Tuesday, February 22, 2011

All Souls - Javier Marias

Javier Marias is one of those writers I have never managed to read, all these years, despite many recommendations. This book might not be the best place to start, but it is all that I could get my hands on. Marias have spent two years during the 80s teaching Spanish at Oxford as a visiting professor. This book is a result of his experience and life there. Oxford is a typical boring academic town with its pretentious life with eccentric, and lethargic, uninteresting people. Protagonist of this novel ( if one can call it so), is also a Spaniard teaching at Oxford on a two year assignment and the book is based on his interactions with some of the entertaining characters in the academic circle and around.

This is not a story per se. Its a loosely collated details about various interesting, colorful and being at a place like Oxford, slightly off beat individuals that the protagonist had acquainted. In that count, this is not a full length novel with a definite story line with any moments of twists or turns, nor does it have any subtle undercurrents of sustained emotions.

One of the ongoing thread of this book is an illicit affair the protagonist has with one of the academic of Oxford , whom he met during a "high table" dinner. Also, his wandering around the small time second hand book shops in search of the books of few obscure English writers. However the novel is more threads through a collection of individual portraits some of the characters. This include a couple of homo sexual professors, economist specialized in 18th century tax structure, professor of literature who writes horror novels, another academic and Russian expert who is suspected to be a spy, second hand book sellers, plump chicks of neighboring towns at the pub, members of some exotic writer society, among others.

The writing is brilliant ; crisp and satirical . Episodic progression through one character to the other with a detached clarity and observation keeping the interests of the reader alive through out the reading. Dry humor, touch of pathos ( there are no happy or positive lives around barring the narrator), and sensitive and touchy characters and encounters.

Unlike a regular novel, there are no build up or development of characters or theme. However, he handles the subject and the characters very delicately. I don't think there will be consensus among the reading community about this novel. But on the whole I liked the novel for the shear sensitivity of the writing.
All Souls ( 1989 )

Javier Marias ( Translated by Margeret Jull Costs yr.1992)


210 Pages

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