Monday, January 27, 2014

The Infatuations - Javier Marias

It's a reader's superstition, to begin the new year with a weighty book, that set the new year of reading on. I have been lucky in the 3 previous years having started the year with some brilliant books/writers.  Jose Saramago in 2013, Laszlo Krasznahorkai in 2012 and Roberto Bolano in 2011. This year begun with Javier Marias, and it puts me at ease with the outcome. 'All souls' was the only other book I've read before and I was always wanting to read more of Marias. Regularly in the speculation for the next Nobel Winner, the general praise for the writer and this book in particular, made my anticipation high even before the start of the read. I should say, I am rewarded for my selection.

It's those trivial and chance encounters in life, that reveals a great deal of personal realizations to you. Many things happen in life without we giving enough attention to it. They become a news item, a conversation in a gathering and soon forgotten. However, some of such have a larger impact in one's life involuntarily. As destiny drives us, you become part of these chance encounters, and its repercussions.

Maria Dolz, middle aged woman, works with a local publication, used to seeing an elegant couple having break fast in the Cafe she frequent. Then one day, she stops seeing them in their usual place. The curiosity did not  last long, as she discovered from the news paper about  the murder of the husband, a wealthy man named Miguel Desverne.  She offers her condolences to the wife Louisa Alday, out of courtesy, where she meets Miguel's best friend, and Luisa's new possible companion, a very handsome man, called Diaz Varela. No marks for guessing, of Maria's infatuations and a steamy affair with Dias Varela, soon after the encounter.

The questions that now arise for Maria is what is Dias Varela's relationship with Louisa and to Maria herself.  In a spurt of jealousy, Maria build her own possibilities and scenarios of Dias Verla's relationship and her interests and the potential benefits to both. The question moves towards the potential hand of Dias Varela, in the death of Miguel and her own part in the whole affair. As the questions of love, hate, sex, life, friendship and death is the theme Javier Marias examines after the initial pages of setting up the plot.

As these questions are asked and the possibilities are opened in front of Maria, as she inadvertently being part of the whole scheme, with no possible escape, she tries to find answers to various aspects of life and death.  And slowly and steadily, a rather silly murder by an addict turns to a cleverly planned and executed crime. Now the larger question of the rights and wrongs of the death. What if the deceased himself had planned for his death, and arranged everything in advance. What is the involvement of his close friend in helping him in executing his desire. When will one decide to stop fighting the illness and decided to call it quits ? Would you take your family into confidence before you decide on your fate or would you let them make believe in a random murder. Who is guilty and who is innocent ? What is the guilt shared by Maria herself ? Is she, now being aware of the crime, responsible to inform the wife and the authorities ? Does she have the physical proofs or the moral rights ? Javier Marias, leaves us with more questions and many possible answers threading the paths of existentialism, spiritual and philosophical encounters. It confronts us, disturbs us and shakes the fundamental beliefs. 

Dias Varela, cites literary examples from Balzac's 'Colonel Chabert ',  Shakespeare's Macbeth and Dumas' 'three musketeers' in justifying the events. In Balzac's novel, the dead soldier returns to haunt the survivors (including his wife) as the dead Miguel continue to haunt Varela. Varela quotes from Dumas'  "A thief can give back the thing he stole, a slanderer can acknowledge his calumny,The trouble with murder is that it's always too late and you cannot restore to the world the person you killed.". However, taking refuge in Dumas' again, he chorus the words  "A murder, nothing more.".

Marias is a master with his words. The narrative is built slowly, and before you blink, you are in the thick of the things, often participating in the crime by yourselves. A typical murder mystery, given a new meaning by his intelligence and masterly creativity. This book is not intend to stir you in your seats, wanting you to get to the end of the mystery. The plot by itself is slow and does not necessarily give a definite answer, but a possibility.  "The truth is never clear, it's always a tangled mess. Even when you get to the bottom of it."

His character leaves us with these thoughts, which in a way summarises my reading experience:
"It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matter 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.”
Fabulous book, very intense albeit slow and deliberate, very engaging and thoughtful making it a great reading.
The Infatuations  ( 2012)

Javier Marias  ( translated from Spanish by Margeret Jull Costa 2013)

Hanish Hamilton

346 Pages
Guardian, NPR, Paste Magazine, NY Times, The Globe and Mail


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Given that you have read these two specific JM novels, I strongly recommend Dark Back of Time, for many reasons, only one of which is that I think it is JM's best book.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

Thanks Tom, Will get that book soon..