Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Infatuations by Javier Marías / Review by Alberto Manguel

Clifford Harper/

The Infatuations by Javier Marías 


Is there such as thing as chance, asks Javier Marías's masterly new novel

Alberto Manguel
Friday 1 March 2013 17.30 GM

he strict sequence of events that makes up our lives seems to us, as it takes place, haphazard. A chance encounter, a sudden death, love at first sight, an overheard conversation, all belong, we imagine, not to a tightly plotted thriller but to the erratic jottings of a distracted dreamer. A woman might notice a couple meeting every day in the same cafe, discover later that the man has been stabbed to death by a demented beggar, and decide to speak to the widow the next time she sees her. Each of these events seems whimsical and arbitrary and yet, as Javier Marías shows in this masterly novel, chance is nothing but the result of our own negligent reading. Read in the proper order, from the first to the last chapter, everything we do and everything we witness, however unlikely or disconnected, fits into a story in which we are both narrators and protagonists.
Such is the case of María Dolz, a middle-aged woman who works for a Madrid publisher, who witnesses the couple's meetings, and then their absence; who discovers in the papers the murder of the husband, a certain Miguel Desverne; and who seeks out the widow, Luisa Alday, to offer her condolences. As it happens, Dolz meets Alday's new companion, a handsome man called Díaz Varela, who was Desverne's best friend. Dolz becomes infatuated with Díaz Varela and, shortly afterwards, they begin an intermittent sexual relationship.
"Infatuations" is the only possible English translation for the "enamoramientos" of the original title. Margaret Jull Costa, with her habitual skill, has rendered Marías's precise, somewhat laconic Spanish into graceful and equally laconic English, but the title necessarily defeats her. "Enamoramiento" is the act of falling in love, briefly but not less passionately; "infatuation" (the dictionary tells us) is to become inspired with intense fondness, admiration, even folly; unfortunately, in the English term, love is absent. As Dolz's lovely last words have it, after the end of an "enamoramiento" we continue to sense the loved one's presence, "knowing that he is still on our horizon, from which he has not entirely vanished, and that we cannot see, in the distance, the dust from his fleeting feet".
Dolz's narrative is studded with questions: What is her new lover's involvement with the widow? What are his true feelings towards both women? Did he have a hand in the husband's murder? And above all, what is her own role in the convoluted plot into which she seems to have fallen? Who, in fact, is she?
The classical themes of love, death and fate are explored with elegant intelligence by Marías in what is perhaps his best novel so far. The story's literary underpinnings are Macbeth (as is usual in Marías), Balzac's Colonel Chabert and, more surprisingly, Dumas's The Three Musketeers, all glossed by Díaz Varela, who paternalistically instructs Dolz on the importance these three books have for him. Central to Marías's novel is Balzac's colonel, a man supposed dead who returns among the living, much like the dead Desverne returns to haunt the minds of the survivors. Over this literary chorus echoes a grisly observation quoted by Díaz Varela from the Musketeer saga: "A murder, nothing more." For Dolz, the banality of murder implied in Dumas's words becomes translated as murder's monstrous immutability. "A thief can give back the thing he stole, a slanderer can acknowledge his calumny," Dolz thinks to herself. "The trouble with murder is that it's always too late and you cannot restore to the world the person you killed." She adds: "And if, as they say, there is no forgiveness, then, whenever necessary, you must continue along the road taken." Except that, eventually, the murderer will no longer think of his crime "as a monstrous exception or a tragic mistake, but, rather, as another resource that life offers to the boldest and toughest." He will feel as if he has simply inherited the terrible action, or won it at a raffle "from which no one is exempt". And this feeling will lead him to believe "that he didn't wholly commit those acts, or not at least alone". In these extraordinary words, Marías has defined the ethos of our time.
Marías is an old hand at hoodwinking the reader, layering his novels with plots that seem, each one, final, but then suddenly blossom into something unexpected. In The Infatuations, Marías may have been thinking of Macbeth's address to the witches: "If you can look into the seeds of time,/ And say which grain will grow and which will not,/ Speak then to me." Neither the reader nor the protagonists are capable of such foresight, but the clear knowledge that every event, however minuscule, might develop into a sprawling web of roots and branches, lends every detail in the novel (as it does in detective fiction) a possibly dangerous meaning. Over the events in the The Infatuations, this other, untold and latent story casts an ominous and uneasy shadow.
"Once you've finished a novel," says Díaz Varela to Dolz, "what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Infatuations by Javier Marías / Review by Robert McCrum

The Infatuations by Javier Marías


Javier Marías's haunting murder mystery, embracing all the big questions about life, love and death, is an instant Spanish classic.

Marías’s study of fatal obsession begins with an encounter at a breakfast cafe.

Robert McCrum
The Observer, Sunday 10 March 2013 00.04 GMT

A fine murder story is like a great love affair: an infinite catacomb of excitement, sorrow and desire. Apart from tales of love and death, what else matters to mankind's stone-age brain? While we continue to push back the frontiers of knowledge, most recently in digital technology, our consciousness remains hard-wired with some very primitive storylines. The lasting challenge to literature is to achieve a satisfying marriage between high art and the low drives of a simple plot. The latter is usually much more demanding than the former. To find such a rapprochement in the pages of a novel is indeed a rare treat.
This is where Javier Marías, one of Spain's greatest contemporary writers, steps into the picture. The son of a victim of Franco's dictatorship, Marías is a characteristically European version of the literary man. He works as a distinguished translator, has a column in El País, and runs his own publishing house. He is also the author of two short story collections and 13 novels whose lyrical, conversational, and even errant, style has sponsored widespread literary admiration. There's an irony here because, rather appealingly, Marías writes fiction as if there were many other, better things to do. At his investiture into the Royal Spanish Academy in 2008, he confessed that the work of the novelist was "pretty childish", a teasing line of thought derived from Robert Louis Stevenson. His other exemplars are Joseph Conrad and Laurence Sterne. So it's no accident that he went on to argue that the writer "can only tell stories about what has never happened, the invented and the imagined".
The Infatuations is just such a novel, a murder story of archetypal simplicity whose slow unravelling becomes a vehicle for all the big questions about life, love and death. There are passages on almost every page that cry out for quotation. This may be a literary and metaphysical fiction, but it's never boring. Marías plays with perception, memory and guilt like a toreador. With every flourish of his literary cape, the enthralled reader is never allowed to forget that, in the end, the author will make a killing. Just as Macbeth is a thriller that's also a great tragedy,The Infatuations is a murder story that's also a profound study of fatal obsession.
A story that might have been torn from a crumpled page of Home News starts with el enamoramiento, a Spanish term for which there is no English equivalent – the state of falling or being in love, or perhaps infatuation. María Dolz, a publisher's editor, has become fascinated by the glamorous couple she sees every day in the cafe where she takes breakfast on her way to work. "The nicest thing about them," says María, "was seeing how much they enjoyed each other's company." Then, one day, they are no longer there, and María feels lost without them. Later, when she sees a newspaper photograph of the husband, lying stabbed in the street, she begins to learn more about this mysterious couple and to uncover their story.
She becomes infatuated by the infatuees. When her own romantic life, brilliantly imagined by Marías, links her to the murdered man's widow, Luisa, an apparently random killing becomes, inexorably, a much darker tale of calculated homicide. In the process, María the narrator becomes an unwitting accomplice to a dreadful crime, a young woman trapped in a prison of guilt. "No one is going to judge me," she says at the end with a doomed insouciance, "there are no witnesses to my thoughts." It's a terrifying conclusion to a haunting masterpiece of chilling exposition.
The Infatuations has already been showered with awards and acclaim. With this exemplary translation, Penguin adds a European master to its distinguished list of contemporary international fiction. Great Spanish novels don't come along too often, but they sometimes find a place in the hearts of the British reading public. The full text of Don Quixote was first published as long ago as 1620. I wouldn't be surprised if The Infatuations soon acquired an equally devoted following.


Monday, December 29, 2014

A life in writing / Javier Marías

Javier Marías

Javier Marías: a life in writing

'Falling in love has a very good reputation. But I have seen kind and noble people behave very badly because they are in love

Javier Marías
Javier Marías: regularly tipped for the Nobel prize. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe for the Guardian
When Javier Marías was a student of English Philology in Madrid in the 1970s he says it was with a sense of "awe and reverence" that he would buy copies of "the then grey-spined Penguin Modern Classics. The authors ranged from Conrad to James, Faulkner to Joyce, Thomas Mann to Ford Madox Ford, Woolf to Camus. Not even Nabokov was allowed to be there." Last year Marías himself became one of just a handful of living writers to join that same list. "I must assume, therefore, that these are much less demanding times than the 1970s," he explains modestly. "But, still, I feel very honoured, even if I can't help thinking I must be a fraud."
  1. The Infatuations
  2. by Javier Marías

    Far from being a fraud, it is difficult to think of many other living writers who are such an obvious fit for the list. In brute commercial terms, as was noted at the time, you could say his inclusion is not a bad hedge bet from his new publisher Penguin in the event of his winning the Nobel prize, something he is regularly tipped to do. In purely literary terms there is an even more compelling case. Few writers have sustained such an engagement with the classic (Anglophone) canon. As a translator he has rendered into Spanish work by Hardy, Yeats, Conrad, Nabokov, Faulkner, Updike, Salinger and many others. As a novelist, he has threaded his work with traces of these writers, and is explicitly underpinned by an empathy with Shakespeare and Sterne, as well as Cervantes and Proust.

    Sunday, December 28, 2014

    A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard / Review

    A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard 
    – review

    Rachel Cusk admires an autobiographical account of mid-life and 'the most significant literary enterprise of our time'
    The novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard became a household name in his native Norway with the publication, between 2009 and 2011, of six successive volumes of autobiography – each of considerable length – in which he embarked on a comprehensive and truthful recollection of his own life. His audience was scandalised by his honesty; the cultural establishment, however, recognised Knausgaard's project as a work of the highest artistic ambition. As each volume is translated into other languages, Knausgaard's literary fame increases while his notoriety becomes somewhat more theoretical: in his own (small) country, his intimate descriptions of friends and family and of his social and professional milieux were regarded as invasive and brought him in for much criticism. Elsewhere, the specifics have less currency and the moral status of the project itself – which in its entirety bears the title My Struggle – can be approached more objectively.

    Saturday, December 27, 2014

    Karl Ove Knausgaard / The latest literary sensation

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    Karl Ove Knausgaard

    The latest literary sensation

    Zadie Smith says she needs his books 'like crack'. The Norwegian writer's unflinching six-volume account of his day-to-day life has also provoked legal action and death threats. Is he brave or shameless, asks Hari Kunzru

    Hari Kunzru
    The Guardian, Friday 7 March 2014 14.00 GMT

    Sometime in 2006 or 2007, Karl Ove Knausgaard, an acclaimed novelist in his native Norway, discovered that he was sick of fiction. "It was a crisis," he wrote. "Just the thought of a fabricated character in a fabricated plot made me nauseous." The only genres of writing he still found valuable were diaries and essays, "the types of literature that just consisted of a voice, the voice of your own personality, a life, a face, a gaze you could meet". His solution was to embark on a massive project, a first-person narrative about his life that eventually ran to six volumes and 3,600 pages. He wrote at a feverish pace, publishing three books in 2009, two more the following year and a 1,000-page finale in 2011.
    The reaction in Norway was unprecedented. By 2012, the books had sold 458,000 copies – a staggering figure in a country of 5 million people. Knausgaard's unflinching descriptions of his marriages, his father's alcoholism, his second wife's bipolar disorder and his conflicted feelings about fatherhood were profoundly shocking to the Lutheran sensibilities of a country that is less comfortable with public confessions than the Oprah-soaked anglophone world. Commentators obsessed over the new literary sensation. Was Knausgaard brave or shameless? Was it ethical to reveal so many other people's private lives along with his own? He received hate mail, death threats. His uncle started legal action. One Swede took the extreme critical step of setting fire to the K section of a Malmö bookstore, telling police that he did it because Knausgaard was "the worst author in the world". And what about the title – Min Kamp or My Struggle, a reference to Hitler's notorious autobiography? The final book (yet to appear in English) contains a 400-page essay on the Nazis and ends with a discussion of the anti-immigrant mass murderer Anders Breivik. What face was this man revealing? What kind of gaze did he want his readers to meet?

    Friday, December 26, 2014

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

    Hans Ruedi Giger / Alien and other monsters

    Hans Ruedi Giger


    Astro-Eunuchs, 1967 


    Brain Salad Surgery, de Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1973 



    Li I, 1974 


    Li II, 1974 

    h r giger

    Monday, December 22, 2014

    Jean-Baptiste Mondino / Women

    Фотограф Jean-Baptiste Mondino

    by Jean-Baptiste Mondino

    Фотограф Jean-Baptiste Mondino

    Фотограф Jean-Baptiste Mondino

    The 100 best novels / No 66 / Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)

    The 100 best novels: No 66 – Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)

    PG Wodehouse’s elegiac Jeeves novel, written during his disastrous years in wartime Germany, remains his masterpiece

    Robert McCrum
    Monday 22 December 2014

    or PG Wodehouse, this novel, completed amid the horrors of wartime Germany, was something of a miracle, “the supreme Jeeves novel of all time”, he wrote. Defying gravity, English literature’s “performing flea” effortlessly reminded his postwar readers of a world whose day was done and also of a literary sensibility that had entranced a generation now facing retirement. A late-season masterpiece, Joy in the Morning is both an elegy and an encore.

    “The super-sticky affair of Nobby Hopwood, Stilton Cheesewright, Florence Craye, my uncle Percy…” is one of those imbroglios that Bertie Wooster believes his biographers will refer to as “The Steeple Bumpleigh Horror”.
    A more brilliant example of Wodehouse’s literary escapism, his capacity to conjure sweetness and light out of airy nothing, would be hard to find. Not only does he weave together many of his best characters and themes around the old plot of a Wodehouse heroine (Florence Craye) and her matrimonial designs upon Bertie (“She was one of those intellectual girls, steeped to the gills in serious purpose, who are unable to see a male soul without wanting to get behind it and shove”), it was also conceived and written during the “phoney war”, and all but completed during the Nazi occupation of Le Touquet (Wodehouse’s interwar home).

    PG Wodehouse

    Joy in the Morning is an anthology of Wodehouse’s favourite comic situations: the impending doom of a mesalliance; a blazing country cottage; a nocturnal confrontation; a fancy-dress ball. Style and content achieve a perfect union when a running gag about “the fretful porpentine” culminates with “a hidden hand” concealing a hedgehog in Bertie’s bed. The novel also contains some of Wodehouse’s most immortal similes, including the moment when one of the characters, caught in the act, spins round “with a sort of guilty bound, like an adagio dancer surprised while watering the cat’s milk”. There’s also, for readers troubled by Wodehouse’s terrible wartime gaffes, a line of oblique self-justification. “I doubt,” says Bertie, speaking of the writer Boko Fittleworth, “if you can ever trust an author not to make an ass of himself.”

    A note on the text

    Joy in the Morning was the novel Wodehouse was working on at home in Le Touquet when the German army burst into France with the blitzkrieg of May 1940. Two months later, he was interned as an “enemy alien” and had to leave his unfinished MS in the care of his wife Ethel.
    During his internment in Upper Silesia (“If this is Upper Silesia,” he joked, “what must Lower Silesia be like?”) Wodehouse wrote another novel, Full Moon, and did not return to the final chapters of his incomplete Jeeves and Wooster novel until 1943, after his release from captivity, and more especially, after his disastrous radio broadcasts from wartime Berlin. Battered, and embarrassed, but unbowed, he took for his title a quotation from Psalm 30, verse 5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” This, perhaps, was a coded affirmation of his determination to ride out the controversy surrounding his wartime behaviour.

    PG Wodehouse
    Eventually, Joy in the Morning would be completed in the idyllic rural solitude of Degenershausen, a country house deep in the Harz mountains. From there, the typescript was shipped back to his American publisher, Doubleday Doran, which launched it, with some misgivings about its reception after the scandal of the broadcasts, on 22 August 1946. An English edition from Herbert Jenkins followed on 2 June 1947. In the event, the reviews were good, and the hardback sales respectable, some 20,000 copies at first.
    For a writer who preferred to give little away, and (as he put it) “wear the mask”, Wodehouse’s preface to Joy in the Morning is surprisingly candid, revealing his creative anxiety about the effect of the second world war on his art and his audience. “The world of which I have been writing since I was so high…” he conceded, “has gone with the wind and is one with Nineveh and Tyre. In a word, it has had it.” Although he would go on writing about silly young men in spats, butlers, posh girlfriends, and country houses for another 30 years, he never recovered his vintage prewar form (with the possible exception of The Mating Season, 1949). His best work was done. Some Wodehouse fans may want to dispute this, but Joy in the Morning stands, for me, as his masterpiece, rivalled only by Uncle Fred in the SpringtimeThe Code of the Woosters and Heavy Weather.

    Three more from PG Wodehouse

    Heavy Weather (1933); Right Ho, Jeeves (1934); The Code of the Woosters (1938).


    007 Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
    014 Fair by William Thackeray (1848)  

    031 Dracula by Bram Stoker  (1897)
    035 The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
    036 The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
    039 The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)
    040 Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1915)

    041 The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

    042 The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
    043 The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
    044 Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Waugham (1915)
    045 The Age of Innocence by Edith Warthon (1920)
    046 Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
    047 Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
    048 A Pasage to India by EM Forster (1922)
    049 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loss ( 1925)
    050 Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

    051 The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

    052 Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)