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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The infatuations by Javier Marias

the infatuations

The infatuations by Javier Marias

Spanish literature

Orginial title – Los enamoramientos

Translator – Margaret Jull Costa

Source – library book

I have read two other Marias before this one ,I reviewed while the women are sleeping a couple of years ago and late last year read a heart so white ,I enjoyed both and have before that i have tried to read the huge your face tomorrow trilogy but never got to it as I never get chance to have the library books out long enough to get to them .But after hearing this mentioned as one of the favourite books of last year by Three percent podcast .I decided with the Independent foreign fiction prize looming in the background I review this before a heart so white .Javier Marias has been writing for forty years he started translating Dracula scripts for his uncle a well-known Spanish film director the infatuations was his latest book in Spanish published in 2011 in there .

The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife , Luisa saw him ,which I ,on the other hand was a preson he had never met , a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word .I didn’t even know his name ,or only when it was too late

The opening lines of the book ,now doesn’t that draw you in?

 

I had been meaning to try this book , since it came out  last year partly due to the great black and white cover ,I’m not a huge one for mentioning covers but this one is a just come and look and read me cover ,anyway back to the book it the story of a women Maria Dolz  who works in publishing ,she sits every morning in a cafe and watches a young couple that also frequent the  same cafe ,she is an imaginative person and dreams about these two then one day she finds out the husband of the couple has died  after seeing a picture of a man who has been stabbed in a newspaper .This draws her into a sort of mystery and what is the wife doing ,when she turns up with some kids and they are fetch by another man .What is happening ? why did he die ,who is the new man ?

“Once the sentence had been  heard ,it was Athos who turned to her and ,as master of ceremonies , said : “Anne de Brueil , countess de la fere , Milady de Winter ,your crimes have weried men on earth and god in heaven .

one of many literary links in the story ,Maria does work in publishing .

I love Marias and will read all his books translated over time ,if there is a reading version of slow cooking he is it the prose he writes isn’t flashy ,the action plot isn’t a hurtling train no this is like a slow cook the senses ,mind is seeped slowly and gently into finding out what had happened to the couple .We discover that what Maria saw and thought she saw isn’t really what she saw .I was reminded of the way Maria gets drawn into this Murder and the web surrounding of the Woody Allen film Manhattan Murder mystery which saw a character played by Diane keaton sees her neighbour maybe kill his wife ,this book remind me of the fumbling into a deeper mystery .I also loved the way he used the character of my lady from the three musketeers as someone to compare the wife too .    We see a lot about life ,death and what drives people. I loved his style of writing ,yet again his books are like a slow drift down the river ,there is no hurrying in his writing it needs to be savoured .

July 2019
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