domingo, 31 de julio de 2011

Tu rostro mañana. 2 Baile y sueño

Tu rostro mañana.  2 Baile y sueño  (Debolsillo, 2010)
by Javier Marías
Spain, 2004

Javier Marías is such a gifted novelist that my greedy reading self is already beginning to lament the fact that there's only one volume left in Tu rostro mañana [Your Face Tomorrow] after Baile y sueño [Dance and Dream].  Couldn't this be a neverending story instead?  In volume 2 of this three-part, post-war on terror "spy saga," the savage beating of a near defenseless man in a nightclub restroom, administered by Tupra and witnessed by Deza, and the long-suppressed story of two Spanish Civil War atrocities, related to Deza by his father after years of keeping quiet on the matter, serve to foreground an increasing preoccupation with violence and victimization on the narrator's part.  Where this will lead to is anybody's guess at this point, but the theme is treated in such an unfailingly believable way that the disquieting ending--Tupra's defense of the Kray twins-style manipulation of fear in others and his wish to justify the use of violence to Deza by historical precedents dating back to the fall of Constantinople in 1453--seems to hint that the end justifies the means morality of the spy business and a shadowy new associate described as having the " mafioso romano--quiero decir vaticano" (67) ["look of a Roman--or, rather, Vatican--mafioso" (49, in Margaret Jull Costa's translation)] may end up traumatizing poor Deza just as much as the failed marriage that he'd obviously like to piece back together if his estranged wife would only permit it.  That being said, it's the writing and the depth of the emotions brought to the surface by the narrative more than the unexpected plot developments that continue to wow me as time moves on--a lot of this due to Deza as narrator.  For whether skewering Berlusconi's Italy as the land of "brutales autoridades xenófobas pseudolombardas, aún más lerdas y soeces que las pseudomadrileñas despreciativas nuestras" (31) ["brutal, xenophobic, pseudo-Lombardic authorities, who are even coarser and more oafish than our own contemptuous, pseudo-madrileño ones" (13-14)], sharing a tender memory about separated wife Luisa's amused and genial laugh, or in recounting the extended speech by his father on the horrors of real life as opposed to fictive violence (see fragment below), Deza is one of the most recognizably human characters I've run into all year.  What do I mean by that?  I actually care about his fate--to the point that I'm a tiny bit concerned that Deza, like the singer in "Streets of Laredo" who figures in one of the more left field digressions in this digression-heavy novel, may already be a dead man walking (emotionally, ethically or otherwise) whose narrative is being brought to us borne aloft on the slipstream of fictional mortality.  In other words, way looking forward to volume 3's Veneno y sombra y adiós [Poison, Shadow, and Farewell].  (

Javier Marías

Deza's Father, Deza, and Cervantes
'Pero mira si han variado las cosas, y las actitudes: cuando se le declaró la Guerra a Hitler, y quizá no ha habido ocasión en que se hiciera más necesaria y justificable una guerra, el propio Churchill escribió al respecto que el mero hecho de haberse llegado a aquel punto y a aquel fracaso convertía a los responsables, por honrosos que fueran sus motivos, en culpables ante la Historia.  Se estaba refiriendo al Gobierno de su país y al de Francia, entiendes, y por extensión a sí mismo, aunque él bien habría querido que esa culpa y ese fracaso los hubieran alcanzado antes, cuando la situación no les era tan adversa ni habría sido tan cruento y grave librar esa posible guerra.  "En esta amarga historia de juicios erróneos efectuados por personas capaces y bienintencionadas...", así dijo.  Y ahora, ya ves, los mismos que se escandalizan por los batacazos de Tom y Jerry y de sus descendientes desatan guerras innecesarias, interesadas, sin ningún motivo honroso, evitando otros recursos si es que no torpedeándolos.  Y a diferencia de Churchill, ni siquiera se averguüenzan de ellas.  Ni siquiera las deploran.  Ni por supuesto se disculpan, hoy no existe eso en el mundo...  En nuestro país fueron ya los franquistas, los que crearon esa escuela.  Jamás se ha disculpado ni uno, y también ellos desencadenaron una guerra innecesaria.  La peor posible.  Eso sí, con la colaboración inmediata de muchos de sus contrincantes...  Qué exageración fue todo...'  Ahora noté que mi padre pensaba en voz alta, más que hablarme, y seguramente eran pensamientos que venía teniendo desde 1936 y quién sabía si a diario, de la misma o parecida manera en que no hay día o noche en que no se le representen a uno en algún instante la idea o la imagen de los muertos más próximos, por mucho que pase el tiempo desde que se despidió uno de ellos, o ellos de uno: 'Adiós, gracias; adiós, donaires; adiós, regocijados amigos; que yo me voy muriendo, y deseando veros presto contentos en la otra vida'.
(Tu rostro mañana.  2 Baile y sueño, 281-282)

'But look how things have changed, and attitudes too: when war was declared on Hitler, and it may be that there has never been an occasion when a war was more necessary or more justifiable, Churchill himself wrote that the mere fact of having come to that pass, to that state of failure, made those responsible, however honourable their motives, blameworthy before History.  He was referring to the governments of his own country and of France, you understand, and, by extension, to himself, although he would have preferred that state of blameworthiness and failure to have been reached at a much earlier stage, when the situation was less disadvantageous to them and when it would not have been so difficult or so bloody to fight that war.  "...this sad tale of wrong judgements formed by well-meaning and capable people...": that is how he described it.  And now, as you see, the same people who are scandalised by the rough and tumble of Tom and Jerry et al. unleash unnecessary, selfish wars, devoid of any honourable motives, and which sidestep all the other options, if they don't actually torpedo them.  And unlike Churchill, they are not even ashamed of them.  They're not even sorry.  Nor, of course, do they apologise, people just don't do that nowadays...  In Spain, the Francoists established that particular school of thought long ago.  They have never apologised, not one of them, and they, too, unleashed a totally unnecessary war.  The worst of all possible wars.  And with the immediate collaboration of many of their opponents...  It was absurd, all of it.'  I realised that now my father was thinking out loud, rather than talking to me, and these were doubtless thoughts he had been having since 1936 and, who knows, possibly every day, in much the same way as not a day or a night passes without our imagining at some point the idea or the image of our dearest dead ones, however much time has passed since we said goodbye to them or they to us: 'Farewell, wit; farewell, charm; farewell, dear, delightful friends; for I am dying and hope to see you soon, happily installed in the other life.'
(Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 2: Dance and Dream [translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa]: New Directions, 2008, 276-277)


sábado, 30 de julio de 2011

Hiroshima mon amour

Hiroshima mon amour (Gallimard, 1997)
by Marguerite Duras
France, 1960

Having heard the 1959 Alain Resnais-directed film version of Hiroshima mon amour critiqued for being cold and/or impenetrable on multiple occasions over the years, I was pleased to discover that Duras' scénario, published the year after the motion picture's debut at Cannes, is poetic and affecting instead--not at all cold nor impenetrable to my way of thinking.  Set in Hiroshima in 1957 and focused on the adulterous fling between a French woman ("Elle") and a Japanese man ("Lui") who meet while la Française is there shooting a film about peace, the screenplay has a sweeping emotional and temporal arc that shifts back and forth between postwar Japan and wartime France and dares to compare the ravages of war with the romantic loss and oblivion of memory that often accompany us during war and peace.  Watching the emotionally shellshocked lovers seek to prolong a connection that they know will be impossible to maintain--unless another war breaks out, as one of them grumpily suggests near the end--one begins to sense that they are stand-ins not only for those who didn't survive the war but those who aren't able to connect with others in a lasting way even in times of peace.  While all I've said to this point might make it seem as if the work would have to be heavyhanded, Duras manages to avoid that somehow through a deft combination of visuals (both the shots from the film that accompany the script and the detailed cinematographic instructions that accompany--and interact with--the dialogue) and a sure hand in conveying the interiority of her characters' thought processes and memories.  And although my rusty French leaves me convinced that I would absolutely benefit from a reread of this work at a more leisurely pace, it doesn't exactly take a genius to appreciate Duras' many subtleties (e.g. three versions of proposed dialogue from Lui in a key exchange near the end of Partie III, versions that Resnais apparently chose to run in succession in the film), the appendix on the movie that adds another layer of complexity to what's to be found in the script (SUR LA PHRASE: "ET PUIS, IL EST MORT": "Riva ne parle plus elle-mème quand cette image apparait.  Donner un signe extérieur de sa douleur serait dégrader cette douleur" [ON THE SENTENCE: "AND THEN, HE DIED": "[Emmanuelle] Riva [the actress who plays Elle] herself doesn't speak any longer when this image appears.  To give an exterior sign of her anguish would be to debase this anguish"] (628), and the unexpected but touching Casablanca allusion amid the proliferation of images of mushroom clouds and parades protesting the wailing of the "100 000 cadavres envolés de HIROSHIMA" ["100,000 cadavers carried away at HIROSHIMA"] (584).  A fine intro for what I hope will be a satisfying long-term relationship between Marguerite Duras and me.  (

Marguerite Duras

I read Hiroshima mon amour as part of the July stop for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong 2011.  See her blog here for other posts on the film and print versions of the title.  Oddly enough, I couldn't locate a standalone version of the usually easy-to-find screenplay at any of the three foreign language bookstores I checked in Cambridge and NYC during the last month.  Weird.  Luckily for me, my library had a copy of the deluxe 1,764 page Duras: Romans, cinéma, théâtre, un parcours 1943-1993 (Gallimard, 1997) in which Hiroshima appears on pages 533-643.

lunes, 25 de julio de 2011

Borges, a Character in a Novel by Sabato

Just had to share this with those of you who participated in and/or otherwise remember the Jorge Luis Borges group reads we did last year and those who, like Amateur Reader, Roberto Bolaño and me, profess more than a passing interest in the "extraordinary riches" of Argentinean literature.  So I was reading Ernesto Sabato's 1961 Sobre héroes y tumbas [On Heroes and Tombs, here translated by Helen R. Lane in what I believe is an out of print 1981 edition put out by David R. Godine] the other day when the following previously nondescript Buenos Aires description really grabbed my attention:

They were walking down the Calle Perú; grabbing Martín by the arm, Bruno pointed a man out to him who was walking in front of them, leaning on a cane.

Now, although I had read somewhere that Borges made a cameo in the novel, I had somehow managed to forget that was coming by the time I got to this point almost a couple of hundred pages in.  What followed was classic, though, and worth the wait for the increasingly unflattering portrait of Borges that initially emerges:

When they drew closer, Bruno said hello to him.  Martín found himself shaking a tiny hand, with scarcely any bones or strength in it.  The features of the man's face seemed to have been sketched in and then to have been half rubbed out with an eraser.  Borges mumbled something, acknowledging the introduction.
"Martín's a friend of Alejandra Vidal Olmos's," Bruno said.
"Caramba, caramba...Alejandra...that's fine."
He raised his eyebrows, observed Martín with watery blue eyes and an abstract cordiality addressed to no one in particular, his mind obviously elsewhere.
Bruno asked him what he was writing.
"Well, caramba...," he mumbled, smiling a half-guilty, half-wicked smile, with that air that Argentine peasants assume, an air of modest irony, a mixture of secret arrogance and apparent diffidence, every time someone admires one of their horses or their ability to do fine leatherwork.  "Caramba...well, in a word...trying to write a page or two that's something more than a scribble, eh, eh?..."
And he mumbled something else, accompanied by a series of clownish facial tics.
And as they walked on toward Rinaldini's, Bruno imagined Méndez saying sarcastically: A lecturer for snooty women's clubs!  But everything was much more complicated than Méndez thought (171).

Sabato's apparent comedic malevolence aside, what makes these details so delicious to me--so Argentinean, if you will, within the context of Argentinean literature as a whole--is that this unexpected description of a chance encounter with Borges then segueways into a discussion of what Argentine identity and letters are all about.  Introducing Borges as a character isn't a cheap stunt or a sideshow act:

"They say he's not very Argentine," Martín ventured to remark.
"What else could he be but Argentine?  He's a typical national product.  Even his so-called Europeanism is national.  A European is not Europeanist: he's simply European."
"Do you think he's a great writer?"
Bruno pondered the question for some time.
"I don't know.  What I'm certain of is that his prose is the most remarkable of any being written in Spanish today.  But his style is too precious for him to be a great writer.  Can you imagine Tolstoy trying to dazzle his readers with an adverb when it's the question of the life or death of one of his characters?  But not everything in Borges's works is Byzantine: far from it.  There's something Argentine in his best things: a certain nostalgia, a certain metaphysical sadness..."
He walked along in silence for a time.
"The fact is that people say all sorts of ridiculous things about what Argentine literature ought to be.  The important thing is for it to be profound.  All the rest is just an added fillip.  And if it isn't profound it's useless to introduce gauchos or colorful picaresque rascals into the picture.  The most representative writer in Elizabethan England was Shakespeare.  Yet many of his works don't even have an English setting" (172).

After a pause in which Bruno makes fun of those who would deny Argentina's European roots and yet touches on the situation in which Latin Americans find themselves to be the inhabitants of a "different, violent continent," the discussion of Borges opens the door for a rant on the notion of originality in literature.  Love this talky book stuff:

"So critics want total and absolute originality, do they?  Such a thing doesn't exist.  Neither in art nor in anything else.  Everything is built on what has gone before.  Nothing that is human is perfectly pure and pristine.  The Greek gods too were hybrids and were infected (so to speak) with Oriental and Egyptian religions.  There's a little passage in The Mill on the Floss in which a woman tries on a hat in front of a mirror: and it's Proust.  What I mean to say is, it's the seed of Proust.  All the rest is simply a process of development.  One touched with genius, cancerous almost, but in the final analysis simply a process of development.  The same thing is true of one of Melville's stories, called Bertleby or Bartleby or something like that.  When I read it I was impressed by its Kafkaesque atmosphere.  And that's the way it always is.  We're Argentines, for example, even when we reject our own country, as Borges frequently does.  Especially when he repudiates it with real fury, the way Unamuno repudiates Spain; the way violent atheists put bombs in a church, that being their way of believing in God.  The true atheists are those who are indifferent, those who are cynics.  And what we might call an atheistic attitude toward this native land of ours is to be found among cosmopolitans, individuals who live no differently here than they would in Paris or London--they live in a country as though it were a hotel.  But let's be fair: Borges is not one of them.  I think that in a certain way his heart aches for his country, despite the fact that he doesn't have the sensitivity or the generosity, of course, for it to ache for his country the way the heart of a day laborer in the fields or a worker in a meat-freezing plant does.  And that explains his lack of grandeur, his inability to understand and feel the whole of the country, including all its deep-rooted, complex rottenness.  When we read Dickens or Faulkner or Tolstoy on the other hand we feel that total understanding of the human soul" (173).

One brief Roberto Arlt commentary, another extended Borges discussion, and about fifty pages later, young protagonist Martín will feel the full brunt of the complex rottenness of the country when he's a witness to the carnage of the 1955 aerial bombardment of the Plaza de Mayo.  Can't wait to get back to the rest of Sobre héroes y tumbas which, despite some ups and downs from a tonal standpoint, is giving me the sense that Sabato's playing for keeps.  Not bad for a back-up book, eh, eh?

miércoles, 20 de julio de 2011

Snow, Interrupted

With apologies to the rest of the Wolves and anybody else unfortunate enough to be participating in this month's group read of Orhan Pamuk's Snow, I'm going to be taking a break--maybe a permanent break--from the book to concentrate on books I actually want to read.  Maybe the thing gets better after the first 200 pages.  At this point in time, though, I can't take any more of the novel's excruciatingly boring blend of Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy III and Dostoevsky's Demons in its pairing of a dopey, lovesick protagonist and an unengaging, hamfisted political farce.  "An engrossing feat of tale-spinning," my ass.

Pamuk in Action
Here's an example of dialogue from Pamuk (from page 135 in the Vintage paperback, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely) that only a YA fan, the Nobel committee, or the apparently easy to please Margaret Atwood could find "engrossing." Whatever.

 "I don't want you ever to leave me," Ka told Ipek.  "I've fallen wildly in love with you."
"But you hardly know me," said Ipek.
"There are two kinds of men," said Ka, in a didactic voice.  "The first kind does not fall in love until he's seen how the girl eats a sandwich, how she combs her hair, what sort of nonsense she cares about, why she's angry at her father, and what sorts of stories people tell about her.  The second type of man--and I am in this category--can fall in love with a woman only if he knows next to nothing about her."
"In other words, you've fallen in love with me because you know nothing about me?  Do you really think you can call this love?"
"If you fall head over heels, that's how it happens," said Ka.
"So once you know how I eat a sandwich and what I wear in my hair, you'll fall right out of love."
"No, by then the intimacy that's built up between us will deepen and turn into a desire that wraps itself around our bodies, and we'll be bound together by our happy memories."

domingo, 10 de julio de 2011


Rayuela (Cátedra, 2003)
por Julio Cortázar
Francia, 1963

Una aventura sentimental fracasada, la muerte de un niño, y la casi inevitable llegada de la locura asedian al intelectual frío y reservado Horacio Oliveira durante la marcha de los acontecimientos de Rayuela, esa célebre "novela total" argentina aquí narrada en o 56 capítulos o 155 capítulos o incluso 154 capítulos según la voluntad del lector y el tablero de dirección incluido con el libro que "es mucho libros, pero sobre todo es dos libros" (ojo: uno de los capítulos está diabólicamente escondido en uno de los métodos de leer la maldita cosa).  Por supuesto, yo elegí leer el "segundo libro" experimental de Cortázar, empezando con el capítulo 73 (uno de los 99 "capítulos prescindibles" según "la  forma corriente" de leer la obra, que se acaba con el capítulo 56) y siguiendo con el primer capítulo antes de dar saltos a lo largo de la rayuela-en-prosa creada por los 36 capítulos "del lado de allá" (la historia de los amantes bohemios Horacio y la Maga en París de los cincuenta y del círculo de amigos que pertenecen al Club de la Serpiente) y los 20 capítulos "del lado de acá" (lo que pasa al más y más preocupado Oliveira después de su regreso a su ciudad natal de Buenos Aires, donde se encuentra con sus amigos Traveler y Talita e incluso un "gato calculista" al circo) y el complemento total de los 99 "capítulos prescindibles".  Además de su estructura abierta y la construcción que se parece a un puzzle y sus evocaciones de un distinto tiempo y lugar, había tantas cosas que me gustaron en Rayuela.  Por ejemplo, hay docenas de descripciones inolvidables: "París, una tarjeta postal con un dibujo de Klee al lado de un espejo sucio" (132).  Capítulos enteros dedicados a la música o que tienen lugar en fiestas donde discos de jazz se cambian de manos en el trasfondo.  Hay una variedad de reflexiones metafísicas elípticas: "La vida, fotografía del número, posesión en las tinieblas (¿mujer, monstruo?), la vida, proxeneta de la muerte, espléndida baraja, tarot de claves olvidadas que unas manos gotosas rebajan a un triste solitario" (635).  También hay comentarios magníficos sobre la lectura y los lectores, como éste que claramente anticipa a Bolaño en la flor de la vida: "La teoría del libro-más era de Oliveira, y la Maga la había aceptado por pura ósmosis.  En realidad para ella casi todo los libros eran libro-menos, hubiese querido llenarse de una inmensa sed y durante un tiempo infinito (calculable entre tres y cinco años) leer la opera omnia de Goethe, Homero, Dylan Thomas, Mauriac, Faulkner, Baudelaire, Roberto Arlt, San Agustín y otros autores cuyos nombres la sobresaltaban en las conversaciones del Club.  A eso Oliveira respondía con un desdeñoso encogerse de hombros, y hablaba de las deformaciones rioplatenses, de una raza de lectores a fulltime, de bibliotecas pululantes de marisabidillas infieles al sol y al amor, de casas donde el olor a la tinta de imprenta acaba con la alegría del ajo" (156-157).  Además de todo esto, Cortázar también se dedica a una discusón sobre el lector ideal y la teoría literaria como aplicada a su propia novela en los pasajes donde el escritor Morelli habla de la necesidad de la novelista para hacer un "cómplice" del lector activo en cuanto a la creación de "un texto desaliñado, desanudado, incongruente, minuciosamente antinovelístico (aunque no antinovelesco).  Sin vedarse los grandes efectos del género cuando la situación lo requiera, pero recordando el consejo gidiano, ne jamais profiter de l'élan acquis.  Como todas las criaturas de elección del Occidente, la novela se contenta con un orden cerrado.  Resueltamente en contra, buscar también aquí la apertura y para cortar de raíz toda construcción sistemática de caracteres y situaciones.  Método: la ironía, la autocrítica incesante, la incongruencia, la imaginación al servicio de nadie" (559-560).  Etcétera, etcétera.  Entre las pocas cosas que no me gustaron, me limito a decir que algunos de los capítulos prescindibles son inescrutables hasta el punto de ser o pesados o pedantescos de vez en cuando y que también está frustrante a veces seguir en los pasos de che Oliveira, un personaje tan involucrado en su crisis existencialista que él no puede ver el daño que provoca a sí mismo y a otros.  Esté, dicho sea de paso, no es una debilidad de la novela sino una fuerte en lo que refiere a la caracterización; de hecho, yo casi lloré al final cuando me di cuenta (o, al menos, pensaba que me di cuenta) de cómo la novela iba terminar.  En resumen, otro tomo para ese especial anaquel para libros donde se encuentran Moby-Dick, Proust, La vida instrucciones de uso, y 2666.  Espectacular.  (

Hopscotch (Pantheon Books, 1987)
by Julio Cortázar [translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa]
France, 1963

A failed love affair, the death of a child, and what then seems like an almost inevitable descent into madness haunt cold, distant intellectual Horacio Oliveira during the course of Rayuela [Hopscotch], the celebrated Argentinean "novela total" here narrated in either 56 or 155 or even 154 chapters according to the will of the reader and the "table of instructions" provided for by this book "which consists of many books, but two books above all" (beware: one of the chapters is fiendishly hidden in one of the methods of how to read the damn thing).  Naturally, I chose to read Cortázar's experimental "second book," beginning with chapter 73 (one of 99 "expendable chapters" according to the "normal fashion" of reading the work, which ends with chapter 56) and continuing on with the first chapter before jumping about here and there throughout the game of hopscotch-in-prose created by the 36 chapters "from the other side" (the story of bohemian lovers Horacio and La Maga in 1950s Paris and the circle of friends that form the Serpent Club) and the 20 chapters "from this side" (what happens to the increasingly troubled Oliveira after he returns to his native Buenos Aires and meets up with his friends Traveler and Talita and even a "calculating cat" at the circus) in addition to the full complement of 99 expendable chapters.  Besides its open structure and its puzzle-like construction and its surehanded evocation of time and place, there were any number of things I loved about Hopscotch.  For example, there are dozens of just unforgettable descriptions: "Paris, a postcard with a drawing by Klee next to a dirty mirror" (11).  Entire chapters dedicated to music or that take place as conversations set to music as jazz albums change hands in the background. In addition, there's an assortment of elliptical, metaphysical reflections to constantly keep you on your toes: "Life, a photograph of the noumenon, a possession in the shadows (woman, monster?), life, pimp of death, splendid deck of cards, ring of forgotten keys that a pair of palsied hands degrade into a sad game of solitaire" (458).  There are also wonderful commentaries on reading and readers, as with this one which clearly anticipates Bolaño in his prime:  "The another-book theory was Oliveira's, and La Maga had accepted it by pure osmosis.  For her, in truth, almost all books were one-book-less; she would have liked to be overcome by an immense thirst and for an infinite period of time (figured as between three and five years) to read the complete works of Goethe, Homer, Dylan Thomas, Mauriac, Faulkner, Baudelaire, Roberto Arlt, Saint Augustine, and other writers whose names would keep coming up in conversation in the Club.  Oliveira would answer this with a sour shrug of his shoulders and talk about the distortions of the Río de la Plata, where a breed of full-time readers has developed, where libraries swarm with old maids who have forsaken love and sunshine, where the smell of printer's ink can end the joy of garlic in a home" (31).  To top it all off, Cortázar also engages in a discussion of the model reader and literary theory as applied to his own novel in the passages where the writer Morelli waxes on about the novelist's need for an active reader to become "an accomplice" in the creation of "a text that is out of line, untied, incongruous, minutely antinovelistic (although not antinovelish).  Without prohibiting the genre's great effects if the situation should require it, but keeping in mind the Gidean advice, ne jamais profiter de l'élan acquis.  Like all creatures of choice in the Western world, the novel is content in a closed order.  Resolutely opposed to this, we should search here for an opening and therefore cut the roots of all systematic construction of characters and situations.  Method: irony, ceaseless self-criticism, incongruity, imagination in the service of no-one" (396).  Etc., etc.  Among the few things I didn't care for so much, I would only note that some of the so-called expendable chapters are inscrutable to the point of being boring or pedantic at times and that it was sometimes frustrating to follow in the footsteps of Oliveira, a character so wrapped up in his own existentialist crisis that he can't see the harm he's causing to himself or others.  The latter point, just in passing, of course really isn't a weakness of the novel but rather an argument in favor of the strength of its characterization; in fact, I had to fight off tears at the end when I realized (or at least I thought I realized) how the novel was about to conclude.  In other words, another volume for that special shelf where you keep Moby-Dick, Proust, Life A User's Manual, and 2666.  Absolutely spectacular.  ( 

Julio Cortázar

Otras lecturas de Rayuela
Emily (Evening All Afternoon) #1, #2 y #3

lunes, 4 de julio de 2011

Table of Contents for the Rest of the Year


Given how flaky I am, I should probably be the last guy to post my reading plans for the rest of the year like this like your typical OCD blogger.  Blogga, please!  However, here's a preview in case any of you want a TV Guide-like listing of the probable "niche of despair" programming on the horizon here.  By the way, please note that this post counts as one filler post + one list post toward meeting my contractual obligations for the year.

Julio Cortázar's Rayuela
Javier Marías' Tu rostro mañana. 2 Baile y sueño
Orhan Pamuk's Snow (E.L. Fay's pick for the Wolves)
Marcel Proust's In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower
(Back-ups: Marguerite Duras' Hiroshima mon amour for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong and Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi for the recently concluded Anything Ubu Readalong Opportunity hosted by Amateur Reader and Nicole [I'll be late to the party, but it's too late to fix that now])

Lydia Davis' The End of the Story (Frances' pick for the Wolves)
Javier Marías' Tu rostro mañana. 3 Veneno y sombra y adios
Marcel Proust's The Guermantes Way
(Back-ups: Honoré de Balzac's The Girl with the Golden Eyes or Guy de Maupassant's Le Horla for Frances' Art of the Novella Reading Challenge and Elsa Morante's History for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong)

João Guimarães Rosa's Gran Sertón: Veredas
Marcel Proust's Sodom and Gomorrah (reread)
Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian (my pick for the Wolves)

Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves (Sarah's pick for the Wolves)
Javier Marías' Los enamoramientos
Marcel Proust's The Captive

Marcel Proust's The Fugitive
Augusto Roa Bastos' Yo el Supremo
Nathalie Sarraute's The Planetarium (Emily's pick for the Wolves)

Javier Marías' Negra espalda del tiempo
Marcel Proust's Time Regained
Gao Xingjian's Buying a Fishing Rod for My Father (Claire's pick for the Wolves)

I have lots of other books I'd like to try and squeeze in, of course, but I'm pretty sure that these will account for the lion's share of the priorities for the rest of the year despite all those lovely new pretties on my sidebar.  Some notable exceptions: Anthony and Frances and I have agreed to man/woman/man up for a group read of Gustave Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet sometime in October, November or December.  I have some more Bolaños to read for Rise's 2011 Roberto Bolaño Reading Challenge.  And I hope to finally start my reread of Herodotus' The Histories in that handsome The Landmark Herodotus edition I picked up a few years back.  Etc., etc.

viernes, 1 de julio de 2011

Tu rostro mañana. 1 Fiebre y lanza

Tu rostro mañana.  1 Fiebre y lanza (Debolsillo, 2010)
por Javier Marías
España, 2002

"¡Qué deshonra es para mí recordar tu nombre!  ¡O conocer tu rostro mañana!"
Shakespeare, Enrique IV, II, 2

Jacques Deza, recién regresado a Inglaterra después de pasar unos años en su España natal y separarse de su mujer, aprovecha de sus lazos con los alumni oxonienses para conseguir empleo con lo que parece ser un ramo del servicio secreto británico.  Salvo una o dos alusiones a Desde Rusia con amor, lo que sigue no tiene nada que ver con la novela de espionaje típica quizás esperada por algunos.  En lugar de eso, el ex profesor Deza (el narrador sin nombre de Todas las almas, de Marías, y aquí llamado o Jack o Jaime o Jacobo o Diego según el que habla y las circunstancias) lanza una interesantísima meditación introspectiva sobre las consecuencias de contar y de callar y, más especifícamente, la fuerza de palabras para traicionar a nosotros y a los demás: una meditación hiza más concreta a causa de los recuerdos de varios personajes acerca de la Guerra Civil Española y el bombardeo alemán de Gran Bretaña en los cuarenta en el pasado y la sombra del ataque contra las Torres Gemelas en el presente.  Como podía esperarse luego de leer las otras novelas impresionantes de Marías en este año, dos de los grandes placeres que se pueden encontrar dentro de Fiebre y lanza son ver el estilo a cámara lenta que él ha perfeccionado (Marías sobre Tristram Shandy, una obra traducida por él hace años: "Una de las cosas que aprendí de él es la utilización del tiempo, descubrí que un minuto puede durar ochenta páginas") y mirar el dominio del lenguaje del novelista como ofrece nuevas percepiones psicológicas con gran frecuencia a lo largo de la obra.  Aunque no voy a compartir la excelente frase larguísima de tres páginas que me rendió completamente paralizado de asombro (véase las páginas 50-53 de esta edición), lo siguiente es un muy buen ejemplo de cómo, a pesar de los asuntos de espionaje con Sr Tupra y la amistad con Sir Peter Wheeler y a pesar de los paralelos entre el padre del narrador dentro de la novela y el padre de Marías mismo en la realidad (ambos fueron encarcelados por los fascistas a causa de las mentiras de delatores en los primeros años de Franco), la sección Fiebre y lanza de la historia de Deza es una suerte de memento mori que está marcado por el amor y la pérdida del amor y los pensamientos del personaje en cuanto al fracaso de su matrimonio:

Quién sabe quién nos sustituye, sólo sabemos que se nos sustituye siempre, en todas las ocasiones y en todas las circunstancias y en cualquier desempeño, en el amor, la amistad, en el empleo y en la influencia, en la dominación, y en el odio que también acaba por cansarse de nosotros; en las casas en que habitamos y en las ciudades que nos consienten, en los teléfonos que nos persuaden o nos escuchan pacientes con la risa al oído o con un murmullo de asentimiento, en el juego y en el negocio, en las tiendas y en los despachos, en el paisaje infantil que creíamos sólo nuestro y en las agotadas calles de tanto ver marchitarse, en los restaurantes y en los paseos y en nuestras butacas y en nuestras sábanas, hasta que no queda olor en ellas ni ningún vestigio y se rasgan para hacer tiras o paños, y en nuestros besos se nos sustituye y se cierran al besar los ojos, en los recuerdos y en los pensamientos y en las ensoñaciones y en todas partes, sólo soy como nieve sobre los hombros, resbaladiza y mansa, y la nieve siempre para... (48)

Ese pasaje, mis amigos, ¿ese último pasaje arriba?  Me mata.  (

Your Face Tomorrow, Vol. 1: Fever and Spear  (New Directions, 2007)
by Javier Marías [translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa]
Spain, 2002

"What a disgrace is it to me to remember thy name, to know thy face tomorrow..."
Shakespeare, Henry IV, II, 2

Jacques Deza, back in England after several years away and a failed marriage in his native Spain, takes advantage of his old Oxford connections to land a job with what seems to be a shadow branch of the British secret service.  Give or take a sly From Russia with Love allusion or two, what follows has absolutely nothing to do with the typical spy novel that might be expected.  Instead, the former academic Deza (the unnamed narrator in Marías' earlier All Souls and here variously referred to as Jack or Jaime or Jacobo or Diego depending on the speaker and the circumstances) launches into an absorbing, introspective reflection on the consequences of the acts of telling and not telling and, more specifically, the power of words to betray us and others--a reflection made more tangible by various characters' recollections of events dating back to the Spanish Civil War and the Blitz and references to the Twin Towers attacks in the present.  As is only to be expected from the other impressive Marías novels I've read this year, two of the principal pleasures to be found in reading Fever and Spear are watching events unfold in the deliberate slow motion style that he's practically made his own (Marías on Tristram Shandy, which he translated into Spanish years ago: "One of the things I learned from it was the use of time; I discovered that one minute could last eighty pages") and beholding the novelist's extremely precise use of language while routinely offering up astute psychological insights that get under your skin.  While I'll have to spare you a sample of the awesome three-page long sentence that had me giddily transfixed when I tried to isolate a favorite quote from it for this post (see pages 33-36 if at all interested), here's a shorter passage that will give you another really good example of how, despite the spy business with Mr. Tupra or the warm friendship with Sir Peter Wheeler and despite the parallels between the narrator's father within the book and Marías' own father outside of it (both served time in fascist prisons in Franco's Spain on account of informers' lies), the Fever and Spear portion of Deza's story is a sort of memento mori haunted by love and loss and the intimations of mortality suggested by an everyday occurrence as unexceptional as thinking about the aftermath of his own broken marriage:

Who knows who will replace us, all we know is that we will be replaced, on all occasions and in all circumstances and in whatever we do, in love and friendship, as regards work, influence, domination, even hatred, which also wearies of us in the end; in the houses we live in and in the cities that receive us, in the telephones that persuade or patiently listen to us, laughing into our ear or murmuring agreement, at play and at work, in shops and offices, in the childhood landscape we thought was ours alone and in the streets exhausted from seeing so much decay, in restaurants and along avenues and in our armchairs and between our sheets, until no trace of our smell remains, and they are torn up to make strips or rags, even our kisses are replaced, and they close their eyes as they kiss, in memories and in thoughts and in daydreams and everywhere, I am like the snow on someone's shoulders, slippery and docile, and the snow always stops..." (31, translated by Margaret Jull Costa)

That, my friends, that passage right there?  Just slays me.  (

Javier Marías