity to slow down, to invite the mind to labor over intellectually complex and even tormenting ideas, to follow a train of thought or a desire without ever achieving completion or closure. To let nothing happen in the outer world so that the inner world can come fully alive. For this, The Infatuations is a treasure.
LAURA K. WARRELL
Numéro Cinq Magazine, October 9, 2013
En el programa “La Dispute”, también de Radio France Culture, el pasado día 18 de octubre, los críticos Daniel Martin et Natalie Crom, han comentado Comme les amours.
A woman presses her ear to a door. On the other side, her lover and a strange man are talking. She has reason to suspect they’ve committed a murder, and realizes that it’s foolish to eavesdrop. What if she hears something conclusive, proof that her lover has killed someone? She’ll become a witness, responsible for what she knows. She’ll have to hide her knowledge from her lover. If he guesses that she knows, she may become a target. Yet she continues to listen, as any of us would. “The temptation,” she says, “is irresistible, even if we realize that it will do us no good. Especially when the process of knowing has already begun.”
The woman is María Dolz, the narrator of Javier Marías’s sprawling and spectacular new novel, The Infatuations. Marías is wildly successful in Spain, often called Spain’s greatest living writer, and critically venerated throughout Europe, but he remains relatively unknown to U.S. readers. Published in Spain in 2011, The Infatuations is a hefty and patience-requiring book that also seems capable of flying off the shelves. Marías has long been described as a cerebral writer, meaning that his prose showcases his intelligence, but also meaning that it satisfies a desire for sophistication thought to belong particularly to brainy readers. The opposite of cerebral, in this context, might be accessible, as we tend to call writing that aims for simplicity, which is a form of inclusiveness. This book, it turns out, is accessible. It hooks into a kind of desire that is all but ubiquitous. All men by nature desire to know, says Aristotle. To enjoy this book, and to get into trouble because of this book, all you have to be is curious.
This is in no small part because The Infatuations is a murder mystery. Who can resist a good one? We learn on the first page that a man has been stabbed to death. María Dolz happens to know this man. For years, she’s seen him and his wife at the café where they habitually breakfast. She admires their elegance and camaraderie and calls them, privately, the Perfect Couple. When she finds out that the man, Miguel Desvern, has been murdered, she approaches the woman to offer her condolences. Soon she’s invited to the couple’s home, where she meets the lush-lipped, enigmatic Javier Díaz-Varela, who was Desvern’s best friend. She becomes his lover, and their entanglement gradually sheds new light on the murder. The final plot twist begins by seeming so ludicrous as to be insulting and ends by being chillingly, thrillingly persuasive.
The image with which The Infatuations opens—a newspaper photo of Desvern “stabbed several times, with his shirt half off, and about to become a dead man”—is a glinting, unmistakable hook. Satisfying our curiosity about Desvern’s death—finding out how it was that his murderer attacked, how many times he was stabbed and in which parts of his body, how long he took to die—is a thoroughly pleasurable sensation. Of course, that’s the thing about murder mysteries: Unlike murders, they’re pleasurable, and they’re pleasurable because they’re safe. They provoke and then satisfy our desire to come face to face with the worst that could happen. At the same time, they reassure us that the only possible place for such an encounter is in a work of fiction. Close the book, and the danger goes away.
As we’re racing to find out the gory details of the stabbing, we are, of course, in the company of María Dolz, our narrator. It’s she who’s doing the investigating, Googling “Desvern murder” and scanning online newspapers. Dolz is in her late 30s and works at a publishing house in Madrid. She’s an acerbic, even supercilious narrator, prone to severe judgments of others, particularly of their sartorial choices. Good taste is the thing in the world that most impresses her. Whenever she thinks of the photo of the dying Desvern, “with his wounds on display …lying sprawled in the middle of the street in a pool of blood,” she’s disgusted and launches into a rant against people who enjoy consuming images of violence. Dolz takes a scalpel to these “disturbed individuals” fascinated by the tragedies of others and peels back their worldliness to expose their fear. She imagines their self-comforting thoughts: “The person I can see before me isn’t me, it’s someone else. It’s not me because I can see his face and it’s not mine. I can read his name in the papers and it’s not mine either, it’s not the same, not my name.” It’s hard to miss that the fear being exposed is our own.
Being dissected doesn’t feel safe, especially when the blade exposes something we didn’t know about ourselves. Late in the novel, we find Dolz listening to a story of someone’s horrendous misfortune. Her lover, Díaz-Varela, is telling the story, and Dolz, good taste gone to hell, is fascinated by its gruesomeness. But she doesn’t believe the story. Neither do we. For one thing, the suffering of the stricken person is too monstrous to be believed. For another, Díaz-Varela simply isn’t to be trusted. Realizing that Dolz doesn’t believe the story, Díaz-Varela makes no effort to prove its factuality. Instead, he tells her condescendingly, “Don’t worry, that particular [awful tragedy] is, fortunately, very infrequent and very rare. Nothing like that will happen to you… [It] would be too much of a coincidence.” We understand that he’s speaking not to Dolz but to us. What’s astonishing is the effect his words have. Condescending as his tone is, and baseless as his prognostication is (he can’t know, after all, what will or won’t happen to us), we are helplessly relieved by his words. Thank goodness, says the gut, in the split second before consciousness steps in. Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about it happening to me. Instantly, the story of the tragedy seems more plausible. It turns out that our former disbelief didn’t have much to do with a concern for truth. It was merely selfish, self-protective. For a frightening instant, we glimpse the current of denial on which we float toward death.
If this book were only a murder mystery with a hidden agenda—namely, to expose the messy nature of our relationship to the suffering of others—its project would be interesting enough. In fact, the novel’s scope is more diffuse and surprising than that. One of Marías’s hallmarks is a provocative plot, but another is the way in which plot turns out to be only a hanger for the great, luxuriant garment of his digressions. In this book, the action, crucial as it is, accounts for perhaps 10 percent of the page count. Scenes are rare. Interactions between characters, as well as movements of characters through space, exist to provide triggers—occasions for one character or another to launch into a meditation on human experience, or a response to a work of literature (Macbeth, The Three Musketeers), or a moral thought experiment.
While they’re discoursing, all the characters sound the same. It’s hard not to assume that the voice they share—sharp, erudite, capable of thinking in page-long sentences—is that of Marías himself. The tension of the narrative flags when plot falls away, and as we turn the pages, part of us is waiting for Marías to circle back to the action. Another part, though, forgets the action and becomes interested in the digression itself. We begin to wonder about our own thoughts on the topic Marías is exhausting. We want to know. This wanting to know isn’t curiosity, exactly, but a slower-burning interest; we can feed it as fuel to our patience. The real genius of this book is that it will make you shut the book, lean back in your chair, and consider an abstract and formidable question.
For example: the nature of time. Early in the book, Dolz attempts to console Desvern’s grieving widow, Luisa Alday, by reminding her that his suffering was very brief and is now over. Alday refuses to be comforted. “Yes, that’s what most people believe,” she says. “That what has happened should hurt us less than what is happening, or that things are somehow more bearable when they’re over… But that’s like believing that it’s less serious for someone to be dead than dying, which doesn’t really make much sense, does it? The most painful and irremediable thing is that the person has died; and the fact that the death is over and done with doesn’t mean that the person didn’t experience it.”
The metaphysical land mine here is the reminder that the past, like the present, is real. Think about this, and it will explode your notions of the passage of time. Day to day, we take for granted that we move forward. We’re preoccupied by the future, since we’re moving toward it, and we feel, or are told we should feel, the past drop away and recede behind us. But the past is still real, the way someone who’s far away is still real. It’s feasible that our sense of moving forward through time is only an illusion, attributable to the decay of our memories. If we cease to be haunted by our dead, it’s not because they are not real but because we have forgotten them.
Later in the book, Díaz-Varela contests what seems self-evident about our relationship to past events: that we are capable of regretting them. “What seems like a tragic anomaly today will be perceived as an inevitable and even desirable normality, given that it will have happened,” he says. “The force of events is so overwhelming that we all end up more or less accepting our story.” Surely we can all point to something in our past and say: This I have not accepted;this I regret. And yet it’s also true that everything that happens to us becomes part of our sense of ourselves.
Díaz-Varela invents an example, a man whose father was cruelly murdered in the Spanish Civil War. This imaginary man “is a victim of Spanish violence, a tragic orphan; that fact shapes and defines and determines him.” Had he not lost his father to violence, “he would be a different person, and he has no idea who that person would be. He can neither see nor imagine himself, he doesn’t know how he would have turned out, and how he would have got on with that living father, if he would have hated or loved him or felt quite indifferent, and, above all, he cannot imagine himself without that background of grief and rancor that has always accompanied him.” In a sense, we can’t wish that the past hadn’t happened, because if it hadn’t, a stranger would be standing in our shoes.
Díaz-Varela even claims we are incapable, after enough time has gone by, of missing our dead. “We can miss [them] safe in the knowledge that our proclaimed desires will never be granted,” he says, “and that there is no possible return, that [they] can no longer intervene in our existence.” Alday might counter that if missing a dead person feels safe, we are not actually missing them, but failing to confront the reality of their having died. Though her perceptions and Díaz-Varela’s seem opposed, they aren’t really incompatible. Each of them is arguing that the present is an overwhelming, all-consuming state. It’s simply that each of them is experiencing a different present. Alday is freshly bereaved, and it’s the nature of terrible grief that it feels as if it will last forever. Díaz-Varela’s cold peak of logic can only be reached in the absence of urgent emotion.
The title of this book suggests that urgent emotion is at its center—that the novel has something to teach us about what it’s like to be madly in love. In fact, the titular infatuations (“fallings-in-love” would be closer to the Spanish nounenamoramientos, but would make for an awkward title) are difficult to care about. Dolz is in love with Díaz-Varela; Díaz-Varela is in love with Alday. They exhibit warped behavior, as people in love do, but it’s hard to take their risk of pain seriously. Maybe it’s because infatuation is a physical crisis, and Marías does not trouble to locate the reader in an ardent body. Maybe it’s because he rarely allows his characters to experience conflict in scene.
Attempting to diagnose the problem, of course, implies that there is a problem—that the chief role of characters in fiction is to make us take their pain seriously. Marías wouldn’t agree. At one point in this book, Díaz-Varela claims that what actually happens in a novel “is the least of it … What matters are the possibilities and ideas.” Ideas are what Marías loves, what he works to make us take seriously. In a sense, his characters are themselves only digressions—subordinate to the idea at hand, a way of elaborating upon it.
Essayist Phillip Lopate has spoken eloquently of the digression as a formal prose technique. “The chief role of the digression,” he says (speaking of essays, not of fiction), “is to amass all the dimensions of understanding that the [writer] can accumulate by bringing in as many contexts as a problem or insight can sustain without overburdening it.” Marías’s characters serve exactly the same role. Perhaps The Infatuations is a novel that’s on the verge of being a personal essay. If there’s something unsatisfactory about the book, that’s it.
But forget the characters’ love affairs. The point of reading this book is to have a love affair with it, with the rambling, hubristic, magisterial project of it. If we think of prose itself as the surface of a book and of the ideas conveyed as its interior, then this book, like most infatuating things, possesses great surface beauty. Marías’s prose is graceful, rhythmic, and exact. His longtime translator, Margaret Jull Costa, does smart, elegant justice to his sentences. A description by Dolz of Díaz-Varela in mid-peroration perfectly describes how you’ll feel about Marías if this book succeeds in infatuating you. “While he continued to expatiate,” she says, “I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.”
NINA SCHOLOESSER TARANO
The New Inquiry, September 26, 2013
Balzac’s Colonel Chabert serves as the back story for Javier Marías’ profoundly wrenching and philosophically complicated new novel, The Infatuations. In Balzac’s novella, published in 1832, a woman married to a military officer learns that he has been killed in battle. After ten years (because of numerous complications), during which time she has remarried, her first husband reappears, assuming that the passionate love he shared with his wife has remained intact. In Marías’ own novel, Javier Díaz-Varela refers to Balzac’s novel as he explains to Maria Dolz why he cannot marry her, “The worst thing that can happen to anyone, worse than death itself, and the worst thing one can make others do, is to return from the place from which no one returns, to come back to life at the wrong time, when you are no longer expected, when it’s too late and inappropriate, when the living have assumed you are over and done with and have continued or taken up their lives again, leaving no room for you at all.”
The much larger context is that Díaz-Varela is waiting to marry a recently widowed woman, whose husband he is certain will not return from the dead. Thus, María’s love for him cannot be reciprocated, as he patiently waits for Luisa to forget her recently deceased husband. María knew Luisa and her husband (Miguel) as the “perfect couple.” For several years she ate breakfast in the same café where they did every morning, observed their affections for one another without ever speaking a word to them. “The sight of them…calmed me,” she observes. They became her strength, as she began each day. Then one day, she learned from the news that Miguel has been brutally murdered on the street, killed by multiple knife wounds from a deranged, homeless man. When María puts the story together, she realizes that the last time she saw Miguel was the last time Luisa saw him, as they all departed from the café to go their separate ways on that fatal day.
María did not know the names of the couple from the café but learned them after the brutal murder. She continued to return to the place for breakfast, as Luisa eventually did after a brief hiatus, prompting María to approach the other woman and offer her condolences. María tells the widow that without knowing their names, she had though of them as “the perfect couple.” Luisa says that she and her husband had a name for María also: “the prudent young woman.” The conversation continues and Luisa invites María to visit her, which she does. It is there that she meets Javier Díaz-Varela, who is referred to as Miguel’s best friend. Somewhat later, María and Díaz-Varela meet accidentally and begin a rather casual sexual relationship. It’s no more than that because Díaz-Varela confesses that he has been in love with Luisa for years and is waiting for the woman to forget her husband. As he tells her, “Luisa’s present life has been destroyed, but not her future life. Think how much time she has left in which to move forward, she isn’t going to stay trapped in the moment, no one ever is, still less in the very worst moments, from which we always emerge, unless we’re sick in the head and feel justified by and even protected by our comfortable misery.”
There are lengthy discussions about mourning and recovering from the death of a loved one between Díaz-Varela and María, particularly painful because María is so attracted to him (and willing to have a relationship with him until sufficient time has passed for Luisa to forget Miguel, or so Díaz-Varela believes). The novel becomes more complicated when María fantasizes that perhaps Luisa will die one day soon and she’ll be able to marry Díaz-Varela. And then what has already been a dark narrative becomes much darker when María overhears Diaz-Varela speaking to another man about the way the two of them set up Miguel’s murder. Can she still be in love with him? She confesses to feelings of “utter incredulity and basic, unreflecting repugnance.” How can she love a murderer? When she doesn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks, she is both relieved and frustrated by her conflicted love for him. She is bothered by the possibility that her desire for him cancels out what she knows that he has done.
Then—in an absolutely brilliant series of revelations—Díaz-Varela calls her and asks her to come to his apartment, making the situation even more fraught with tension for María because she understands that her murderer/lover has figured out that she overheard the conversation about the murder. Is she going to her own death? If Díaz-Varela has been involved in a man’s death (his best friend’s no less), how easy is it to be involved in a second murder? Will he murder her so he can eventually marry Luisa? Miguel obviously cannot return from the dead as did Balzac’s Colonel Clabert. Will Miguel’s widow want to marry Díaz-Varela? What are María’s obligations to Luisa to prevent the woman from marrying her deceased husband’s murderer? Do strong infatuations cancel our ethical beliefs? At what stage do despicable acts cancel all feelings of love?
The discussions of love in The Infatuations (dazzlingly translated by Margaret Jull Costa) are riveting at the same time that they are horrifying, bordering on the grotesque. Do extreme infatuations destroy one’s moral center? Javier Marías keeps a few tricks up his sleeve for the last third of the novel, surprising both the reader as well as one of his main characters—but which one you will have to discover by reading this emotionally devastating account of crimes of passion. Or maybe they are crimes of infatuation.
No surprise that the novel has been a huge international success.
CHARLES R. LARSON
Counter Pounch, September 27, 2013
Spanish writer Javier Marías’s newest novel, The Infatuations —wonderfully translated by Margaret Jull Costa—is a heady, noir-tinged trip deep inside the consciousness of María Dolz, a book editor who finds herself dragged into the dangerous drama of a couple she is obsessively observes from afar. When the novel begins, María describes how she has come into the habit of watching Miguel and Luisa, “The Perfect Couple,” as she terms them, while she eats breakfast near them in a café. She quickly finds herself dependent on the couple’s presence for her happiness; she needs their stability and the perfection of their distance in order to bear the repetition of her own mundane life. One day, though, Miguel (whose surname alternates between Desvern and Deverne, starting in the very first clause of the novel: “The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time his wife, Luisa, saw him”) is violently and apparently randomly killed, stabbed in the back by a “gorrilla,” a homeless man who helps park cars for tips. Soon after, with the sole source of contentedness in her life stripped away, María decides to speak to Luisa. Thus, she enters into the lives of those who were previously held in the hermetic space of the observed, and slowly learns the secrets behind Miguel’s death.
Marías’s novels are usually narrated by men, if not thinly veiled representations of the author himself. So one of the first things veteran Marías readers may notice about The Infatuations is that its narrator is a woman. In a Marías novel, the narrator is not only a point of view from which “the world” of the text is seen; it is “the world.” While thingshappen to María, the vast majority of the novel “takes place” in her head. She is constantly conjecturing and theorizing about the world around her, taking in experience and transforming it into thought, digression, and invention. These thoughts often take the form of “we” statements, a syntactic mode that dominates many of Marías’ novels. As María tries to understand the world and her place in it, she inevitably extends her interpretations to the actions and motivations of others. It is when the author’s familiar “we” becomes “we women” that the text sometimes produces a certain discomfort—not so much a cringe (the prose remains so smooth, each sentence so well crafted) as a slightly raised eyebrow, as if one is expecting (or hoping for) a misstep. When Marías writes “when a woman is in love and in the early stages of an affair […] she is usually capable of taking an interest in anything the object of her love is interested in or speaks about,” one can’t help but feel a bit uneasy.
But the “we” for most of the novel remains an amorphous grouped subjectivity, shorthand adopted by Marías to note that he will be speaking on experience, abstractly. The narrator of The Infatuations—even though she is a singular person named “María Dolz,” who acts uniquely, and is physically distinguished from the environment around her—ends up appearing as an amalgamated, multiple consciousness. The Infatuations functions not so much as a meta-narrative work—as one that couches stories-within-stories—as a meta-conscious work: it is a novel in which the deepest recesses of the consciousness of individuals are imagined in detail by others. Gaps in conversation are often filled by María’s guesses about what her companion may say next, branching off into entire imagined conversations. Almost an entire chapter is devoted to a conversation that she imagines happening between her lover, Javier Díaz-Varela, and Miguel, at some unknown time before he is murdered. (María’s relationship with Díaz-Varela develops after she meets him at Luisa’s apartment, and she immediately fashions him as a potential usurper of Luisa’s love and suspects that he is behind Miguel’s death). But this chapter, despite its conditional tense, does not appear any less “real” than most of the novel: one must constantly remind himself that what he is reading is an invention. The Infatuations is a novel of minds-within-minds, in which a person’s consciousness is essentially located within others’.
Though this mode of being in the world—one in which conjecture is essential to the individual, and relationships are a kind of probability-informed betting—appears exaggerated in Marías’s fiction, it is perhaps only the awareness of living-as-guesswork that the author pushes past “realistic” levels. It is not that the ways that people act inThe Infatuations is somehow “unrealistic”; rather, it is their awareness of the subtleties, possibilities, and meaning of their action that seems otherworldly. When something like Miguel’s death happens, something that does not “even have a place in the calculation of probabilities by which we live in order to get up each morning without a sinister, leaden cloud urging us to close our eyes again,” one is forced to confront the reality that they do live by approximation, that one determines the course of their lives based on “decisions” that are essentially bets, that human agency does exist but only within a system of play.
It’s hard to pull quotes from The Infatuations. Each of its complex clauses, each of its somehow tight yet sprawling sentences, feed off of what has come before and what will come after, lending the text an incredible expectancy and momentum. One is held in suspense not by the movement of plot points but by the thoughts and theories of the agents involved. The Infatuations seems at times like a collection of aphorisms—produced by María and those around her—bound together into an inexplicably interconnected whole, each formerly atomized thought drawn into a relationship with the myriad thoughts around it, at once multiplying and nullifying its capacity for meaning in itself. Marías’s sentences can occasionally roll on for pages at a time, and discrete ideas are often stretched to a breaking point by unstoppably curious and observant characters.
But beneath all of the cognitive work and theorization, there lurks in The Infatuations a visceral sadness. After the death of her husband, Luisa remarks, “What sense does it make that each person should have to experience more or less the same griefs and make more or less the same discoveries, and so on for eternity?” No matter how powerful our minds are, no matter how keen our ability to intuit, interpret, and prognosticate, there is no end to that process, no stable point at which one must no longer wonder about the world around him. It is only when Marías’s characters—those thinking machines, who relentlessly pursue truth and understanding, searching for predictability above all else—bump up against the unthinkable that they are able to stop imagining, however momentarily.
ZYZZYVA, September 9, 2013
In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, the Spanish novelist Javier Marías objected to the rather well-worn idea of the novel as a vehicle for imparting knowledge. “For me,” he explained, “it is more a way of imparting recognition of things that you didn’t know you knew. You say ‘yes’. It feels true even though it might be uncomfortable.” The plots of his novels, insofar as they can be said to have any real plots at all, often hinge on the revelation of such truths. Someone hears something or learns something or is told something, and the knowledge they’ve acquired sets in motion what one character calls “the incessant beating of my thoughts.”
Rarely is this knowledge welcome. The opening words of Marías’s 1992 novel A Heart So White —“I did not want to know but I have since come to know”—betray a disposition shared by virtually all of his shadowy narrators. In the later Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, a cheating husband away on a business trip in London with this lover learns twenty hours after the fact that his wife has died suddenly and unexpectedly. The thought torments him, and toward the end of the novel he unburdens himself to the narrator (who, as it happens, was with his wife when she died). As he listens, the narrator reflects:
telling a story is tantamount to persuading someone or making oneself clear or making someone see one’s point of view and, that way, everything is capable of being understood, even the most vile of acts … we have to find a place for it in our consciousness and in our memory where the fact that it happened and that we know about it will not prevent us from going on living.
This largely internal process of trying to assimilate an incident or situation propels each of Marías’s novels. He is unique in his focus, not on the external facts of plot (his plots, when summarized, can often sound preposterous), but on the internal action those plots set in motion. As a character in his latest novel, The Infatuations, likes to remind us, it is not the plot of a novel that is important—what happens is so easily forgotten—but rather the “possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.” What happens in a Marías novel is less important than what doesn’t happen—or what happens only in the overburdened minds of his characters. Their looping thoughts and reflections, expressed in Marías’s long sentences with their deferrals and digressions, equivocations and inquiries, constitute the real drama of this preternaturally gifted writer’s urgent fiction.
The narrator of The Infatuations is María Dolz, a disenchanted editor at a publishing house who takes her breakfast at the same café every morning, a habit she shares with a married couple whose outward displays of love and affection have become, for María, a necessary antidote to the monotony of her daily grind. She observes this perfect couple from afar—“the nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company”—and though she doesn’t speak to them or approach them (on a single occasion they exchange nods of familiarity), the life-affirming delight of seeing them has become a necessary part of María’s otherwise tedious day.
As the novel opens, however, the unthinkable has happened: the husband, Miguel Deverne, has been brutally murdered, stabbed to death in broad daylight by a crazed man in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity (noir-like murders and acts of violence abound in Marías’s fiction). María, shocked by this senseless, violent act, follows the story until, inevitably, “the item vanished from the papers completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don’t want to know why something happened, only what happened.”
Months go by before María sees Deverne’s wife, Luisa, again and when she does she offers her condolences and is invited to drop by Luisa’s apartment. The revelation of the widow’s hopeless grieving and unshakeable conviction that she will never recover is a poignant example of what Marías has elsewhere called “narrative horror”: the disruption of the imagined, expected story of one’s life. In the third and final volume of Marías’s opus, Your Face Tomorrow, the narrator reflects: “it’s understandable really that people should hate knowledge and deny what is there before their eyes and prefer to know nothing and to repudiate the facts, that they should avoid the inoculation and the poison and push it away as soon as they see or feel it near . . .”
Luisa, though she obviously cannot deny what has happened, finds the horror that her husband’s death has injected into her life almost impossible to bear:
‘People say: “Concentrate on the good memories and not on the final one, think about how much you loved each other, think about all the wonderful times you enjoyed that others never have.” They mean well, but they don’t understand that all my memories are now soiled by that sad and bloody ending. Each time I recall something good, that final image rises up before me, the image of his cruel, stupid gratuitous death, which could so easily have been avoided. Yes, that’s what I find hardest to bear, the sheer stupidity of it and the lack of someone to blame. And so every good memory grows murky and turns bad. I don’t really have any good memories left. They all seem false to me. They’ve all been contaminated.
At Luisa’s apartment María meets one Javier Díaz-Varela, Deverne’s charming, womanizing best friend who now helps take care of Luisa and her two young children. María embarks on a love affair with Díaz-Varela despite knowing that her infatuation with him is not reciprocated. In fact, she realizes Díaz-Varela is merely waiting for Luisa to move on so that he can take the irreplaceable Deverne’s place. María imagines that something of this sort might have suited Deverne: for his best friend to become a kind of “unhusbandly husband,” to serve as a back-up father figure to the children and offer Luisa the reliability and comfort of a life partner, without any actual consummation of the relationship.
This gentlemen’s agreement is, as far as the reader is concerned, entirely a product of María’s imagination. Like her, we cannot now whether such an agreement or exchange ever took place. But there it is in María’s mind and on the page. It is the seed from which the remainder of the novel—that is, the remaining two hundred and fifty pages—sprouts toward its chilling conclusion. This growth is minutely charted: the rest of the novel is taken up almost entirely with conversations between María and Díaz-Varela—conversations that are more like monologues or lectures, delivered with glacial aplomb by Díaz-Varela while his temporary lover, infatuated, listens and reflects.
In common with all Marías’s narrators, María is an unusually perceptive observer: she seems constantly to be getting at the people she is listening to, reflecting on their word choices, their expressions, and their movements, changing and molding her impression of them. She imagines conversations they may or may not have had, thoughts they may or may not have thought. She’s like a novelist. “I had never thought anyone else’s thoughts before,” Luisa tells María, “it’s not my style, I lack imagination.” María, on the other hand, immerses herself in the minds of others. While listening to Luisa in her apartment she realizes: “I was the one who had spent most time over those borrowed thoughts, albeit incited or infected by her; it’s very risky imagining yourself into someone else’s mind, it’s sometimes hard to leave.”
This clandestine aspect of the narrative give’s the novel an extra layer of fictionality: the reader participates in María’s perception of Luisa, Deverne, and—most importantly—Díaz-Varela, which is to say that the reader participates in the creation of the novel’s characters. Our perception of them, and of their actions, is constantly changed and complicated, sometimes even contradicted. This perception is never resolved, just as our perception of people in real life never is or can be. For María, there is the added issue of Deverne’s death, about which she learns something that contradicts the official account. “Far worse than my grave suspicions and my possibly hasty conjectures was the burden of having two versions of events and not knowing which to believe,” she tells us. The true account does not necessarily efface the false:
You still heard it and, although it might be momentarily refuted by what comes afterwards, which contradicts it and gives the lie to it, its memory endures, as does our own credulity while we were listening, when, not knowing that it would be followed by a denial, we mistook it for the truth. Everything that has been said to us resonates and lingers, if not when we’re awake, then as we drift off to sleep or in our dreams, where the order of things doesn’t matter, and it remains there tossing and turning and pulsating as if it were someone who had been buried alive or perhaps a dead man who reappears because he didn’t actually die, either in Eylau or on the road back or having been hanged from a tree or something else.
The reference to Eylau comes from a novella by Balzac that Díaz-Varela compels María to read, the story of a French officer who is mistakenly thought to have died during a battle only to return many years later to reclaim his old life. Díaz-Varela says to María of this novella: “Fiction has the ability to show us what we don’t know and what doesn’t happen […] it allows us to imagine the feelings of a dead man who finds himself obliged to come back, and shows us why the dead shouldn’t come back.”
María didn’t want to know but has since come to know something that may or may not be true. It doesn’t really matter, in the end, whether it is or isn’t—it has entered María’s consciousness and there it will remain in some form for good, true or false. “Anything anyone tells you becomes absorbed in you,” she says, “becomes part of your consciousness, even if you don’t believe it or know it never happened and that it’s pure invention, like novels and films.”
All of this is, of course, reflected in Marías’s prose, which curls toward and then away from certainties with a snakelike dexterity. His sentences, long and complex, are syntactically suspenseful; their meaning is deferred and complicated by the accumulation of clauses that qualify or contradict their predecessors. For Marías to write a short declarative sentence, one imagines, would be a violation of a style that, as the novelist Edward St. Aubyn wrote in his review of The Infatuations, is an embodiment of the author’s skeptical worldview. Of course, English-language readers are indebted to the great Margaret Jull Costa for her sublime rendering of this worldview. A serial translator of Marías’s fiction, Jull Costa must surely rank first and foremost among contemporary translators. As with W. G. Sebald, one is rarely conscious of reading a translation—such is the uncanny ability of Jull Costa to inhabit and transmit the author’s voice and style.
The Infatuations is on some level a murder mystery, but it is also, less obviously, an inquiry into the tenuousness of narrative and—even less obviously—a complex display of the inherent truthfulness of fiction. It shows us that fiction writing, consciously or not, is something we do out of necessity; we know so little and construct narratives in an attempt to make sense of our surroundings and our peers, all the while knowing that these narratives are, as María argues, full of “blind spots and contradictions and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness, however hard they strive to be exhaustive and diaphanous, because they are incapable of achieving either of those qualities.”
Because fiction is, in this respect, so lifelike, it is the art form most ideally suited to capturing this facet of human existence and experience. Fiction eschews certainty and solidity just as human experience does—despite what we think and imagine and tell ourselves. “Everything becomes attenuated,” María says, “but it’s also true that nothing entirely disappears.” In other words even fiction, despite its being fiction, is not entirely false. Even a lie, if it is told, exists in the “hazy universe of narratives”—a universe in which Marías has created a world all his own. The Infatuations expands thematically and stylistically on the bold fictional project that began with the 1986 novella The Man of Feeling, but despite its continuity Marías continues to surprise and unsettle. Like his sentences, it is a project with no end in sight.
MORTEN HOI JENSEN
Music & Literature, September 3, 2013
‘Everything becomes a narrative and sounds fictitious, even if it’s true,” thinks María Dolz, the central character in superstar Spanish novelist Javier Marías’ “The Infatuations,” his first since completing the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy in 2007.
The opening pages of the novel are taken up with a narrative — a pleasing one — that María tells herself morning after morning, year after year. Before work each day, she sits in a cafe, across the room from “the Perfect Couple.”
“The world is raggedy,” María thinks, but the Perfect Couple’s “brief, modest spectacle” gives her daily hope. She confides, “You could say I wished them the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting from the start …” They arecharacters in a novel, and María has already undercut her well wishes by telling us in Paragraph One that the man was stabbed to death in the street.
How María moves from her friendly feeling and couple crush to imagining the garish street scene becomes the immediate subject of the novel. “The Infatuations” is a murder mystery, but Javier Marías shrugs off the who-did-what-to-whom format soon enough in favor of existential questions.
As in other Marías novels, the stock plot seems like an excuse to set in motion a line of thought. His endlessly twisting and equivocating sentences are the real treat, as María goes deeper into the psychic burden of knowledge and confronts the contingencies that attach to a crime and its exposure.
In Marías’s telling, the very categories of guilt and innocence, thought and action, intent and fulfillment become as mysterious as a bloody body in the street. What is one’s role in the story of one’s life? Narrator? Instigator? Plaything of a master planner? How does everything connect? Are these connections real, or only in our minds?
Death is the supreme question mark, a provocation to the living. From the moment Miguel Desvern, the dead man, leaves his body, his own story is over. He shrinks and fades, becoming a catalyst for others’ stories.
María, who was only an observer while Miguel was alive, visits Luisa (Miguel’s wife), and begins an affair with Javier (Miguel’s friend, who is in love with Luisa). While Miguel is frozen where he fell, the survivors continue on, suffering “the awful power of the present” to crush and falsify the past.
As dodgy motives and suspicions pile up, Marías’s characters turn where the literary always turn: to books. Three works especially accrue meaning through repetition. Javier introduces María to Honoré de Balzac’s “Colonel Chabert,” a novella about a man who is declared dead on the battlefield. When the man, Colonel Chabert, returns, not as a ghost but as a live man, no one is happy. By undoing what is done, he disturbs the universe.
Another response to death, Macbeth’s line, “She should have died hereafter,” when he’s told in Act V that Lady Macbeth is dead, captures a recurring sentiment in “The Infatuations”: that death is always untimely (Marías, by the way, is a Spanish translator of Shakespeare).
Marías’ third literary mascot is Alexandre Dumas, from “The Three Musketeers,” with the line, “A murder, nothing more.”
Marías so effectively honors his source materials that a crime of passion or calculation begins to seem like an act of chance. The instigator who causes “a murder, nothing more” might have won the action in a raffle.
By the end of “The Infatuations,” Marías has branched far from simple questions of cause and consequence. Instead, he traces the crude force of an action once it’s begun and brilliantly dramatizes moral confusion.
Who has clean hands? Who qualifies to judge? What does one death matter, when everyone dies sometime and no one is innocent ever?
Marías’ brainy detection leads us to a standoff, what he calls a “hazy universe of narratives, with their blind spots and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness.”
The Post and Courier, September 15, 2013
One of Spain’s most widely known novelists, Javier Marías, has another international bestseller out in English for U.S. consumption, titled “The Infatuations.”
The story is told by a female editor at a Madrid publishing house, María, who has breakfast every morning at the same café where a couple is always seen. María fixates on their happiness as a sign of hope in relationships. The couple notices her interests, but nothing is said between them and María.
The husband, on his 50th birthday, suddenly is murdered in a stabbing by a crazed man on a Madrid street, an event María learns about belatedly. When the widow resumes visits to the café, María speaks to her to offer condolences. The widow invites María to her house for a visit, revealing that her husband and her thought of her as “the prudent woman.”
While at the widow’s residence, María meets a friend of the couple, Javier. María eventually falls in love with him, despite Javier’s reputation for having multiple girlfriends and knowing Javier is deeply infatuated with the widow, Luisa.
Nothing should be revealed about the plot after this point except that María learns surreptitiously that Javier knows more about the murder than a family friend should.
From there, ambiguity takes over. The truth becomes blurred in María’s mind. The problem tests María and her “prudence.” It’s a fabulous story, but is it well told?
Marías’ unusual narrative style is challenging at first. Characters speak in long, deeply philosophical soliloquies about the nature of death and grief. It is almost a stream of consciousness, with single sentences running for more than a page sometimes. It seems highly unnatural. When the plot does move, however, the dialogue becomes normal with characters speaking directly to the point.
Marías, to his credit, deepens the novel’s appeal by setting up parallels for the philosophical points of death and grieving to Shakespeare, namely “Macbeth,” and to a short novel by Honoré de Balzac. Marías also makes fun, through María’s job, of the pretentious literary and publishing scene in Spain, even though that seems outside the novel’s main plot.
The novel itself succeeds in its treatments of its themes even though some loose ends remain.
The San Antonio Express-News, September 19, 2013
Widely regarded as one of Europe’s top authors and, it can be argued, the best novelist writing in Spanish today, Javier Marías has, in his latest work, written an arresting story of love and crime. The first-person narrator of “The Infatuations” is a young woman smitten with a man and his wife – the “perfect couple,” in her eyes – whom she routinely observes having breakfast at the same cafe she frequents in an upscale district of Madrid. A discreet voyeur, María Dolz develops fervent, if reserved, feelings for Miguel and Luisa even as she, imaginatively, makes up stories about them for her own private consumption. While she is away on vacation, an act of violence interrupts this placid order of things, and the novel turns into a slowly unfolding tale of perception and detection.
Not your typical mystery, “The Infatuations” features one protracted scene after another. Objects are described and events narrated in the utmost detail. Interspersed within these lengthy passages – brilliant, if at times slightly tedious – are sudden flashes of narrative exhilaration. The plot at times appears to come to a standstill, and the novel itself begins to morph into something else that invokes the meditative pauses of essays, as finely nuanced as anything by Montaigne. But then, unexpectedly, an incident will trigger as much excitement as can be had in the tensest of thrillers.
Indeed, María finds herself more than once in the middle of splendidly crafted episodes of Hitchcockian suspense. Dialogue unfolds intermittently. A passionate utterance is followed by long brooding paragraphs in which she, vividly and strangely, recalls the past in all its minutiae and speculates profusely about the future. Only after these memories and conjectures is the next line of dialogue allowed to be heard.
Likewise, she devotes numerous sentences to describing the lips of Javier Díaz-Varela, Miguel’s best friend, but says hardly anything about the rest of his body. In this tale of envy, “Macbeth” is invoked several times, while long citations from “The Three Musketeers” shed light on the act of murder. Oddly, these fragments and digressions, which in a lesser stylist might act as irritants, whet the readers’ appetite, as we eagerly follow María’s measured progress through a few cafes and apartments in Madrid.
Then again, much of the novel happens mainly in María’s mind – or, obsessively, in what she feels is occurring in the minds of others. After Luisa tells her what Miguel must have been thinking at a given moment, she dreams up her own version of Miguel’s thoughts. She also imagines what Miguel must have felt about Luisa on that same occasion, or what he might have told Díaz-Varela about it; or what Díaz-Varela must have thought that she, María, was thinking.
A literary person who works for a publishing house and believes in literature as a form of knowledge, she even mentally writes her own passages for a novella by Balzac so that it can fit her present circumstances. Almost imperceptibly at first, this relentless inner storytelling comes to occupy a substantial portion of the text. If María is Marías’ creature, one has the impression that she too has enough materials to create a novel of her own – a subjective psychological tale that, in fact, lives in the fabric of “The Infatuations” as dramatically as the actual events in the plot.
Following Spain’s long tradition of fiction about fiction from Miguel de Cervantes to Miguel de Unamuno, Marías introduces (as in some of his previous novels) a character named Francisco Rico, whose fictional persona neatly coincides with that of Francisco Rico, a famous scholar of Spanish literature known for a canonical edition of “Don Quixote.” Providing a rare moment of humor, Rico faults Luisa for having in her own library a lesser edition of the book.
But the self-reflexive workings of Cervantes’ work – what Borges called its partial magic – don’t end there. Like Don Quixote, María is fond of telling herself stories, some of which may not be true; like Cervantes’ proto-novel, Marías’ text bravely unfolds in the boundaries between fiction and reality, where truth and fantasy merge or collide. Uncannily, a cardiologist mentioned in passing happens to exist in real life, as does the “odd-sounding” Anglo-American Medical Unit on calle Conde de Aranda, where he works.
These ambiguous regions, where untruths may confuse readers and characters alike, are also propitious for subtle love stories. Yet the state of falling or being in love – the enamoramientos of the novel’s original title, a concept that according to Díaz-Varela exists as a noun only in Spanish and Italian – does not blind María, who learns the circumstances surrounding the murder and resolutely faces the truth.
But if conventional mysteries normally conclude with retribution and atonement, Marías’ storytelling in “The Infatuations” remains a far more ambivalent space, a narrative realm where a story of murder is not necessarily a tale of crime and punishment.
ROBERTO IGNACIO DÍAZ
San Francisco Chronicle, October 11, 2013
A man is cut down in the street by a lunatic. His distraught widow sits in a café, awaiting his best friend. His best friend aspires to take his place as her husband. Translated from Javier Marías’s 2011 Spanish-language novel, “The Infatuations” presents this tangled web of human dealings from the perspective of María, a publisher’s assistant who frequents the same café as the ill-fated Miguel Deverne and Luisa, his widow, and who is slowly drawn into this web.
“The Infatuations” is a profoundly engaging work, although not for the reasons one might think. American press for the book has tended to emphasize the fact that it is nominally a murder mystery. This emphasis is misleading. The plot is so predictable as to be archetypal; one is reminded not of the sharp twists and turns of American or British mystery novels so much as the ritualized forms of Attic tragedy or commedia dell’ arte. In short, there is very little “mystery” to this mystery. Nevertheless, “The Infatuations” is still well worth reading, just as tragedies and commedie are still worth watching—the devil, as always, is in the details.
Marías has not given us a wholly original set of events to ponder; rather, he has given us a reflection on the transience of love and the ultimate insurmountability of death, a rumination of great tranquility reflected in his long, aperiodic sentences, which recall the peacefulness of Camus’s “The Stranger” without that work’s predominant haziness of detail. There are many extended passages on the final quietude of death, none perhaps so clear as an imagined speech that María attributes to the dead Deverne. Speaking of the dead’s indifference toward the activities of the living—specifically his own indifference to the marriage of his best friend and his widow—he says: “You know that everything will carry on without you, that nothing stops because you have disappeared. But that ‘afterwards’ doesn’t concern you.”
There are many such passages, particularly in the first half of the book. In them one finds a Lucretian sensibility of death as final, for the best, and not to be feared. Like Lucretius in “De Rerum Natura,” however, Marías’s persistent dwelling on the theme of mortality to the exclusion of other concerns—including getting the novel’s action off the ground—seems to belie this message; whether this is the intention of the author or rather a flaw is up to the reader. It seems to be his intention, for Marías knows well the ways in which people think, and accordingly the attribution of a flawed rhetoric should be reserved. It must nevertheless be noted that the novel’s constant digressions occasionally flirt with the trite: “There was still the possibility that it wasn’t, according to him, of course (I would never know more than what he told me, and so I would never know anything for sure; yes, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom).” This observation is true, but is so commonplace as to be of questionable value even in a parenthetical statement.
Regardless of any imperfections in execution, “The Infatuations” is a remarkable book, not least in that it accomplishes the very difficult task of holding a reader for half its length before introducing any sort of dramatic conflict. Its ambition of scope is admirable, directly addressing as it does the two most looming themes of human thought, love and death; and yet it still manages to avoid entirely the overwrought tone that almost inevitably plagues such books. Indeed, here perhaps we find the greatest virtue of “The Infatuations”: it brings a peaceful reflection on mortality to our daily lives.
JUDE D. RUSSO
The Harvard Crimson, October 6, 2013
Javier Marías: ce qui se passe après la mort
Javier Marías ne fait partie de ces écrivains prolixes qui publient un livre par an avec la régularité d’un métronome. Plus de trois ans se sont écoulés depuis le dernier volume de sa trilogie, Ton visage demain, dont la publication s’était étalée sur sept années. Mais chacun de ses ouvrages compte, et ce n’est pas sans raison qu’il est considéré comme une figure majeure de la littérature espagnole et européenne, déjà plusieurs fois cité sur la liste des nobélisables.
Fait rare, la narratrice de son dernier ouvrage est une femme. Chaque matin, l’éditrice María Dolz prend son petit déjeuner dans le même café, et chaque matin, elle observe à la dérobée un couple qui irradie de gaité, de complicité et de tendresse. Ce rendez-vous matinal avec des inconnus se met à prendre de plus en plus de place, non pas dans sa vie puisque la “rencontre” ne dure que quelques brefs instants, mais dans sa tête ; le couple représente en effet pour elle comme une promesse de bonheur, comme la confirmation que la félicité à deux, pour rare qu’elle soit, est néanmoins possible. María attend donc avec impatience de les retrouver à la même table, à la même heure, et elle puise dans le spectacle de leurs échanges du réconfort et de la quiétude. Jusqu’au jour où la femme attend son époux pendant vingt minutes, étonnée mais sans crainte ; puis son téléphone sonne et le monde s’écroule. María apprendra plus tard – car jusqu’à cet instant elle ne sait rien de l’identité des deux personnages – que son mari, Miguel Desvern, riche héritier d’une compagnie de production cinématographique, a été sauvagement assassiné par un déséquilibré sur un parking. Bouleversée, elle décide de prendre contact avec sa veuve, dévastée par la tragédie stupide qui a détruit son monde de façon accidentelle, puisqu’à l’évidence, il n’y avait aucune raison particulière que l’homme s’en prenne à Miguel Desvern, et que seul un funeste hasard a voulu que ce soit sur lui que le fou s’acharne avec son couteau. Dans l’entourage de Luisa – l’épouse éplorée – il y a le meilleur ami de Desvern, Javier Díaz-Varela, dont María tombe amoureuse, bien qu’elle se soit rapidement aperçue que les liens de ce dernier avec la jeune veuve sont des plus ambigus. María va progressivement être amenée à envisager différemment le passé du couple idéal et à remettre en cause le rôle du hasard dans la mort de Desvern.
Comme souvent dans l’univers romanesque de Marías, on retrouve les thèmes qui lui sont chers : la fonction du secret, le doute comme moteur narratif, le mariage et la mise en tension de l’amour qui en résulte, le rôle central de la trahison, la tromperie et la lâcheté dans les rapports humains. On retrouve aussi sa phrase ample et complexe – fréquemment rapprochée de celle de Proust – avec sa qualité particulière, à la fois introspective et digressive, qui a pour fonction de sonder les infinies nuances des mouvements de l’âme à la manière d’un sismographe ultra-sensible. Le roman avance par vagues d’hypothèses successives, et chaque étape dévoile un peu davantage les ressorts de l’histoire racontée, tout en jetant de nouvelles ombres sur les personnages et leurs motivations. C’est cela qui, après un début un peu lent, et par moments trop bavard, finit par accrocher le lecteur et le tenir en haleine jusqu’au dénouement final. Dénouement qui toutefois ne lève pas complètement les incertitudes, puisqu’à l’évidence, comme il arrive souvent dans la vie, il faut que le lecteur choisisse entre plusieurs interprétations possibles des événements.
Dans ses romans, Marías dialogue fréquemment avec Shakespeare et certains de ses ouvrages sont comme des hommages à l’immense écrivain. Ici, c’est avec un autre géant de la littérature qu’il instaure le dialogue, puisque Le colonel Chabert de Balzac tient une place de choix dans Comme les amours. La figure du disparu exemplaire que l’on pleure longtemps, mais dont l’absence finit par être si bien comblée que sa réapparition devient terriblement encombrante pour les siens, est ici le fil conducteur du récit. “Les morts ont donc bien tort de revenir”, écrit Balzac, et Marías déploie avec brio tous les plis contenus dans cette affirmation pour en offrir une relecture moderne. “Ce qui se passe dans les romans n’a pas d’importance et on l’oublie une fois qu’ils sont finis. Ce sont les possibilités et les idées qu’ils nous inoculent et nous apportent à travers leurs cas imaginaires qui sont intéressantes, on s’en souvient plus nettement que des événements réels et on en tient compte” dit Díaz-Varela à María au cours de l’une de leurs rencontres. On restera longuement imprégné par les possibilités et les idées que nous a inoculées Marías dans ce roman dense et troublant, qui aborde la mort par son versant sud.
Le Huffington Post/Le Monde, 11 octobre 2013
Reseñas en papel:
Le temps retrouvé selon Javier Marías
Le Figaro Littéraire, 18 septembre 2013
Mentir de bonne foi
Le Monde, 4 octobre 2013
Avec de faiblesse
Transfuge, 13 octobre 2013
Lire, 13 octobre 2013
Chaque matin, assise à une terrasse de café à Madrid, Maria Dolz, une jeune éditrice, regarde avec admiration un couple assis à une table voisine. Miguel Devern est un quinquagénaire élégant. Avec sa femme Luisa, ils forment un couple resplendissant. Ils rient, sourient, murmurent et affichent leur complicité. Leur seule vision réjouit la narratrice pour la journée. Mais, un matin, Marie lit dans les journaux que Miguel Devern a été assassiné, le jour de ses cinquante ans, par un fou errant. Le couple idéal s’effondre alors du paysage fantasmagorique de Maria. Le poison mortel du désespoir s’infiltre dans les veines de Luisa et Maria cherche alors, parfois malgré elle, à découvrir les dessous de cette histoire.
Une plume précise et drôle
Javier Marias, auteur espagnol né en 1951, livre après sa trilogie « Ton visage demain » qui connut le succès entre 2004 et 2010, son nouveau roman, « Comme les amours ». Sa plume précise, perspicace, drôle et spirituelle décrit la relation de Maria, la narratrice, avec Luisa Devern et Javier Diaz-Varela, le meilleur ami de Miguel.
Après la mort de Miguel, le ton du roman change. Maria Dolz tombe dans les griffes du séduisant Javier Diaz Varela. avant de découvrir la face cachée de son amoureux et les liens diaboliques qu’il entretient avec les autres. « Par moments, je pensais ne pas avoir entendu ce que j’avais entendu, ou bien me revenant l’idée fragile qu’il devait y avoir une erreur, un malentendu, voire une explication acceptable », écrit-elle.
Javier Diaz Varela crée une sorte de monologue avec Maria pendant une grande partie du roman. Il parle comme un acteur de théâtre, avec une certaine pédanterie par de grandes joutes verbales en citant Balzac, Dumas et Shakespeare pour illustrer ses théories. Maria est subjuguée par son élocution et par cette bouche voluptueuse d’où sort toute cette littérature. Plus placide et sans grande envergure romanesque, elle continue à vivre sa vie normalement et à travailler dans l’édition alors qu’elle déteste ce milieu. Elle n’est pas la dernière à critiquer ces écrivains autoritaires et orgueilleux, qui imaginent recevoir le prix Nobel et écrivent déjà leur discours de remise du prix à Stockholm. Ce qui n’est pas dénué de drôlerie, sachant que Javier Marias lui-même figure souvent sur la liste des prétendants.
Après avoir tourné avec délectation les pages du livre de Javier Marias, la substance du roman s’infiltre doucement dans les tréfonds de la conscience en laissant retomber petit à petit une particule de vérité.
GAËTANE DE FRAMOND
Les Échos, 1 octobre, 2013
El primer aviso fue hace un par de años. Hacía una gira de promoción de un libro por Alemania, y en Fráncfort (si no me confundo, los escritores somos a veces como viajantes de comercio) me metieron en un hotel “original y supermoderno”. Mi sorpresa fue tan grande como desagradable al descubrir que la habitación, cómoda y amplia, carecía de cuarto de baño propiamente dicho. Sólo había un minúsculo gabinete para los menesteres más prosaicos, a los que un caballero no debe referirse ni tampoco una dama; bien es verdad que ya no quedan apenas caballeros ni damas, ni siquiera en las columnas de opinión de los periódicos. Como desde la infancia tengo por costumbre bañarme por las mañanas, y no ducharme (un baño rápido, no crean, necesito sumergirme entero para darme cuenta de que estoy vivo y despejarme), busqué con aprensión, como loco, una bañera, pero no la había. Sí, al menos, un lavabo en una esquina de la habitación misma, como si hubiéramos vuelto a los cuartos de pensión antigua, sólo que aquel hotel era más bien lujoso y “a la última”. Y luego, en medio de la estancia, muy cerca de la cama, se erigía una especie de cabina telefónica que era una ducha. No sólo quedaba fatal allí plantada, sino que le hacía a uno temer que, de hacer uso de ella, acabaría mojándolo todo: suelo, muebles, sábanas, un desastre. Supuse que habría algún medio de cerrarla herméticamente, pero la mera idea me causaba claustrofobia. ¿Y si conseguía que no se saliese el agua pero luego era incapaz de salir yo mismo de la cabina? Llamé en seguida a recepción y solicité que me cambiaran a otra habitación, con cuarto de baño separado y bañera. Debí haber imaginado la respuesta: “No tenemos ninguna así. Lo moderno es prescindir de esas cosas”. Si no recuerdo mal, a la mañana siguiente “fingí” que me daba mi imprescindible baño en la espantosa cabina telefónica que rozaba la cama, y desde luego, al salir de ella, y pese al cuidado que puse, empapé parte del suelo estupendo.
Cada vez me encuentro con más dificultades para encontrar habitaciones –en hoteles buenos e incluso en alguno buenísimo– que reúnan las condiciones que antes ofrecían casi todos, hasta los regulares. Por un lado está lo del fumar, ya me conocen. Este verano, en España, he debido descartar no pocos por ese motivo, y algún empleado ha tenido la osadía de decirme: “Es que por ley no podemos”. Falso. La ley permite que los hoteles, si así lo deciden, dispongan de cuartos para fumadores. Pero como muchos son serviles con sus talibánicos turistas americanos, alemanes y nórdicos, han resuelto prescindir de ellos. Y claro, es ridículo que un autodenominado hotel de lujo prohíba el lujo de fumar a quien tal vez va a pagar más de 300 euros por noche. Lo de la ausencia de bañera empieza a extenderse. Algunos brindan un jacuzzi circular en medio de la habitación (no en el cuarto de baño, reducido siempre a la mínima expresión), que le roba espacio e indefectiblemente la afea, y con el que uno se tropieza en cuanto se mueve. Ya puestos a suprimir comodidades, también se sacrifica el bidet a menudo. Como ustedes saben, esa pieza es desconocida para los bárbaros del norte: no la hallarán en Alemania, en Gran Bretaña, en Holanda ni en los Estados Unidos. Es más, todos hemos visto películas de este último país en las que los personajes, al encontrarse con uno de esos refinados artilugios en Francia, Italia o España, se llevan las manos a la cabeza, se preguntan como paletos para qué diablos sirve e incluso se escandalizan suponiendo que su único uso posible es obsceno. “Some French perversion”, deducen esos personajes. Cierto que el bidet fue un invento francés, y que, si se quiere, es un lujo, por lo que no tiene sentido que los hoteles de lujo de nuestra área geográfica, más civilizada en lo relativo a la higiene, opten por no ofrecer a sus clientes dicho lujo. Tal vez piensan que los turistas septentrionales podrían abominar de su mera visión y largarse.
Es lo que hice yo este verano al llegar a un hotel “original” y costoso en el que no había nada de lo habitual y proponían, en cambio, una de esas grandes camas comunes, al aire libre, para disfrutarla en plan “chill out” en compañía de otros huéspedes. La verdad, no sé a quién le apetece echarse en un lecho ya ocupado por otros, con un vaso en la mano, y –como puede ocurrir– bajo un aguacero. Cuando me largué de ese hotel y llamé a otro, me disculpé con quien me atendió por hacerle preguntas absurdas (pero ya necesarias en el futuro): a) ¿Hay habitaciones de fumador? b) ¿Hay cuarto de baño fuera de la habitación, o está mezclado con ella? c) En ese cuarto de baño, ¿hay bañera? d) ¿Hay bidet en él? e) ¿Hay espacio para el neceser o ha de dejarlo uno en el suelo? f) En la habitación, ¿hay un jacuzzi que le impida moverse? g) ¿Hay cama privada en ella o es de compartir? h) De hecho, ¿hay cama?
Los hoteleros se quejan de la crisis. Quizá lo primero que tendrían que hacer es volver a ofrecerlo todo, lo normal, lo habitual, además de lo superfluo y las “originalidades”. Lo que solían brindar hasta los de medio pelo. De otra manera, habrá muchos más clientes que seguirán mi ejemplo y se largarán al ver una cabina de ducha encima de la cama.