Jacqui review the infatuations by Javier Marias

the infatuations

The Infatuations by Javier Marías
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

When someone tells us something, it always seems like a fiction, because we don’t know the story at first hand and can’t be sure it happened, however much we are assured that the story is a true one, not an invention, but real. At any rate, it forms part of the hazy universe of narratives, with their 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. (pg. 310)

When something happens in life, how do we ever know if someone is telling us the truth, that their version of events is accurate? Or do we just have to accept the impossibility of ever knowing anything (or anyone) for sure? These questions are central to The Infatuations, the latest book by Javier Marías.

The novel is narrated by María Dolz, a woman in her late thirties, who works for a publisher based in Madrid. Every day, María has breakfast at the same café where she sees a married couple who also take breakfast together on a daily basis. María can see how much this handsome man and woman enjoy each another’s company, as they talk, laugh and joke ‘as if they had only just met or met for the very first time’. María never speaks to her ‘Perfect Couple’ (as she thinks of them) but simply seeing them together and imagining their lives lifts her mood at the start of each day.

One day, the couple (Miguel and Luisa) are absent from the café; at first María assumes they have gone away on holiday and, deprived her morning fillip, she feels a little bereft at their absence. Later, she learns from a colleague that Miguel has been stabbed repeatedly and murdered by a homeless man in what appears to be a tragic case of mistaken identity. In fact, María had already seen the newspaper report of the murder (coupled with a photograph of a man lying in a pool of blood) without realizing that the victim was the husband from her Perfect Couple.

A few months later, María sees Luisa at the café again, accompanied this time by her two young children. After a while, the children depart for school leaving Luisa alone and María decides to offer the widow her condolences. She soon learns that Miguel and Luisa had also noticed her at the café; indeed they even had their own name for her, the ‘Prudent Young Woman’. Luisa is keen to talk, so she invites María to come to her home that evening where María meets the intriguing Javier Díaz-Varela, one of Miguel’s closest friends. Although María doesn’t see Luisa again for some time, she bumps into Javier purely by chance during a visit to the museum and the two become lovers. As María continues to see Javier, she learns a little more about his relationship with Luisa and uncovers other information which causes her to question Javier’s true motivations and desires…and these discoveries cast a different light on events and circumstances surrounding Miguel’s death.

What Marías does brilliantly in The Infatuations is to use the events surrounding Miguel’s murder to weave an elegant meditation addressing fundamental ideas about truth, chance, justice, love and mortality. There’s a philosophical, meandering, almost hypnotic quality to Marías’s writing. His extended sentences seem to capture a person’s thought process by giving us their initial perceptions or ideas, often followed by qualifications or even an alternative theory. And he softens the boundaries between thoughts and speech, too; once immersed in the middle of an extended passage, it isn’t always easy to tell whether you are listening to a character’s inner reflections or observing their conversation with another. This technique might sound a little confusing, but it isn’t at all; Marías pulls it off with tremendous skill and style, and Margaret Jull Costa’s translation is simply wonderful.

During this meditation, Marías offers us reflections on a number of existential themes. For example, how we cling to the dead, feeling ‘an initial temptation to join them, or at least to carry their weight and not let them go’; how the dead should never come back, however much we would like them to; how an unexpected or a particularly dramatic death can dominate our memories of that person, almost stealing part of their existence from them:

You could say that those who die such a death die more deeply, more completely, or perhaps they die twice over, in reality and in the memory of others, because their memory is forever lost in the glare of that stupid culminating event, is soured and distorted and also perhaps poisoned. (pg. 75)

Marías is particularly insightful when it comes to grief and how the death of a loved one affects those who remain. In this passage, María Dolz observes Luisa’s daughter, Carolina, with her mother in the café. It’s almost as though mother and daughter have swapped roles as Carolina tries to look after Luisa:

She kept one eye on her mother all the time, watching her every gesture and expression, and if she noticed that her mother was becoming too abstracted and sunk in her own thoughts, she would immediately speak to her, make some remark or ask a question or perhaps tell her something, as if to prevent her mother from becoming entirely lost, as if it made her sad to see her mother plunging back into memory. (pg. 41)

And the following passage on grief reflects some of my own experiences following the sudden death of my mother (many years ago now). There’s no finer example of why The Infatuations resonates so deeply with me:

And so, sooner or later, the grieving person is left alone when she has still not finished grieving or when she’s no longer allowed to talk about what remains her only world, because other people find that world of grief unbearable, repellent. She understands that for them sadness has a social expiry date, that no one is capable of contemplating another’s sorrow, that such a spectacle is tolerable only for a brief period, for as long as the shock and pain last and there is still some role for those who are there watching, who then feel necessary, salvatory, useful. But on discovering that nothing changes and that the affected person neither progresses nor emerges from her grief, they feel humiliated and superfluous, they find it almost offensive and stand aside: ‘Aren’t I enough for you? Why can’t you climb out of that pit with me by your side? Why are you still grieving when time has passed and I’ve been here all the while to console and distract you? If you can’t climb out, then sink or disappear’. And the grieving person does just that, she retreats, removes herself, hides. (pg. 64-65)

I loved The Infatuations (its Spanish title is ‘el enamoramiento’ – the state of falling or being in love, or perhaps infatuation). It’s intelligent, thought-provoking and superbly written; one to savour and revisit in the future. I don’t want to say very much more about the novel’s plot or Miguel’s death, but Marías sustains an air of mystery and ambiguity through to the finish leaving María Dolz to contemplate: ‘the truth is never clear, it’s always a tangled mess.’ (pg 326)

The Infatuations is published in the UK by Penguin Books. Page numbers refer to the paperback edition. Source: personal copy.

My review is here 

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IRÈNE by Pierre Lemaitre

Irene Pierre Lemaitre

IRÈNE by Pierre Lemaitre

French crime Novel

Original title –  Travail soigné

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – from translator

“There is a blessed necessity by which the interest of men is always driving them to the right; and, again, making all crime mean and ugly”
Ralph waldo Emerson from Quote dictionary 

Well I was sent Alex last year and was just on the Verge of reading it when I heard mention it was the second book about commandant Verhoeven .So I thought I’d wait as I had seen on franks website he was doing this the first book in the series .Pierre Lemaitre was born in Paris and had taught literature for many year ,before becoming a novelist .He has described his own work as a permanent “exercise admiration of literature” .He has so far written five books in the Verhoeven series and three stand alone novels one of which won the Prix Goncourt the most respected prize in french lit .

Hardly had he taken three paces into the room than he found himself faced with a scene he could not imagined even in his worst nightmares : severed fingers ,torrents of clotted blood , the stench of excrement and gutted entrails .Instinctively , he was reminded of Goya’s painting ” Satan devouring his son ”

The first crime scene set the tone for the murders .

IRÈNE is the name of commandant Verhoeven’s wife for note , he is happily married and expecting their first child .The title is although t different to the French title which is craftmanship ,but it keeps it in line with the first English translation Alex using similar front cover design .Verhoeven is called into a investigate a series of murders ,Brutal and violent  in their acts , but as they continue the murders appear to be copying famous murders in Novels  from Brett Easton Ellis ,James Ellory  books ,then maybe is the murderer also killing people in other countries ? and in the meantime  the murderer is called by the Press “the Novelist ” .This leads to a cat and mouse came between the commandant and the Novelist that will leave both will suffer as they try to avoid capture and capture drawing them closer and closer to the end  and both leave scared .

Finding IRÈNE hale and healthy ,lying on the sofa watching television , her hands resting on her belly , a broad smile on her lips .Camille realised that since morning his mind has been swirling with images of dismembered women .

His wife is expecting their first child .

Irene is a crime novel that pays Homage to the greats of world crime fiction in the murders that are recreated in the book we move from the murder from American Psycho ,then The black dahlia and Laidlaw ,we see Lemaitre’s  obvious  love of crime fiction in these crimes and how he uses them . But also how it will shape  Verhoeven we see him changed from the beginning of the book  to the end and I expect what happen here makes him a much more interesting character as the series move on in the rest of the series .This isn’t the first crime book that has used a killer that copies crimes there is a book by Jeffrey Deaver that was made into the film The bone collector which feature recreating Victorian crimes from an old crime book .I felt this book better caught the killer in the bone collector it was a little obvious who it was here we see the investigation unfold .

Have you read this book or Alex ?

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