miércoles, 10 de abril de 2013

Los enamoramientos

Los enamoramientos (Alfaguara, 2011)
by Javier Marías
Spain, 2011

La última vez que vi a Miguel Desvern o Deverne fue también la última que lo vio su mujer, Luisa, lo cual no dejó de ser extraño y quizá injusto, ya que ella era eso, su mujer, y yo era en cambio una desconocida y jamás había cruzado con él una palabra.  Ni siquiera sabía su nombre, lo supe solo cuando ya era tarde, cuando apareció su foto en el periódico, apuñalado y medio descamisado y a punto de convertirse en un muerto, si es que no lo era ya para su propria conciencia ausente que nunca volvió a presentarse: lo ultimo de lo que se debío de dar cuenta fue de que lo acuchillaban por confusion y sin causa, es decir imbécilmente, y además una y otra vez, sin salvación, no una sola, con voluntad de suprimirlo del mundo y echarlo sin dilación de la tierra, allí y entonces.  Tarde para qué, me pregunto.  La verdad es que lo ignoro.

[The last time that I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife Luisa saw him, which didn't stop being strange and perhaps unjust since she was just that, his wife, and I on the other hand was a stranger and had never exchanged a word with him.  I hadn't even known his name, I only learned it when it was already late, when his photo appeared in the newspaper, stabbed and with his shirt half ripped off and on the verge of becoming a dead man, if, that is, he wasn't one already in terms of his own absent consciousness that would never again return: the last thing he must have realized is that they'd stabbed him to death by mistake and without any reason, that is to say idiotically, and what's more not just once but over and over again, without mercy, with the intention of eradicating him from the planet and throwing him off the face of the earth without delay, right then and there.  "Late for what?" I ask myself.  The truth is that I don't know.]
(Los enamoramientos, 11 [my translation])

As usual in a Javier Marías novel, the narrator's concise opening statement--this one courtesy of editorial assistant María Dolz, who will learn more about Miguel Deverne's untimely death than she ever could have expected or bargained for when Deverne was just half of the "perfect couple" that she used to see at a Madrid café each morning on her way to work--provides a perfectly convenient excuse for me to avoid bothering with any sort of a synopsis of the work and just dive right in.  Unlike other Marías novels, though, Los enamoramientos [literally, The Fallings in Love but appearing in English under the much less unwieldy title of The Infatuations as translated by Margaret Jull Costa] is perhaps the closest thing that the novelist has yet come to writing a detective story.  Of course, it helps if you can imagine that detective story as a metaphysical murder mystery full of minor chord ruminations on love, mortality, and yes, the act of falling in love--but one that also tussles with the nature of crimes of passion, literature's lessons about crimes of passion, and whether love makes some crimes of passion almost forgivable from an emotional if not necessarily a juridical point of view.  Heady, sometimes desperate stuff.  So what did I like best about Los enamoramientos? That's hard to say given that it's an arresting work which gives you an unusual amount of psychological richness to ponder.  Although all the usual Marías trademarks of sinuous prose, textured Shakespearean allusions, and intelligent conversations that take place in slow motion over multiple chapters of what seem like real but visibly dilated time are all here in abundance, I guess I particularly enjoyed the nifty intertextual use made of Balzac's Le Colonel Chabert that Marías revisited off and on throughout the novel: an affecting retelling of the story of a Napoleonic era military officer who came back from mistakenly being declared dead only to die a second death of sorts upon being rejected by his wife--who believed herself a widow and had remarried--and haunted by the moaning phantoms of the corpses he had almost been buried alive with on the battlefield at Eylau.  Macbeth and a scene from The Three Musketeers receive a similarly effective treatment. I was also impressed by the fact that, despite its multiple love stories and its moments of comic relief early on (many featuring the fictional portrayal of the real life professor Francisco Rico, who has become a great comic foil for his friend Marías), this disarmingly soulful "romance" also has enough range to take up Your Face Tomorrow's twin preoccupations of how easily loved ones can walk out of your life forever (or how easily loved ones can replace you with others) and how readily senseless crimes can be committed with impunity by ordinary people whose company you might otherwise enjoy.  It's a disturbing but very thought-provoking read in that regard--especially when you consider that not only Deverne's existence but even the memory of him begin to be blotted out by the living upon his death as evidenced by so casual a thing as the confusion over the spelling of his name.  Finally, it wouldn't be a Marías novel without any number of memorable dialogue passages to read and reread and savor some more.  Since the ones I'd most like to pull from are way too long for these purposes, I hope you'll settle for this super short one that links Colonel Chabert's near fate as a presumed dead man, heaped up naked in a common grave full of cadavers according to the custom of the times, with Miguel Deverne's, stabbed to death on the streets of Madrid leaving a widow and two children behind:  "Había sido un vivo ilustre, pero ahora es sólo un muerto en medio del frío y todos van al mismo sitio" ["He had been an illustrious man alive, but now he's just a dead man in the middle of the cold and everybody goes to the same place"] (156).

 Javier Marías

The Infatuations is now out in the U.K. and is scheduled to make its U.S. appearance on Knopf in August but with one of the dumbest excuses for a book cover I've ever seen.  A white dress shirt?  Really?

22 comentarios:

  1. Two points (well okay, more than two, but don't you love being thought-provoking?): first, a quibble: if we translate Los Enamoramientos to The Enamorated, which presumably would be justified, wouldn't "infatuated" most accurately reflect the current usage of that word [but not the root which is amore (using the Italian spelling so as to induce you to have that stupid Dean Martin song run through your head all day)]? Thus "The Infatuations" seems like a better title to me than "The Fallings in Love" (although The Infatuations sounds like a rock group or the latest Pixel movie whereas The Fallings in Love sounds like the product of a spambot).

    Secondly, I am intrigued to learn about Balzac's Le Colonel Chabert. I know this is a popular theme (e.g., Tennyson's Enoch Arden, the many iterations of the movie "My Favorite Wife", etc.) but had no idea everyone was stealing from Balzac (although some contend the whole trope comes from a "what if" take on Ulysses and Penelope). Very interesting! And yes!: "how easily loved ones can replace you with others" although I would love to see a gender study to see if one gender (read: men) can do this more readily than others. One more comment: being heaped up dead in a pile of corpses: this again reminds me of Babi Yar (and the fictional take on it, The White Hotel) since it is how one of the very few survivors of that massacre managed to get through it alive.

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    1. Jill, great comment! The Infatuations is certainly a far better title than the "spambot" one insofar as there is no real English translation equivalent for "enamoramientos": the [plural] act or state of falling in love. Infatuation is the end result of the process, though, not the process itself (which is the liminal state that Marías' title riffs on in the original Spanish but not in English). If it wasn't clear, I wasn't advocating for the literal title in translation. As far as Le Colonel Chabert, which I embarrassingly haven't read or seen in any of its movie adaptations, Marías does wonders with the way he works it into his own story--not only amplifying certain elements of his own plot but using it to question what we as readers take away from the texts we read. In fact, I'd read Los enamoramientos again just to enjoy this portion of the text alone! I hadn't thought of the Chabert novella's connection to Ulysses and Penelope, but of course you're absolutely right about that. The other comments you make about replacing others and the dead all lend a gravitas to Marías' love story/mystery, which is maybe all about fragility and evanescence when you get right down to it.

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  2. Excellent review. I finished yesterday and am still pondering, but I thought that line at the end, the one about not wanting to mark him with the metaphorical fleur de lis - taken from Dumas- was one of the more noble sentiments in a Marías novel.

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    1. Thanks, Richard--that post was a struggle to write for some reason (prob. in part because there were too many things I wanted to say). Anyway, agree with you about your fleur-de-lis comment and really enjoyed the surprising ways Marías worked Dumas into his novel alongside Balzac and Shakespeare. Felt that was some really masterful writing on his part from an author who'd already conditioned me to expect masterful writing from on a regular basis. Look forward to your concluding post(s) on the novel once you've had a chance to finish pondering.

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  3. I m awaiting this one from my library Richard it sounds like a usual Marias as you say ,the touch of spying on someone ,and sounds very slow which is another trademark of him I find ,all the best stu

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    1. Stu, you're in for a huge treat! It does read like "typical" Marías fare in a way, but the female narrator and the way Balzac and Dumas are integrated into a quasi-mystery set in modern times make it feel different from his other work. It is slow in spots but not in a bad way--more like the nervous quiet in a storm in between the resounding thunderclaps regularly supplied by Marías!

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  4. This came out when I was in Europe in early March, and I went hunting for it the day it was released. Alas, the sole copy of it was literally snatched off the table by another customer just as I was reaching for it. I guess I will have to wait for the American edition to come out in August, though I love that cover photograph, which the British edition kept but the American one did not.

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    1. Scott, you should have pummeled that other customer for pulling such a Euro book-buying equivalent of a dancefloor De la Garza move on you! Or maybe not. In any event, I'm confident that you'll find this worth the wait whichever cover it comes contained in. It wasn't a letdown at all after Your Face Tomorrow, which is saying a ton (as a known YFT fan, I'm sure you can relate).

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  5. I am completely convinced.

    Colonel Chabert is excellent (and short). The opening set piece in an attorney's office is prime Balzac. The Depardieu / Ardant movie is also outstanding.

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  6. Tom, you and "Javi" completely convinced me to go buy Balzac's Colonel Chabert on my break at work tonight. Will try to borrow the movie sometime soon, too. Thanks as always for the recs.

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  7. After hearing Margaret Jull Costa talk about Marias (and Samarago) in podcasts recently, this is one I'm very keen on trying.

    And while I'm at it, I suppose I could fit in the Balzac too ;)

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    1. Tony, this would make a wonderful intro to Marías if you haven't tried him out before--and it's definitely engaging enough that you could easily enjoy it regardless of whether you decide to read that Balzac novella at the same time, too!

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  8. Sounds like an intriguing book.

    I like intertextual references but I say that with a little reservation. Sometimes I knowing that they exist in major way a work will hold me back from reading the work until I have read the related material.

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    1. Brian, I understand the hesitation temptation and have occasionally postponed a novel or two until I've had the chance to read the other works they're said to play with or play off of (most recent example example: I postponed Vasily Grossman's supposedly War and Peace-like Life and Fate until after I'd read the doorstopper by Tolstoy). However, in this case, I can attest to the fact that no prep at all was necessary to enjoy Marías' intertextual forays since Macbeth was the only title of the main three he riffed on that I had any sort of familiarity with beforehand. In short, this book is too good to put off for long if you're at all interested in it otherwise--and you can always reread it later anyway!

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  9. I prefer the book cover pictured here too. With or without reading Balzac, or any of the other works alluded to, I'll probably like it. The intertextuality thing in it looks Borgesian. "Every writer creates his own precursors."

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    1. The U.S. book cover is a monstrosity, Rise--almost as if Knopf is trying to pitch the novel as something that should be sold in either a duty-free shop in an airport or in an upscale clothing store alongside $80 ties and imported leather wallets "for the discriminating male in your life"! That being said, I have no doubt that you, the previously-confirmed Marías fan, will enjoy The Infatuations with or without having read Le Colonel Chabert beforehand. I think it's one of Marias' best, and I don't say that lightly. Love that Borges thought of yours, by the way, as well as the line you close with.

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  10. I might make this my next Marías although it has to compete with many others as I have only read Bad Nature and All Souls. What would you recommend I read next, Richard?

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    1. Séamus, lucky you--so many great choices in your reading future! I'd recommend this one, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me or maybe Dark Back of Time (since you've already read All Souls) in that order if you only have time for one Marías right now; however, you couldn't go wrong with any of those (I've not finished Dark Back of Time for reasons unrelated to its quality, but Rise and Tom both rave about it). If you have time for three novel-length Marías titles right now, things get complicated because Your Face Tomorrow's 1,300 page "spy story" is probably my favorite work by him of all. Like I said, so many great choices but The Infatuations would make a fantastic way for you to continue exploring your interest in Marías.

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    2. Thanks Richard. I'll be taking this advice sometime soon. Next time I'm in a decent bookshop.

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    3. No problem, Séamus--happy book hunting!

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  11. I just love the rhythm in this novel. I mean, the language of Marías has the power to envelop you with his long sentences and digressions.
    Es música para mis oídos.

    Saludos desde Lima.

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    1. ¡Hola El Nictálope! That's a great point you make about the rhythm of Marías' prose--I tend to take it for granted now having read several other of Marías' novels, but that's indeed a great part of the pleasure in reading him (it's music for my ears, too). De todos modos, gracias por el comentario y bienvenido al blog. ¡Saludos!

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