Justine's Reviews > A Heart So White

A Heart So White by Javier Marías
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Dec 27, 10

Read in December, 2010

This novel by acclaimed-Spaniard-who-has-yet-to-be-recognized-in-the-US was given to me by my boyfriend, who strongly prefers books that tell you a story and let you make your own judgment, rather than stories that are too morally guided. Reading a story for the story is all well and good, but when you buy your girlfriend a book, expect her to read into things and to take things at least a tad personally (especially if it involves a man thrice widowed and a stranger threatening to kill his wife). All this preamble is to say, though on literary merit this book deserves four stars, my estrogeny mind can at best give it three.

Why it's deserving:

Marias is a subtle skilled writer and grasps the psychological nuances that everyone faces. The organization of the plot, or rather the unfolding of the mystery is deliberately slow in coming, and the effect allows the reader to ruminate and ponder and itch and discover much like the narrator does. The use of repetition allows themes to run consciously through the book, highlighting the cogitative (ha!) style of the prose.

Finally, the title and a major theme of the book derive from Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth (doesn't) console her husband after he has just murdered Duncan. The discussion of Shakespeare by the author and its relevance to A Heart So White is well incorporated and thoughtful.


Why the translation may be a dicey read:

Sadly, I think most of the beauty of the prose (if there was any to begin with) was lost in translation. Furthermore, the fact that the translation is in stylized and often incorrect English made it worse. Overall, I found the quality of the prose (translation or not) to be a plodding, meandering, run-on-till-the-cows-come-home kind of read. Maybe all Spaniards talk and write like that. Maybe editors are used less. Maybe I just prefer Hemingway and Fitzgerald to this exhausting crap.


Why it made me want to tear my hair out:

Let us just say, this book was the psychological equivalent of a chick giving Pride and Prejudice to a dude. I imagine the dude reads it an thinks: really?! Now, as forewarned in the preamble, I get that I am reading too much into this, but this is why it made my want to tear my hair out:

1) This narrator needs a slap in the face. After spending 300 pages swirling around in his brain, I'm ready to shake him vigorously and tell him to get a fucking grip. Dude is whiny, without conviction, and way too self involved. I've had this reaction with other novels (e.g. The Emperor's Children), and I'm sure antagonizing or provoking the reader is part of the point, but to me, it's the psychological equivalent of being curled up in the fetal position and sucking your thumbs.

2) Women never get a fair shake: Perhaps as can be expected in a southern European novel but while there are deep characterizations of father, son, son's friend, none of the women get even a fraction of that consideration. Instead, they are wrapped up into a kind of archewoman who thinks and acts the same, has the same motivations, and participates in a sphere closed off to or ignored by men. The gender roles and uniformity expressed by the author is infuriating.

3) Dude hates marriage: Of the 300 pages, at least 60 are in some way devoted to hating on the institution of marriage. The arguments are fatalistic, immature, and well, yuck.


I've expressed this all to said boyfriend, and he just chuckled and told me there was no hidden meaning and it was just a story. To that, I say: you read Pride and Prejudice and then we'll be even.

Signing out.




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message 1: by Tone (new) - added it

Tone Ha ha. That was a great review. I'm 100 pages in and have wanted to shake the narrator several times already!


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