Okay, in a nutshell, here it is: this book is perfect —
Perfect for: 1) when you have 5-10 minutes while waiting to see the doctor, dentist, barber, beautician, whoever the heck you might end up waiting to see. One could do worse than reading this one. 2) just before going to sleep and you want to read something, without commitment or the investment of much thought. Very good for that, indeed. 3) Brushing up on a subject of interest to you before seeking out more exhaustive sources of information (see below). 4) * (I will not, NOT, I tell you, sully the integrity of this mini-review by the inclusion of item 4 from the list on the list. See the entry buried below, well below, where it belongs.
There is an interesting entry on Literary Inundation and its remedies: genre-reading, dictatorial reading lists, and the the long tail approach advocated by Christopher Anderson (essentially, book-mapping). To those, I would add Goodreads, primarily as a good resource for finding great books to read next. Notice I said “good resource for finding great books” and not “great” resource for finding “good” books. Good-great, not great-good. (attention to detail, ya’all)
A better choice, and I’ve said this many times, is Harmon & Holdman’s A Handbook to Literature—even at a couple times the price, it’s hundreds of times a greater resource.
Now, that pesky item 4: If you are one of those people who, for whatever reason, feel the need, urgent or otherwise, to maintain a library within the confines of your…uh, let’s just say one of the most private rooms in your quarters, then get that stack of reading material out of there post-haste, get thee to a reputable coffee shop and order a grande-quad shot, soy, no-whip mocha, and that problem will take care of itself. (Especially if you’re one of those people who tongue-moisten a finger before turning a page. Ewww!) Oh, and for the sake of consistency, this is perfect for ebook readers who don't care to see another tree's death go toward such things.
Missing Meaning Turns Up Found, the headline reads. Or perhaps, Meaning Found to Be Missing.
Okay, kids, this is for allmostsomea couple of a few of you—a very few, when it’s all said and done (WTF does that ‘and done’ accomplish at the end of that phrase, other than make it somehow appear complete?). This is one helluva novel, better even than the review through which I found it might suggest (at least, the rating—the review is perfect as is) (view spoiler)[ okay, okay, this one(hide spoiler)]. It's everything a Literature-, Psychology-, Philosophy-, Communication-, or Linguistics-Major, might want in a novel. Everything. It is not, however, something a casual reader, or a plot-driven reader (debatable), or genre-reader will likely appreciate. It’s something else. I’ll try to explain.
The story is frantic, funny, and straight-forward: a baby, who doesn’t vocalize, does begin reading and communicating with his parents using notes. His ability to read and manage language exceeds many adults. Consequently, when his parents submit the baby (Ralph) to a psychologist for examination, a rapid and bizarre sequence of kidnappings and misappropriations soon begin. Psychologist kidnaps baby before a Linguist kidnaps baby only to have the Military kidnap baby only to yield to the kidnapping by a Mexican family who risk another kidnapping at the hands of a priest. Predictable, right? In any case, that’s what the story is about. The novel, however, is not about the story. The novel is about something else. In many ways, it’s about everything else.
So if the novel isn’t about the story, what is the novel about? Among other things: reality and fictive reality, language and fictive language, signifiers and signs, and meaning. The stuff of novels. Their implications one in another. It’s about all those things Humanities Majors bumped into at some point in their academic adventure that either clicked and made sense, or (if they were like me) left a mark that enables recognition and the barest, most meagre of memories. Those concepts that many of us only assumed would take root in our thought eventually. All those ideas, the philosophies which inform those ideas, with the gentle prodding of members of the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Habermas, Benjamin, et al), with Freud and post-Freudians (a cameo by Lacan), by the structuralists and post-structuralists (Roland Barthes makes a surprisingly lucid cameo), the phenomenologists are represented (Husserl, Heidegger, et al.—Merleau-Ponty has a cameo). In some ways, an intimidating reminder of once upon a time. So excited now, right?
This novel is the other side of Markson’s coin. A delight. Some quotes for your edification with context provided as needed:
[a footnote in baby Ralph’s words]
My lack of familiarity at the time with Balzac’s novella perhaps hindered my ability to be fair in reading S/Z, but just because one doesn’t see the shit in the toilet doesn’t mean one does not smell it.
[the voice of Dr. Steimmel, the psychologist kidnapper, of baby Ralph]
He’s the link between the imaginary and symbolic phases. I’m going to dissect him and then it will be Freud, Jung, Adler, and Steimmel. And to hell with Lacan. He’s just Freud in a spray can.
Genius, I assume, does not recognize itself, having better things to do.
[Baby Ralph? Sometimes, you just don’t know.]
Clockwise is a direction and so is south, but if one continues in a clockwise direction no progress will be made. And no one ever comes from clockwise, though people often turn south or to the south or from the south. The words on the page always travel in the same direction, whether left to right or right to left or up to down or, as in the case of short-cut seeking bad poets, clockwise or counterclockwise in the shape of a gull. But there is no direction simply because the words are on the page and meaning knows no orientation and certainly no map. Meaning is where it is and only where it is, though it can lead to anyplace. Confusion, however is necessarily only in one place and looks the same regardless of where it stands in relation to meaning. Being confused always looks the same and it comes from clockwise.
Like all sotries, any of these I offer here has another side.*
*Here I defer to popular wisdom, however against my grain and better judgment, it being the case that I, personally, do not adhere to the logical necessity of many or even one extra interpretation or decoding of a given story. I constantly consider the literal and come back with positive reports. It’s not the simplicity of the literal, but the cleaness of it, the weight of it, and lastly, the fact that nothing makes such a figurative statement on everything like a literal statement.
Of the letter I, I have nothing to say, except where would I be without it and that there is no situation more self-affirming as seeing I to I with oneself. And there is no mutiny as when I can’t believe my I’s, as when one is acutely harassed and appears to be the I of the needled.
I was now in the chapel of the mission, a scary cavern of gaudiness and mawkishness. The only thing understated was subtlety.
Enough of this.
This novel is a testament to the encyclopedic (NR, it doesn’t require a massive tome), reminding readers of things they once knew or knew about—frequently demanding bookmarking to return to later (spenx?), or in my case, the purchase of a dozen or so OUP Very Short Introductions. Oy! 5 stars!
The hell with it, one more:
The fact that the constituent parts of a story are related and associated in ways paralleling a given world represents like relations and associations in reality.
This is the structure of a story.
The possibility of this structure is the form.
And there it is. Some of you should get and read this; others might find it frustrating. For me, more Everett is on the way.(less)
…it’s necessary, out of courtesy, to ask ourselves an increasingly rhetorical question: Is the book we have before us a novel, a collection of literary or anti-literary offerings, a miscellaneous volume that doesn’t fit any category, a diary of the life of a writer, an interweaving of newspaper pieces? The answer, the only answer that occurs to me just now, is that it’s something else, something that might be a blend of all the preceding options, and we might have before us a twenty-first-century novel, by which I mean a hybrid novel, a gathering together of the best of fiction and journalism and history and memoir.
I’d be surprised if I was the only reader who speculated , while reading, on whether or not this was a novel (it is; it clearly is). That said, I found and continue to believe, future editions of B&Co. would serve readers well with the inclusion of a bibliography and index.
Another title on my ‘not for everyone’ list, as is the follow-up suggestion to check out Bolaño’s short story, Enrique Martín, (which is dedicated to E V-M) in Last Evenings on Earth.
There is no battlefield on which Lemebel—cross-dresser, militant, third-world champion, anarchist, Mapuche Indian by adoption, a man reviled by an establishment that rejects the truth he speaks, possessor of a painfully long memory—hasn’t fought and lost. *
Before going on to say: In my opinion, Lemebel is one of Chile’s best writers and the best poet of my generation, though he doesn’t write poetry.
Bolaño recalls a conversation with Lemebel:
They can’t forgive me for having a voice, Robert, says Lemebel at the other end of the line. Santiago glitters in the night. It looks like the last great city of the southern hemisphere. Cars pass under my balcony and Pinochet is in prison in London. How many years has it been since the last curfew? How many years will it be until the next? They can’t forgive me for remembering all the things they did, says Lemebel. But you want to know what they really can’t forgive, Robert? They can’t forgive me for not forgiving them.
There’s an authenticity in the narrative that provokes the feeling of an autobiographical novel. The language is, at times, bewildering—the gaudy, overstated description of the rooftop apartment seems decorated, like the apartment, a poverty-stricken attempt at beauty—the blatancy of the artifice constitutes the success of the art. Readers are privy to the Queen’s voice and vision. The mundane at the border of the sublime.
So lonely, so trapped within his own cocoon that he can’t even cry without a spectator to appreciate the effort it takes to shed a tear onstage.
The impoverished life of the protagonist, the Queen of the Corner, is set against the excess of Pinochet’s opulence. Her (his) nosy neighbors and meddlesome ‘sisters’ are preferable to the constant nagging of Pinochet’s wife. A feeling of dread pervades the novel—something as inevitable as Pinochet’s fall. But, then there’s Carlos…
Some readers will find Lemebel’s longish paragraphs, with multiple voices and without the benefit of the conventions of written dialogue (quotation marks, indication of who’s speaking) confusing or some fault of the translator’s. I, on the other hand, thought it was perfect. Just perfect.
Borges. Borges and Joyce*. Borges, Joyce, Pynchon…and Wallace, and Proust, and on… and on… and on. All authors woefully underrepresented on my Read l...more Borges. Borges and Joyce*. Borges, Joyce, Pynchon…and Wallace, and Proust, and on… and on… and on. All authors woefully underrepresented on my Read list. With Everything and Nothing, I’ve made a modest stab at correcting that sorry condition and, in the process, have been dazzled by Borges’ short stories and essays. His scholarship is humbling; his stories provoke wonder. Each incredible in its own way. This slight introduction to the work of Borges includes many of the titles I’ve most often seen cited: Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote; Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; The Lottery in Babylon; and, The Garden of Forking Paths—perhaps, the only other equally frequently cited story title is The Aleph, which isn’t part of this collection. The bonus, then, with this collection is the wonderous essays on Kafka, nightmares, blindness, and other topics—essays which tread that fine line between fiction and non-fiction in the manner adopted by Eliot Weinberger, among others. Incredbile. Daunting. Stellar.
*In a Borgesian footnote, maybe not Joyce, maybe not after reading the brief biography-ette in Written Lives which suggests all-too-emphatically that Joyce was full of shit—literally—full of shit, an insight which has pushed him much lower on my To Read list. I’m all for perversions. But many—like the rodeo, NASCAR, and Republican National Conventions—can, at best, only be regarded as somebody else’s party. What makes this footnote Borgesian—why mention of the infinite, fate, literature, art [see? There’s the mention of those themes right there—all topics Borges approaches, expands on, informs, regardless of whether included in stories or essays]
Goddammit! I’m pissed, pissed and a little troubled. I just finished The Third Reich, within the half-hour. I’m not one to pore over what I’ve just read—rehashing the ‘what did it means’ or a book’s merits or flaws, I like it or don’t, set a course and run with it. A hastily formed first impression, whether with books or people, is good enough for me. Opinionated, I suppose, but it’s me.
So, what do I make of The Third Reich? What indeed? Part of me, the part I favor, tells me this is every bit as sophisticated, well-planned and executed, mature, all the favorable superlatives I dole on most of the other Bolaños. Yet, part of me is bugged (buggered?) by one little paragraph on the flyleaf and in the GR summary for the title:
Written in 1989 and found among Roberto Bolaño’s papers after his death, The Third Reich is a stunning exploration of memory and violence. Reading this quick, visceral novel, we see a world-class writer coming into his own—and exploring for the first time the themes that would define his masterpieces The Savage Detectives and 2666.
Particularly troublesome is the feeling that FSG lost control of a message or THE message with the phrases “found among Roberto Bolaño’s papers after his death” and “see a world-class writer coming into his own” with an implicit ‘immature’ ‘abandoned’ ‘rejected’ or ‘unfinished.’
A cursory look at the dates in the Wikipedia entry for Bolaño would suggest this is the first novel he wrote, with only a couple of the poems from The Romantic Dogs written earlier, though published in book form much later. Who knows? Bolaño always considered himself, first-and-foremost, a poet. Until I know otherwise, I prefer to believe that TTR was never lost among his papers, but rather, held onto, perhaps reworked, tweaked, handled like a first-born child—left to be discovered at some future time, left to be discovered by me.
To further romanticize this one, I really prefer to believe that this one is a game, akin to The Third Reich game that the protagonist immerses himself in. If that is, in fact, the case, then my apologies to FSG (one of my favorite publishers) for a teasing ‘found among the papers’—whatever else, I do not want to believe that this is merely something publishable mined from the surviving papers of RB (an unfortunate feeling given some of the ND titles that have surfaced recently). Given the mediocre reviews that have appeared to date, consider this one for what it’s worth—the thoughts of a die-hard RB fan. Hope you like it.
This is not a review. This is my reaction to reading TM&M. Nothing more, and certainly less.
From time to time, and always when I receive a Friend Request, I check other people’s Read list via the Compare Books function—constantly cringing at the five titles that always show up as huge scars—the titles on their Read list and my To Read list. The indignity. It doesn’t end. There are five, five which constantly haunt me, flood me with shame. This is (was) one of them (had I chosen to read the censored version, there would have been only 4.637 titles to haunt me—I wish I’d read the censored version.) And now the list is down to four titles—my personal List of Shame.
Not since On the Road have I been so certain that a book would, indeed, go on forever. On the plus side, it’s been two years since I’ve run into a title I’ve disliked this much. While most of my GR friends have enjoyed this and rated it highly [congratulations, good GR friends] to them I feel I should apologize, for me, this was merely a tedious, burlesque, Soviet-era fantasy and satire of life in Stalin’s shadow in general, and in the Soviet art community in particular. The interweaving of x-tian myth gives it premise, but only further contributes to its absurdity.
Does anyone remember those pictures from our youth—those ones with objects hidden within the picture—a dog composed of the leaves of a tree, a face hidden in the grain of a wooden barn, blades of grass being the whiskers of a cat which one could see clearly if the picture were turned slightly? Remember those pictures? This novel is perfect for those who loved those pictures (well, perfect for those who aren’t I). A perfect opportunity for those who love thinking, “this must be xxx” “that must mean yyy” “oooooh, they’re headed to the river [again], this MUST be a baptism”—conjuring the worst memories of Thomas C. Foster ’s simplistic approach to literature.
Apparently, this title matters. I encourage everyone to read it. With the same tongue firmly embedded in cheek that you must imagine when I tell you to read the complete works of Shakespeare [or anyone else] or that for a good time one should view the entire oeuvre of Ingmar Bergman . I was disappointed from its spoiler-filled Introduction through every single page which followed. Whenever I hear the words: Soviet Era, I immediately think, “bleak, ugly”—and this novel goes nowhere near shunting those words aside.
Some rating approaching 2 stars—I was going to give it a 1-star rating, but the ending merited another fraction of a star—not the telling of the ending, which felt very much as though the author just kept writing until he could think of one, but rather, the FACT that an ending exists, it was way too long a time in coming.
My humble apologies to those who love this book. Peace. Out.
This is a beautiful, melancholy novel. Stunning in its accomplishment and execution. Another winner from Javier Marías, a man I beginning to feel I know. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious, where other Goodreads’ friends have their David Foster Wallace or their Thomas Bernhard, and where previously I had my Cormac McCarthy and Roberto Bolaño and with whom I’m was quite content, I now have to add Javier Marías to that list of Those Who Do No Wrong.
While traveling by train to a performance as Cassio in the opera Otello, the narrator first encounters a man, an intriguing sleeping woman, and a traveling companion, and then later, in Madrid, he encounters them again and makes their acquaintance as he prepares for the reprisal of his role as Cassio. (Of course it matters that the opera is Otello, and that comes nowhere near the ‘spoiler’ I’ll try to avoid) . The predictable part: the opera singer takes a romantic interest in the woman. The less predictable parts: everything else.
But the parts aren’t what the novel’s about. What the novel is about is thought vs. dreaming, expectation and remembering, the ”now” and the ”still.” Oh, and delaying breakfast to prolong the dream at the expense of thought. It matters. And whatever you do, DO NOT skip the Epilogue. You just might have the same Ah-ha moment that I had.
At the great breakfast buffet of life, the one you dream of at your favorite luxury hotel or restaurant, you’re preceded by the presence of Javier Marías. Read him. Get to know him. Have a feast with him. As has been mentioned in plenty of places, and too many of my reviews, Marías is considered to be Spain's most likely candidate to win a Nobel—don’t wait till he's won it to check him out.
A strange, if uneven, collection of short stories, probably best serving the interests of the Marías aficionado. This is not the volume I’d recommend to someone new to the author; I’m reluctant to recommend it to anyone who is familiar with the author. Some creepy mofos inhabit the mind of Señor Marías.
While the Women Are Sleeping—an island vacation reveals the difference between love and adoration; immobilization by prescience; a variation on a Lolita-esque theme.
Gualta—when a man meets his physical and behavioral doppelganger, he does everything he can think of to distance himself from his own biography.
One Night of Love—a husband in a passionless marriage reads love letters from his father’s mistress before he starts receiving letters from her himself. Fraught with possibilities: who is the mistress? who is his wife? what’s in the final letter? is there correspondence from the grave? Open-ended and satisfyingly complete.
Lord Rendall’s Song—a returning prisoner of war decides to surprise his wife by arriving unannounced after watching her through the windows of their home. This story seems incomplete, something missing or wrong. It lends itself to what other reviewers have considered the uneven nature of the stories. Rather than blame the JM, instead I rather wish I’d skipped this story. When the chips are down, I choose to be Switzerland.
An Epigram of Fealty—the manager of a used book store confronts a mendicant outside the shop who claims to be John Gawsworth, Juan I of Redonda, the previous owner of one of the valuable volumes on display in the window. I’m not certain how well this story works as a story; I am certain that it will be of interest to anyone trying to piece together the strands of the Redondan legend as presented in other JM works. If only toward that end, the story has archival value.
A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps—a young woman grows old reading to an elderly widow and a ghost while fulfilling a prediction made by the widow. A confident story in the mature voice of JM, a story of confident tentativeness.
The Resignation Letter of Señor de Santiesteban— an English school teacher spends a year haunted, and insulted, by a ghost whose identity is in question, before exacting his revenge.
The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga—the titular narrator briefly describes the day of his death, the life that preceded it, and what his days have been like since. Remarkable in that the story was written when JM was just 14. After reading this rather bleak story, one might wonder if JM’s teachers encouraged his writing or sent a cautionary note home to his parents.
Isaac’s Journey— a nameless narrator ponders the fate of the prophesied, cursed, and unborn Isaac Custardoy. Custardoy is the art forger of A Heart So White, and I’m almost certain (as I haven’t yet read AHSW) that the character turns up in another JM title along with the story of his curse; a more dedicated reviewer would pursue this tidbit.
What the Butler Said—the narrator spends a half hour trapped in an elevator with a talkative butler who dabbles in black magic. Very cool.
Hints at stories. Hints at stories, with a familiar voice—not the familiarity of mere recognition, but the familiarity of intimacy. Those of us who’ve read a lot of Marías will understand, hopefully, that I’m not speaking of the narrator’s voice, but rather the author’s voice, Marías’ voice, a voice that speaks through a broad grin and says, “How lovely to see you again. Have I told you about…?” As the author’s voice becomes more familiar, other aspects of Marías’ style reemerge: his use of rhetoric, e.g. exquisite iteration of phrase, sequence or detail; his intricate characterization; his ability to build suspense from a mundane encounter. Twists of fate; humor, dry or dark. Classic Marías in bite-sized portions.
The Night Doctor—First do no harm? Really? Maybe? Perhaps.
The Italian Legacy—The inverse realities of two Italian women, friends of the narrator, and their unfortunate choices of men.
On the Honeymoon—An expanded excerpt of a scene from A Heart So White which makes me want to read that novel immediately. One of those astonishing scenes where Marías shines in his creation of character and tension between honeymooners and the woman-from-across-the-street. Pitch perfect.
Broken Binoculars—A chance encounter at a race track, an accessory after the fact? The narrator’s (and author’s) attention to detail might send you scurrying back to James Wood or David Lodge—as it will me. This one seems very familiar and may have been part of Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me (published after the author’s introduction to this volume).
Unfinished Figures—A forger who might also commit a deceit? Also familiar is the character Custardoy (the Your Face Tomorrow sequence and A Heart So White). And that three-legged dog—hasn’t he been around the block once before, too?
Flesh Sunday—Two men watching the crowds on a beach, each with his own aim. Another wife named Luisa.
Fewer Scruples—A reluctant porn-actress gets a lesson in worse professions. Another cameo by Custardoy.
Spear Blood—Wow! A dispassionate narrator recounts the murder of an old friend some two years prior and his eventual solution to the mystery. By far, the longest story in this collection. Day-long Falknerian sentences, at times demanding and at other times, effortless music. Cameo appearance by Ruibérriz de Torres, a minor character in Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me and the narrator of Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, also present is RdT’s trademark count: “one, two, three, four,” although voiced by the narrator, Victor Francés. At one point the narrator resorts to window-peeping in a search of clues and confides:
That room too was only dimly lit, a large part of it lay in shadows, it was like trying to get to the bottom of a story from which the main elements have been deliberately omitted and about which we know only odd details, my vision blurred and with only a restricted view.
In Uncertain Time—Perhaps, Thomas Wolfe was wrong; perhaps, you can only go home again, but you can’t remain there long. A Hungarian soccer player for Madrid (or football player, if you prefer, or fútbol player, if you must) toys with the emotions of a packed stadium before a gentle tug and learning the meaning of always.
No More Loves—A gentle ghost story and an homage to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (the novel, not the old TV show). References to Lord Rymer, the hard-drinking warden of high tables in All Souls and a Mrs. Cromer-Blake—there is another character in All Souls, a gay professor named Cromer-Blake; I don’t recall mention of a Mrs.
Well worth the time spent reading; the appearances of characters from other JM works is a bonus, but none of the stories rely on their familiarity.
4.636 Stars—rounded up (forget that BS debate over the worth of ½ stars—what we need are 1/10th stars or 1/100th stars, but then even with those some won’t be content, and anyway my credibility, given the way I dole out 5 stars means less and less by the day. So be it.
This is not your father’s Javier Marías. At least, this is not the Javier Marías you’ve encountered if you’ve read other books by him. Except, that it is. Sorta. The humor’s there; the facility with language is there; the twisted, convoluted, contortionist ploting… but in this one, things happen. There are events. You know—people do things and don’t simply know them. Well, sorta. There’s action, BIG action—murder, deceit, repentant and unrepentant criminality, lying, kidnapping, seduction. But only, again, sorta.
You see, Voyage along the Horizon isn’t really Voyage along the Horizon. It is, but not really. Voyage along the Horizon can’t be Voyage along the Horizon because it contains Voyage along the Horizon.The part is not the whole. The whole contains the part. The whole is not the part. It contains the part, and then some. The part is not the whole part, because we never know if we get the whole part, we only know we get the whole whole. Voyage along the Horizon includes Voyage along the Horizon rendering Voyage along the Horizon, in its entirety, well, Voyage along the Horizon. Sorta. Having cleared that up we can move on.
An unnamed narrator becomes aware of a text, Voyage along the Horizon, and mysterious events surrounding several of its characters—characters who are, or were real. As he pursues more information about those characters, the fictive Voyage along the Horizon, is read to him. The narration slides into and out of the narrated text; information about the characters is conveyed inside and out of the fictive Voyage along the Horizon. And it’s all great fun.
This is one of the author’s earliest texts. Some think/feel that an immaturity shows. My opinion—screw ‘em! Or, So what? Or, Are we really surprised when/if authors get better at what they do or start doing things differently? Aren’t we more disappointed when authors don’t show some sort of growth, or maturity as they publish newer, and hopefully, better novels? There’s another early and, as yet, untranslated Marías: Los Dominios del Lobo. It, along with La Asesina Ilustrada by Enrique Vila-Matas, according to Roberto Bolaño (Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998-2003) “marks the departure point for our generation” with regard to the relationship of contemporary readers and literature. The obvious question—posed to New Directions Publishing, as all three authors are primarily published here by NDP, is: WTF? Where are they? And, How soon can you have them here, in my own grubby hands, for my own personal betterment and well-being?(less)
Whoa. Just finished, processing, mulling, wondering…what do I say? How do you prepare someone? Should someone be prepared (I wasn’t)? Imagine the most depressing story you’ve ever read (and I’ve read ALL of McCarthy), narrated by the angriest of narrators (who may mellow, then again, maybe readers simply become hardened), describing circumstances that are necessarily ugly (war, colonial Africa) or merely simply ugly (contemporary culture, old people, young people, other people), but then told with a humor that makes it hard to put down (set down or belittle). The parts that ring true frighten with self-recognition; the parts that ring less true, smack of the absurd to again frighten with self-recognition. And what doesn’t provoke self-recognition provokes dread of foreshadowing (in the novel and in one’s own perspectives).
I’d recommend this one to happy people—in the hope they get over it.
I’d recommend this one to depressives—so they’d learn just how far they have left to go.
I’d recommend this one to…well, I don’t really know who to recommend it to. Maybe you.
Unlike anything I’ve read, and it will send me back for more Céline—just not right away.
Imagine, if you will or if you can, W.G. Sebald meets Roberto Bolaño, imagine fiction that crackles with ideas pouring like lava from stories told with grace and language one rarely encounters—a gift, just for you, from someone you’ve never met and likely won’t ever meet, yet someone you can know intimately from the quality of their offering which you receive wrapped in a brilliant, shiny paper tied together with shimmering strings in a Gordian knot which requires only your patient willingness to be dazzled with what’s inside. Imagine Javier Marías.
This one is challenging to describe, the title page synopsis gives only a hint at just how convoluted this title is; convoluted in the best sense of the word, the entertaining sense of the word, the sense that leaves you thinking: Nice, or better yet: N-i-i-i-i-i-c-e. This is a text busy with detail, yet as easy going as a conversation (albeit, a one-sided one) between friends. So here goes:
…the novel opens with the narrator, one Javier Marías, assuring readers that he has never confused fiction with reality, although, he readily admits mixing them together, as we all do, when we relate the facts of an incident or encounter, when we testify at a trial or give an eye-witness account, when we write a biography—in other words, any narrative, even though it be true, is inherently fictive. Okay. We get it. ALL narrative is fictional. He then relates his experiences during a return visit to Oxford—the real inhabitants, whether faculty or resident, he encounters, and their reactions to being included in his earlier novel, All Souls. Some of the characters relish his inclusion of them in his novel, some have reservations, some bear incredible likeness to his earlier portrayals, and some go so far as to recommend who should be cast in his role in any forthcoming movie. The narrator adamantly denies (to the reader) that any of those people are his characters. Where they believe he’s penned a roman à clef, the narrator maintains (to the reader) he’s merely written an entirely fictional novel that may bear some resemblance to circumstances in his earlier life—that none of the people are, in fact, his characters, except…well, maybe. From these interactions, DBoT progresses to real events from the narrator’s life, real people he’s known, real people who seem much like the characters in AS, and real people who seem like the real people encountered earlier in Oxford. Whew!
Still with me? Good, because, in addition to the ongoing roster of characters, then people, come, well more characters or people, some fictive some real, each bearing traces of characters from AS, some actually mentioned in AS, and others who make cameos either here or in Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me or narrate and star in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico or are part of the crew of the Your Face Tomorrow sequence.
Along with this cast of characters/people, Marías presents scenes from his early life (in the manner of Sebald—to include the old photographs, maps, book covers, etc.), revisits life during the Franco era, describes how books and people find their ways to him, his academic laziness, how he gained the throne of the very real island of Redonda, and all this with humor.
I saw myself freed from the specter of being accused of the wide variety of depravities I had been dreading for a week by then, balanism, strangury, satyriasis, nequicia, pyromania, enfiteusis, positivism, erotesis, felo-de-se, or perhaps even lardy-dardiness, though I don’t know if any of those words, which have cropped up here and there in my translations, correspond to vices (I think not) and I’m not about to go and look them al up right now, but their obscene or sinister sonority alone makes them all, without exception, deserve to be tremendous perversions—irreversible degenerations. It would have pained me to be accused of enfiteusis.
During a discussion with the screenwriter, Elías Querejeta (who actually did make a film premised on his understanding of AS and of which Marías wanted no part), the narrator says, “After all, this is a novel and I wrote it, and I’m not the sort of writer who leaves everything up to the reader’s intuition,” and he doesn’t leave much up to out intuitions, he tells us everything. He repeatedly refers readers to Shakespeare’s Othello, he uses iteration and variation extensively, and in doing so provides a metafiction to savor and wallow in.
DBoT is not a title easily recommended. It is not a title easily read (with any sort of enjoyment) by readers who require an engrossing story with all the ends nicely tied. Among the friends and reviewers I follow here, there are, perhaps, a dozen or so who I could recommend this one to knowing they’d ‘get it’ and even then, I’d wait for their reactions with both excitement and dread. BUT, for that dozen, I’m almost confident, almost confident, they’d come away from this wanting to read more by the author and pursuing him as doggedly as I do.
Some random quotes for your edification :
the unceasing awareness that the only way to disrupt time is to die and emerge from it.
”Put out the light, and then put out the light,” perhaps that’s why—to make it entirely certain—it has to be said twice, once for the event, once for the telling. And, too, as I said at the beginning, remembering and telling can become not only homage but affront.
And so what, if I hadn’t been born, and so what, if my brother faded away and said goodbye so soon, as if the world’s weak wheel lacked the strength to include him fully in its revolutions and time lacked the time to take in his enthusiasms and affections and grievances, or rushed to rid itself of his incipient will and forced it to cross over to its opposite side, its dark back, transformed into a ghost.
I sometimes think that might be why I often move through what I’ve called in several books “the other side of time, its dark back,” taking the mysterious expression from Shakespeare to give a name to the kind of time that has not existed, the time that awaits us and also the time that does not await us and therefore does not happen, or happens only in a sphere that isn’t temporal, a sphere in which writing, or perhaps only fiction, may—who knows—be found.
it’s hard to resist the chance to perpetuate a legend, it would be mean-spirited to refuse to play along.
Good ladies and good gentlemen, if you have a mind to, and if you have a heart to, consider the works of Javier Marías. Read him, and then put out the light, and then put out the light.
An interesting interview with the author may be found here: part 1 and part 2. Thanks, Mr. Nicholls for turning me on to the site, although, I want to smack that interviewer down--hard--maybe even repeatedly.
Sometimes you know from the very first words in a novel: I’m gonna’ like where this takes me. Now, as I start All Souls (and this review), I’ve read over 1600 pages penned by Marías, and he never fails to catch me up immediately and run with me. In this novel’s case, by the narrator’s distancing of himself from the character he was at the time of the events he’s yet to reveal.
An unnamed Spanish professor at Oxford teaching contemporary Spanish literature and translation (during the classes for which he lies outrageously to his students about the meanings and etymologies of obscure Spanish words) recounts his experiences at the university, the true natures of the faculty, and his affair with the wife of another faculty member. His account of high tables, the dinner where he meets his future lover, is Marías operating at the most comic level I’ve yet seen in his work. Amid the formality of high tables’ etiquette, which in this case degenerates rather quickly due, in part. to the drunken lechery of the Warden [he who officiates at said dinner], Marías glides effortlessly from the rendering of the evening’s havoc to a characteristic passage of great beauty:
It’s getting close to the girl’s bedtime, but before she goes one more train must pass, just one more, because the fresh image of the passing train and of the river illuminated by its windows (the men on the barge look up at it and grow dizzy) helps her to go to sleep and come to terms with the idea of spending another day in a city to which she does not belong and which she will only perceive as hers once she has left it and when her only chance to recall it out loud will be with her son or her lover.
The description is that of the narrator considering, not only the childhood of his soon-to-be lover and her earliest years spent in India or Egypt, but also the evaluative looks the two share over the course of the dinner; one of those passages which seems to say everything, and then ultimately says even more.
The high tables debacle briefly mentions the attendance of one Toby Rylands, a character who plays a significant role in the Your Face Tomorrow sequence and leads me to assume the narrator of that sequence is the narrator of this book (I could verify that, I suppose, but I’m too lazy, think it doesn’t really matter, and would rather readers of this review read those novels as well—having read further now, it seems apparent the narrator of this and YFT are in fact the same man, he goes unnamed in this novel).
At turns reflective, comic, then poignant, this is the one I wish I’d started my Marías odyssey with—characters pop in and out of subsequent novels, playing large roles in one and minor roles in the next—weaving stories back on themselves and other stories—for fans of The Sea Came in at Midnight, the works of Marías operate on a larger, if not epic scale. This one leaves me psyched for Dark Back of Time, a novel in which the Real members of the Oxford community during the narrator’s (Marías’ ?) stay there react to their portrayal in this novel. Called a ‘false novel’ by its creator (odd itself, in that, the characters of that novel are supposed to be the real Oxfordians, promises to be equally compelling.(less)
Yeah, I know—another 5 star review. I seem to be handing them out like candy lately. But, BUT, it’s not my fault. Blame GR. Blame amazon.com. Blame y...more Yeah, I know—another 5 star review. I seem to be handing them out like candy lately. But, BUT, it’s not my fault. Blame GR. Blame amazon.com. Blame yourselves. I take recommendations from wherever I get them, and all too frequently, I like what I get my hands on. So think of this 5 Star as somewhere between 4 and 5—probably not perfect, but I wouldn’t know perfect if I saw it. Are we OK? Am I forgiven for another Oh-Boy! review (to follow)?
Javier Marías does it for me. He speaks to me. Once our pacing is resolved—the pace at which his fiction presents itself and the pace at which I most receptively take it in—we sing together. Well, he speaks, I sing, somehow it all works out.
With Bad Nature, Marías revisits a character first introduced in Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me. The narrator, Ruibérriz de Torres, plays a minor role in TITBTOM, but shares center-stage with Elvis in this novella. Something that readers of this novella only won’t know is that Ruibérriz de Torres (yes, he lives through the story he narrates [duh!] and that aside cannot be construed as a spoiler) to become, among other things, a ghostwriter. At the time he narrates this story, he would have been a participant in the events of TITBTOM. From the novella’s first sentence, the narrator begins to reveal his own character and the resultant action in the story:
No one knows what it is to be hunted down without having lived it, and unless the chase was active and constant, carried out with deliberation, determination, dedication and never a break, with perseverance and fanaticism, as if the pursuers had nothing else to do in life but look for you, keep after you, follow your trail, locate you, catch up with you and then, at best, wait for the moment to settle the score.
Ruibérriz de Torres is very deliberate in what he says, and he’s a man terrified by something in his past—something that has haunted him, trailed him, something he cannot get beyond:
A chase lasts like no other kind of time because every second counts, one, two, three and four, they haven’t caught me yet, they haven’t butchered me yet, here I am and I’m breathing, one, two, and three and four.
This gloomy introduction, then, gives way to a surprisingly funny account of a time in his youth (age 22) while working in the States and landing a job as a speech coach for Elvis as he prepares for the filming of Fun in Acapulco (a film Marías knows more about than any human should). A night out in Mexico City with a subset of Presley’s entourage, during which Ruibérriz de Torres acts as translator, leads to a misunderstanding with some locals and an event which will never be far from the narrator’s awareness. That event is made more interesting in that it instantiates the Translator’s Dilemma—that of remaining true to the letter or the spirit of the speech to be translated. What fun!
This is a slight, little volume. Some might challenge its worth at $9.95 given a reader can get Marías’ novels for $10.00 to $13 & change. If you’re a Marías fan, it’s worth it; if you’re only wondering and looking for some sort of value, take advantage of a 4-for-3 promotion like I did. Hell, if that doesn’t work for you either, borrow a copy—borrow it from me—well, some of you could borrow it from me, you know who you are.
This novel’s humorous tone and the author’s suicide will put some readers in mind of John Kennedy Toole and his A Confederacy of Dunces. The protagon...more This novel’s humorous tone and the author’s suicide will put some readers in mind of John Kennedy Toole and his A Confederacy of Dunces. The protagonists of both novels share a general loathing of their circumstances and the people around them. CMOD-e is, however, much more fun and funnier. Johnson’s metafictional account of Christie Malry’s attempt to balance his life’s accounts is, at first, easy to identify with and creates in the reader a sympathetic reflection.
At one point the intrusive author/narrator says of the protagonist:
And he had contrived a method of throwing these switches by remote control, so to speak in an unusual way which I am not going to bother to invent on this occasion. But I will go so far as to tell you that it involved a shovel, which was naturally already there and available for use, a length of nylon twine, and a small hard ball of compressed rubber of the kind delighted in by many children of all ages; and that once this apparatus had worked, the only objects left were a shovel, which had every right to be there, and a child’s ball with about a yard of twine attacted.
I’ve provided this quote for two reasons:
1. it exemplifies the narrator’s insistent and humorous tendency to short-circuit expectations, and
I’m not sure why I put off reading this for so long: it’s listed in the Bibliography of James Wood’s How Fiction Works (and now has a √ after it like so many other great titles he cites), it received five stars from MJ Nichols and Greg, (who’ve written much finer reviews), and now, finally, I’m reading it because it was listed as a Cult Books group read; go figure.
At one point the author/narrator interrupts the text with:
…this novel is not an unrelieved progression of successes, you know.
I’d suggest he’s wrong, the novel is, indeed, a ‘progression of successes’ culminating in a major success. While reading this brief novel, I highlighted any number of passages to share in a review, most being the funnier intrusions, but instead of providing them I offer the following suggestion: Read this book, it’s fast, it’s funny, and it’s worth it.(less)
Incredible! In-freakin’-credible.! This is one of those titles you want to recommend to everyone, but you know damned well that it isn’t going to be...more Incredible! In-freakin’-credible.! This is one of those titles you want to recommend to everyone, but you know damned well that it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea—one of those novels that folds up on itself into something origami-like—a piece of paper manipulated into a work of art something like this: even if your own look more like this: ( my paper birds have wings that flap)
Why do you read? Why do you read what you read? When you pick up a novel for the first time, do you think ‘this looks good’ and wonder how it will end or do you look over the book and consider how the story might be told, how the author might attempt to engage you, and/or might the author have something to say beyond the story itself? Are you a reader who wants and expects entertainment or are you a reader whose expectations demand engagement of a sort that you know doesn’t appeal to all readers?
If you’re one of the readers who expect more than story, more than a gripping page-turner, someone who wants to be spoken to and not just entertained, you just might like Javier Marías. He’s a demanding author—his expectations of readers are great. His willingness to let a narrator’s thoughts wander in seemingly aimless and endless directions and to subjects that may or may not seem to speak to the story itself will slam covers closed for many readers. If you find Saramago, or Bolaño, or Henry James, or Melville too long, too wordy, too ‘boring’ (like this review), Marías might be an author best avoided—one left to the die-hards, the critics, the snobs, and the award committees. His paragraphs might go on for pages while his sentences can feel almost as long. He expects much of his readers, but the payoff is worth the time and effort.
In TITBTOM, the narrator, a perhaps unreliable narrator (aren’t almost all first-person narrators unreliable?), recounts the night he spent with a married woman as they have dinner and anticipate making love once her small child finally falls asleep, but her physical distress escalates, or degenerates, culminating in her death while her young son witnesses his partially dressed mother and the narrator in his parents’ bedroom and the narrator considers what might be happening in other parts of the city and world before returning the child to his bed, removing all traces of his having been in the dead woman’s apartment, considering voices on the woman’s answering machine, attempting to provide for the child before abandoning the apartment, and then later attempting to learn the fate of the child, the identities of the callers, and if his presence in the apartment has been detected (a longwinded sentence not uncharacteristic of the text of the novel, though much less compelling or artful). Check out Chris’ much better review & synopsis here
TITBTOM is more than a story of an untimely death, more than a story about how that death affects other characters—it’s as much about how what we don’t know affects us as much as what we do know, and how the dead live on; the narrator considers the link between himself and the dead mother:
Perhaps the link was merely that, a kind of enchantment or haunting, which, when you think about it, is just another name for the curse of memory, for the fact that events and people recur and reappear indefinitely and never entirely go away, they may never completely leave or abandon us, and, after a certain point, they live in or inhabit our minds, awake and asleep, they lodge there for lack of anywhere more comfortable, struggling against their own dissolution and waiting to find embodiment in the one thing left or infinite resonance of what they once did or of one particular event: infinite, but increasingly weary and tenuous. I had become that connecting thread.
The story is haunting. It builds slowly, making connections between characters and memories, tightening a circle that reads like the dénouement of a mystery. Readers, too, are haunted by the memories of the narrator—so thoroughly are we privy to his every thought. The narrator can be compassionate in protecting the secrets of living and the dead; he can also be humorous: “I was drunk, but that’s no excuse, you can be drunk in as many different ways as you can be sober.” TITBTOM isn’t a long book, but it’s slow-going, dense; it’s a novel that is exhaustive without being exhausting. This is one for the few, those willing to work for their reward. I've never been one for publisher loyalty, but I'm batting close to 1.000 with NDP. (less)