Friday, June 12, 2015

The Infatuations by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Marías chooses a female character, Maria, to narrate this European-style psychological thriller with a slow reveal that turns on a dime in the final chapters. Maria works in a publishing company and every day on her break from work she sees an intriguing couple, married, having coffee together. They look so happy and in love that Maria finds herself looking forward to seeing them in the coffee shop. Sometimes she overhears scraps of conversation and pieces together a life for them without them taking notice of her.

On the very first page of this novel we learn a man is murdered. It is the man of the couple Maria is so interested in. Maria tells us the last time she saw the man was the last time his own wife saw him. It didn’t seem fair, she thinks, for them to share that intimacy for she didn’t even know his name until she saw the report of his death on television.

Marías, Maria: the names one suspects are intentionally close in sound and structure for it is very rare to find a character give up her thoughts so completely to an author. In this novel Marías resides inside the mind of Maria, and almost everything that she thinks over a period of weeks and months is recorded here for us to consider. The world from her view gives us a distance from the victim, his wife, his friend, and the perpetrator of the crime.

This novel addresses some themes: the closeness of love and envy; our closest friends could become our greatest enemies; love and distaste; the uncertainty that comes with intimacy. In the following brief video interview composed by his publisher, Penguin Random House, Marías talks about an oft-encountered theme in his work: betrayal.

Marías’ style--reflective, reflexive, recursive, chatty, digressive—would not work if it weren’t at the same time fiercely intelligent and deeply thoughtful. He is funny, too, as though he has caught onto a joke before we had and can explain it to us. The author is like translator himself, seeking for ways to express an idea, a word, a concept. Long, long sentences and paragraphs punctuated with ellipses and em-dashes show the ongoing thoughts of the narrator and her interpretation of what she finds out when she introduces herself to the wife of the murdered man.

After listening to this novel, my first foray into Marías’ work, I went looking for information about the author. His Goodreads site mentions Proust, William Faulkner, and the German writer Thomas Bernhard as influences, and it is not difficult to see these influences in the ebb and flow of internal dialogue that runs alongside the action in this novel.

I listened to the audio of this title produced by Penguin Random House, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and read by Justine Eyre. The translation is extremely impressive for stream-of-consciousness writing and reading, perfectly understandable and involving. A capacious mind and a brilliant translator will keep one occupied for days.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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