Imagine, if you will or if you can, W.G. Sebald meets Roberto Bolaño, imagine fiction that crackles with ideas pouring like lava from stories told with grace and language one rarely encounters—a gift, just for you, from someone you’ve never met and likely won’t ever meet, yet someone you can know intimately from the quality of their offering which you receive wrapped in a brilliant, shiny paper tied together with shimmering strings in a Gordian knot which requires only your patient willingness to be dazzled with what’s inside. Imagine Javier Marías.
This one is challenging to describe, the title page synopsis gives only a hint at just how convoluted this title is; convoluted in the best sense of the word, the entertaining sense of the word, the sense that leaves you thinking: Nice, or better yet: N-i-i-i-i-i-c-e. This is a text busy with detail, yet as easy going as a conversation (albeit, a one-sided one) between friends. So here goes:
…the novel opens with the narrator, one Javier Marías, assuring readers that he has never confused fiction with reality, although, he readily admits mixing them together, as we all do, when we relate the facts of an incident or encounter, when we testify at a trial or give an eye-witness account, when we write a biography—in other words, any narrative, even though it be true, is inherently fictive. Okay. We get it. ALL narrative is fictional. He then relates his experiences during a return visit to Oxford—the real inhabitants, whether faculty or resident, he encounters, and their reactions to being included in his earlier novel, All Souls. Some of the characters relish his inclusion of them in his novel, some have reservations, some bear incredible likeness to his earlier portrayals, and some go so far as to recommend who should be cast in his role in any forthcoming movie. The narrator adamantly denies (to the reader) that any of those people are his characters. Where they believe he’s penned a roman à clef, the narrator maintains (to the reader) he’s merely written an entirely fictional novel that may bear some resemblance to circumstances in his earlier life—that none of the people are, in fact, his characters, except…well, maybe. From these interactions, DBoT progresses to real events from the narrator’s life, real people he’s known, real people who seem much like the characters in AS, and real people who seem like the real people encountered earlier in Oxford. Whew!
Still with me? Good, because, in addition to the ongoing roster of characters, then people, come, well more characters or people, some fictive some real, each bearing traces of characters from AS, some actually mentioned in AS, and others who make cameos either here or in Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me or narrate and star in [b:Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico|7258106|Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico (Pearls)|Javier Marías|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31QsQGDqyeL._SL75_.jpg|8311094] or are part of the crew of the Your Face Tomorrow sequence.
Along with this cast of characters/people, Marías presents scenes from his early life (in the manner of Sebald—to include the old photographs, maps, book covers, etc.), revisits life during the Franco era, describes how books and people find their ways to him, his academic laziness, how he gained the throne of the very real island of Redonda, and all this with humor.
I saw myself freed from the specter of being accused of the wide variety of depravities I had been dreading for a week by then, balanism, strangury, satyriasis, nequicia, pyromania, enfiteusis, positivism, erotesis, felo-de-se, or perhaps even lardy-dardiness, though I don’t know if any of those words, which have cropped up here and there in my translations, correspond to vices (I think not) and I’m not about to go and look them al up right now, but their obscene or sinister sonority alone makes them all, without exception, deserve to be tremendous perversions—irreversible degenerations. It would have pained me to be accused of enfiteusis.During a discussion with the screenwriter, Elías Querejeta (who actually did make a film premised on his understanding of AS and of which Marías wanted no part), the narrator says, “After all, this is a novel and I wrote it, and I’m not the sort of writer who leaves everything up to the reader’s intuition,” and he doesn’t leave much up to out intuitions, he tells us everything. He repeatedly refers readers to Shakespeare’s Othello, he uses iteration and variation extensively, and in doing so provides a metafiction to savor and wallow in.
DBoT is not a title easily recommended. It is not a title easily read (with any sort of enjoyment) by readers who require an engrossing story with all the ends nicely tied. Among the friends and reviewers I follow here, there are, perhaps, a dozen or so who I could recommend this one to knowing they’d ‘get it’ and even then, I’d wait for their reactions with both excitement and dread. BUT, for that dozen, I’m almost confident, almost confident, they’d come away from this wanting to read more by the author and pursuing him as doggedly as I do.
Some random quotes for your edification :
the unceasing awareness that the only way to disrupt time is to die and emerge from it.
”Put out the light, and then put out the light,” perhaps that’s why—to make it entirely certain—it has to be said twice, once for the event, once for the telling. And, too, as I said at the beginning, remembering and telling can become not only homage but affront.
And so what, if I hadn’t been born, and so what, if my brother faded away and said goodbye so soon, as if the world’s weak wheel lacked the strength to include him fully in its revolutions and time lacked the time to take in his enthusiasms and affections and grievances, or rushed to rid itself of his incipient will and forced it to cross over to its opposite side, its dark back, transformed into a ghost.
I sometimes think that might be why I often move through what I’ve called in several books “the other side of time, its dark back,” taking the mysterious expression from Shakespeare to give a name to the kind of time that has not existed, the time that awaits us and also the time that does not await us and therefore does not happen, or happens only in a sphere that isn’t temporal, a sphere in which writing, or perhaps only fiction, may—who knows—be found.
it’s hard to resist the chance to perpetuate a legend, it would be mean-spirited to refuse to play along.Good ladies and good gentlemen, if you have a mind to, and if you have a heart to, consider the works of Javier Marías. Read him, and then put out the light, and then put out the light.