Friday, September 13, 2013

Spanish Literary Mystery: THE INFATUATIONS, Javier Marías

Translations: Mystery readers suddenly have access to work from other languages, other cultures, and the passion for Scandinavian noir has pushed along the process for many other writers recently. THE INFATUATIONS from Javier Marías is one of thirteen novels from an accomplished author who chooses to write regularly for Madrid newspapers as well. And it begins with a death -- the death of a husband, in a couple that the narrator, María, has long admired from a distance as a "perfect couple."

But don't let that wave of suspicion make you expect a quick investigation of the death. María doesn't expect things to move quickly, and the author's long sentences, rich language, and massive paragraphs -- some more than two pages long! -- insist on a slow descent into knowledge and revelation.

Life conducts a slow and uncertain flirtation with María, and with the reader. Weeks in her life turn out to be stage preparation for a small detail that turns upside-down her view of the widow, Luisa; of the author for whom she labors in a literary agency; of her own life. Here is a taste of her observations:
I noticed that Díaz-Varela had suddenly gone very silent and serious, and for precisely the same reason that Luisa had taken three steps toward the sofa and sat down on it before even inviting the two men to do so, as if her legs had given way beneath her and she could no longer remain standing. She had gone from the spontaneous laughter of a moment before to an expression of grief, her gaze clouded and her skin pale. Yes, she must have been a very simple mechanism. She raised her hand to her forehead and lowered her eyes, and I feared that she might cry.
That's actually from one of the more quickly moving scenes.

So THE INFATUATIONS won't release anything in a hurry. But the steady tension and the book's deepening current of loss and revelation for María are engrossing. If you're a fan of Carlos Zafón's mysteries, this will fit well for you. But it's also a true descendant of Wilkie Collins, with a taste of that "other time." And puzzle solvers will appreciate the appearance of names and other wordplay that reveal the author's deliberate call for attention.

Other names raised with Marías are Nabokov, Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, J. D. Salinger. It's no accident that these are male, deceased, profoundly literary narrators of their time. Marías fits well in this company -- but with the piquant tilt toward murder in THE INFATUATIONS and, inescapably, to the dangers of naive love.

If you "have some Spanish," take a look at the author's blog for further revelation:

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