by Javier Marías
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.