Reading dates: 17 May 2014 – 20 March 2015
Javier Marías is a curious writer, not for the faint hearted. His novels are somewhere in between a particular type of British fiction (think Ian McEwan) but with Spanish prose (think some Camilo Jose Cela or Luis Martin Santos, whom I despaired with). I also despaired with this novel at times, but its achievement is palpable in the words, in the acrobatics they make with the help of the syntax apparatus. His obsession with listening and looking, which I first came across in A Heart so White, continues here. Eloquently, he manages to break down the act of observing and to consider the ethics of acting on those observations or not. In fact, when it comes down to that, it almost reads like a non-fiction book, full of erudite descriptions and inferences. But of course, the novel hardly has any headings or subheadings so navigation to find these is almost impossible. A nice discovery when they come.
The book is about nothing, really. It is about the encounter of two friends (not too close, but friends) and the feeling that one wants to reveal something to the other. That is it. In between, there are many digressions about war, especially the Spanish civil war, about the social world, about a specific kind of spy work, about Oxford. It is extremely well observed, oddly structured. Will I read the other two in the trilogy? I am not sure if I am hooked enough. His work is a feat of language and the story is palatable at times, but the experience of reading was arduous, like a hard mountain to climb. I would not climb the same one again, and I am not sure I would climb one like it either. I am glad I did it, but it also showed me I don’t quite like climbing.