by Javier Marías
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 "pinta...de 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]. (www.debolsillo.com)
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)
I've finished this already some two weeks ago, Richard, since I can't wait to find out what happens in the end. Your post reminds me of the hints and images that Marías deliberately planted along the way. But everything is deliberate, as the consistent style has shown.... I already miss the endless commas and sentences. The final act is as compulsive as it gets - although 'compulsive' may not be the proper term for this book.ResponderBorrar
I am quite in love with Deza myself, and see so much of myself in him, that I too am worried for his fate and can tell I will be sad to see him go at the end. Tupra as the last of the famous international playboys might be more exciting, but it's the small observations and left-field insertions (I have always thought just the same thing about the ambiguity of "The Streets of Laredo"!) that I really care about.ResponderBorrar
*Rise: I can't say I blame you for wanting to read ahead "early," both for how long you'd already waited and for how YFT has morphed into this idiosyncratic page-turner of a story somewhere along the line. What comes next, what comes next? Envy you your knowledge of how things turn out, but at the same time I'm still psyched to have 550 pages of volume 3's emotional/intellectual wilderness left to explore. What an adventure this has turned out to be!ResponderBorrar
*Nicole: So glad to hear what you say about your feelings re: Deza and his fate since now I feel ever so slightly less like the wild-eyed and exuberant Marías fanboy that I seem to have turned into of late--that is, at least I'm not alone in caring about this character he has created, my imagined wild-eyed look or no! Have no doubt that Deza's "small observations," a favorite side of him of mine as well, and the way the narrative has been assembled in such a way that chronological time often gets lost in the middle of digressive storytelling time only to resurface when you least expect it, will reward a rereading down the road. Yikes, am I predicting that already? Poor form of me, poor form!
Savor that third volume. I finished the Marias trilogy over a year and a half ago, and despite having read lots of great things since, I STILL miss being immersed in it.
*Scott: Good advice and a cautionary tale to be sure! I'm actually trying to limit myself to a chapter or two a day to prolong the reading pleasure, but it's just so amazing at times that I know I'll be tempted to move on faster. Anyway, thanks for the visit to the blog. Cheers!ResponderBorrar
so sorry to have fallen behind I ve about hundred pages of vol 1 read ,will try and finish by end of month all three as got reading boots on at moment so this mountain not to hig ,all the best stuResponderBorrar
Don't hate me! Read it. Loved it. Really loved it. For this reason among others from a smart guy.ResponderBorrar
"...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."
Just did not make post in time. Will put two posts up in first week of September including my insights into From Russia with Love references and his fascinations with odd points of female form and function. Nicole loves Deza as do I but am really feeling the Marias love. :)
*Stu: No worries, this is the most laid back of laid back group reads. Plus, I'll be ready to talk about Marías all year! However, I love that bit about you having your "reading boots" on this month. Enjoy!ResponderBorrar
*Frances: No prob, but I'll be happy to get an extra post from you next month since we had to do without your charm and insight this time (confession: I was sorely tempted to borrow your "freakin' fantastic" tweet about vol. 2, though). Look forward to whatever you choose to post on, of course, but those potential topics of yours sure look tantalizing. Until then, glad you and Nicole are enjoying this so much!