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The Infatuations - Javier Marías, Margaret Jull Costa
You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting right from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no novel or film. … They were the brief, modest spectacle that lifted my mood before I went to work at the publishing house to wrestle with my megalomaniac boss and his horrible authors.

So is the sentiment expressed by the narrator. These real people she doesn’t know have captured her heart and imagination, like fictional characters, so much easier to take than those who make their livings in publishing. Nicely played, JM, premising the real on the fictive to distance the real. Nice indeed.

I should know better than to rush out and read something brand new, in this case, before it’s even published in this country. A couple of us jumped through a hoop, more of an inconvenience, to review this before most of you even get a chance to see it. Good for some of us, perhaps bad for you, definitely not the best thing I could do for myself—even at the time I wrote my profile I stated “rarely, if ever, do I read a title as it's published” and for good reason. I like having books hanging around, watching me and making me feel guilty, badgering me with, “Now?” It gives me pause, opportunity for the book and I to acclimate and, eventually, arrive at mutually determined, “Now.”

So I leapt in. Reading…reading…uh, okay…reading, wondering, reading. Something seemed off: was it the voice of the female protagonist, as my first inclination suggested? Was it that she sounded so much like Marías himself? Hmm. Not good. But, I am liking this. It keeps me going. I like what the story is about, and I like what the book is about. (I’ll return to that) In my haste to get going on the new Marías, I’d forgotten the characteristic authorial voice, or rather hadn’t forgotten it. The familiar digressive wanderings were present in spades, constantly wandering, speculating, making suggestions to me.

It wasn’t until reaching the final section of the novel that the voices, for me, congealed. And it wasn’t that the narrator became credible as a woman. Or that she became credible as Woman. Rather, she became credible as human—as real—that place where fiction and my perception/reception of it matters. Part voice, part character. Part authorial and the ever-appreciated translator (I want to know Margaret Jull Costa; I want to talk to her for hours) and part making sense of what’s provided—the text. What had been disparate, coalesced. I’d had my doubts, and was proven wrong—like characters in the story—who had their own certainties, until they no longer had them. Seeds had been planted.

This is a mystery, of sorts. The blurb prefers ‘existential mystery’ and I can live with that as well. But, it also much more. It’s about the mysterious: Love and Death, Memory, Guilt and Complicity, Murder (“a murder, nothing more”). Like so many authors I’ve come to love reading and look forward to, their books are as much about writing and the story-telling process (I said I’d get back to what the book was about) as they are the story. Where other writers use metafiction, Marías gently tugs at its hemline or shirtsleeves. It’s about allusion and its difference from intertextuality . It’s about Balzac’s Colonel Chabert (in a big way) and Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Dumas’ The Three Muskateers and Marías’ Bad Nature and Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, and probably a great deal more of what he’s written to date. It’s also about the author making fun of his profession and professional aspirations and affectations. Good stuff.

Some quotes, because I like quotes:

On the fourteenth day, he phoned my mobile when I was in a meeting with Eugenie and a semi-young author recommended to us by Garay Fontina as a reward for the adulation bestowed on him by the former in his blog and in a specialized literary review of which he was editor, ‘specialized’ meaning pretentious and marginal.
On fiction/fact/narrative:
His uncertainty did not last long and he soon regained his composure. Having scanned his memory and found no very clear evidence there, he must have thought that, basically, regardless of what I knew or didn’t know, I was entirely dependent on him now, as one always is on the person doing the telling, for he is the one who decides where to begin and where to end, what to reveal and suggest and keep silent about, when to tell the truth and when to lie or whether to combine the two so that neither is recognizable, or whether to deceive with the truth, as I had initially suspected he was trying to do with me, no, it’s not that difficult, you just have to present your story in such a way that it seems unbelievable or so hard to believe that your listener ends up rejecting it. Unlikely truths are useful and life is full of them, far more than the very worst of novels, no novel would ever dare give houseroom to the infinite number of chances and coincidences that can occur in a single lifetime, let alone all those that have already occurred and continue to occur. It’s quite shameful the way reality imposes no limits on itself.
And further:
And I could not help considering from a hundred different angles (or perhaps it was only ten angles repeated over and over) what Díaz-Verela had told me, his two versions, if they were two versions, and pondering details that had remained unclear in both, for there is no story, whether real or invented, without blind spots or contradictions or obscurities or mistakes, and in that respect—that of the darkness that surrounds and encircles any narrative—it didn’t really matter which was which.
When you don’t know what to believe, 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 your hands of the truth or of the whole tangled mess—which comes to the same thing. The truth is never clear, 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.
How easy it is to introduce doubts into someone else’s mind.

Somewhere between 4 and 5 stars, rounded up because, whatever else this novel has accomplished, it demands to be reread.