July 29, 2013

An intriguing international story

By Javier Marias
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A celebrity in his native Spain, Javier Marías is puzzlingly unknown in the U.S. His novels are considered modern classics. He’s often tipped for the Nobel Prize. And his works have been translated into 42 languages in 52 countries. His latest prize-winning bestseller, The Infatuations, comes to America this month, and those who like their lit cerebral would do well to see what the fuss is about. Philosophical and provoking, a paradox of coolheaded intensity, this novel is, above all, addictive.

María Dolz, frustrated with her job in publishing, finds a small joy each morning in the café where she breakfasts, observing a beautiful couple who seem very much in love. One day they stop appearing, and María learns to her horror that the husband has been murdered. When the wife returns to the café, María offers her condolences—it is the first time she has ever spoken to the woman. The widow invites her to her home, and there she meets Javier Diaz-Varela, the husband’s best friend. María can see that the handsome Diaz-Varela is infatuated with the widow, and yet she becomes infatuated with him herself. They begin an affair. And from there, María finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery she would rather know nothing about—and must try to separate truth from fiction.

Marías’ style is distinctive: The story is told primarily through long internal monologues in which the narrator reflects on what has been said in conversation and even imagines whole conversations between others. Marías does this through long, drawn-out sentences, a sort of hybrid of Italo Calvino and Henry James. This description might horrify some and intrigue others, but the horrified shouldn’t turn away too quickly; somehow, this style manages to compel. Examining what underlies (and undermines) love, truth and justice, the prose never rambles but zeroes in on some of humanity’s most discomfiting characteristics, all of which relate to death and romantic love.

And uncertainty, perhaps the most uncomfortable element of human life, takes center stage. Marías keeps us guessing from beginning to end: about the crime, about the motivations, about what María is hearing from the other characters and what we can believe. A trip through the mind and heart that is somehow both quiet and edge-of-your-seat, The Infatuations fascinates as a whole new breed of psychological thriller.

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The Infatuations

The Infatuations

By Javier Marias
ISBN 9780307960726

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