martes, 5 de abril de 2011

Todas las almas

Todas las almas (Debolsillo, 2009)
by Javier Marías
Spain, 1989

Having now been wowed by two Javier Marías novels in a row, presently waiting for another title of his to arrive in the mail, and ever more eagerly looking forward to a three month long Tu rostro mañana [Your Face Tomorrow] group read with Frances and others this summer, I hope you, my longsuffering public, are prepared for the steady diet of Marías and Proust posts that I have in store for you here this year.  If not, don't slam the door on your way out!  Todas las almas [All Souls], like the achingly beautiful Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí [Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me] that would follow it five years later, begins with the sort of emotional bombshell of an intro which Marías seems partial to and which a lesser writer just couldn't pull off: "Dos de los tres han muerto desde que me fui de Oxford, y eso me hace pensar, supersticiosamente, que quizá esperaron a que yo llegara y consumiera mi tiempo allí para darme ocasión de conocerlos y para que ahora pueda hablar de ellos.  Puede, por tanto, que --siempre supersticiosamente-- esté obligado a hablar de ellos" (17) ["Of the three, two have died since I left Oxford and the superstitious thought occurs to me that they were perhaps just waiting for me to arrive and live out my time there in order to give me the chance to know them and, now, to speak about them.  In other words--and this is equally superstitious--I may be under an obligation to speak about them"] (3, as translated by Margaret Jull Costa).  However, not only does the rest of the novel measure up to the challenge presented by this "obligation"  mentioned at the beginning but it even exceeds expectations with the unnamed Spanish narrator's elegiac account of his two turbulent years as a foreign don at Oxford--a span of time in which the weight of long-repressed secrets and the trauma of memory among his small circle of friends and acquaintances will make the character worry that he's more connected to the world of the dead than the world of the living.  While this summary is bound to make the novel sound like more of a downer than it actually is, suffice it to say that All Souls is often quite humorous in its depiction of Oxford life and always graced by that wry observational style of Marías' that makes him seem like a distant descendent of Proust or something.  Maybe not as "deep" or as wrenching as Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me but way more than arresting and involving enough to have me lusting after the remainder of Marías' back catalogue.  All of it, that is.  (http://www.debolsillo.com/)


I read Marías in the handsome Spanish edition pictured up top.  An English translation by Margaret Jull Costa was published by New Directions in 2000 in a slightly less garish cover than usual for that publishing house.

15 comentarios:

  1. Marías's Spanish editions ARE handsome, I agree. I was admiring them at the bookstore just the other day, and also perusing Tu rostro mañana. Really want to read in Spanish & so don't think I'll be up to it by this summer. But will definitely look forward to yours and Frances's thoughts.

    Re: Todas las almas, that is quite an opening! And any comparison to Proust is bound to win me over. :-)

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  2. Hey, I've read this one.

    Did it make you want to visit Oxford just to go book shopping? I read the novel back when I spent a little too much time in used book stores, and the pull was palpable.

    Eager to hear what you think about the "sequel". Maybe I'll read it, too.

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  3. There I was, drinking hot tea, when I read, "don't slam the door on your way out," and alas, I almost burned myself laughing. Oh and this: "this summary is bound to make the novel sound like more of a downer than it actually is..." And your comparison with Proust. makes one wonder: do the dead eat cookies? maybe those meringues, being sort of ghostly (not mention, ghastly)

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  4. *Emily: Marías seems to like to begin his works with a big shiny diamond of an opening line and then to double back to the intro again and again in the course of the novel to polish the rock and magisterially examine it from different perspectives. The craftsmanship's very impressive. While I understand your reluctance to take on the über-long Tu rostro mañana in Spanish this summer, I think you'll find no shortage of shorter Marías temptations in the bookstore if you stick to those lovely covers in the new Debolsillo line and avoid those seriously ugly New Directions ones!

    *Amateur Reader: That "anti-novel" Dark Back of Time is near the very top of my Marías list once I get done with the YFT trilogy and maybe A Heart So White. Sounds like an interesting sequel, no? Glad you bought up the matter of the used/antiquarian bookstores in this novel since that was one of the things I wanted to mention but couldn't find room for in my post (I mean, not that I needed any additional reasons to want to visit Oxford someday, but that definitely provided some extra incentive). I'm curious, though, whether you read this one just for "fun" or whether the Gawsworth/documentary photos in fiction angle spurred you on as part of your interest in Sebaldiana. Care to comment on that?

    *Jill: "Do the dead eat cookies?" might be more a Henry James than a Javier Marías question, but I'm glad you didn't scald yourself over that one "mean" line that was sort of the pretext for my post! In all seriousness, though, Marías' concern with the dead here is at least partly related to his narrator's loss of two friends to the great beyond and to how we still are connected with friends who have passed away even after they've stopped living. It's more philosophical than gloomy in other words.

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  5. I haven't heard of any of Marías' novels that sound bad but I'm quite in the mood to start with Mañana en la batalla.
    I have been to Cambridge several times but not to Oxford. Any reason is good to visit England.

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  6. Serisouly, how long did it take you to craft that first sentence?! Damn impressive. I read it several times with increasing admiration and enjoyment. No joke. I'm a sucker for openings and hereby crown you the new master of The First Sentence, which formerly belonged to ivebeenreadinglately. I promise, this will be the last time I enthuse about syntax and will revisit your blog post later today to read all your subsequent sentences! K

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  7. *Caroline: I think Corazón tan blanco and Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí used to be thought of as Marías' best until Your Face Tomorrow came out and complicated the rankings a bit, but he has a lot of works that sound fascinating to me all of a sudden, that's for sure. And even though I'm much more interested in British music than British literature, I'll definitely heed your advice about the "reasons" required for visiting there. Cheers!

    *Kevin: Ha ha, your syntax-fancying ways are always appreciated here, no worries! In the current example, though, I have to confess that that unduly wordy openening line of mine was just a series of body blows to distract the (imagined) reader from the uppercut to be delivered with the second line. In other words, just messing around with a little friendly sparring as usual... :D

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  8. I'm not a great fan of Marías, I admit. The thing I remember about this book, though, is that at one point he describes waiting on Didcot station. As someone who has many times stood waiting on Didcot station, it seemed strange to me a Spanish writer should be describing a direct experience of mine; and I felt I'd have liked to have explained to him a bit more about Didcot, since it's a place I've known well all my life.

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  9. I'm glad you highlighted the humor. I have certain favorite funny scenes here (the High Table, for one). The playful sequel, Dark Back of Time, is just as exquisite, if not more so. Its opening is probably my favorite of his.

    Looks like you just turned into a Marias completist. Which is kind of great. :p

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  10. *Obooki: I can't think of that having happened to me with a book before, but it must be curious to say the least to see someplace mentioned by a foreign writer that you evidently know so well. On an unrelated note, I see that you've read several other Spanish authors that I haven't but who are on my TBR--so maybe we can agree on a non-Marías novelist from Spain one of these days soon. Cheers!

    *Rise: The High Table and Oxford disco scenes were funny indeed, but I really enjoyed that meditation on the single man's relationship with his trash. Unexpected but perfect! Also glad to hear that you think so highly of Dark Back of Time. Looking forward to that one. Cheers!

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  11. This is the only Marias I've read.

    I missed the Proust connection, I should have another look at it now that I'm in Search of Lost Time again. Something lost in translation maybe? I can't read Spanish.

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  12. *Bookaroundthecorner: The Proust similarity's more apparent in Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, but I'm basically just thinking of Marías' tendency to slow down the pace and just observe a scene with extreme detail for pages at a time (like in the sequence in All Souls where he talks about the bachelor's relationship to his trash). The translation thing's possible, too, though: I notice that sometimes English translators prefer to break up longer sentences translated from Spanish or French rather than letting them "run on" like they do in the original.

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  13. I really need to read Marías one of these days. Would you say "Mañana en la Batalla" is a good start?

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  14. *Stefania: Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí is a wonderful place to start with Marías--such lovely writing throughout and very soulful as well. Cheers!

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  15. I really enjoyed your review, Richard! Thanks for altering me to this - I'll add a link to my recent post. Marias is just so good when it openings, isn't he? The first paragraph of A Heart So White is another killer, possibly the best opening I've come across in my recent reading. I like how you've picked up on the elegiac tone. It's rare to find a writer who can combine the melancholy with the humorous to such great effect.

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