Aug 02, 11
Read from July 25 to August 01, 2011
Over beers with a friend, I was trying to articulate what it is about Graham Swift, one of his favorite novelists, that I didn't like. I meant to be gentle, not wanting to bruise his feelings, but he doubtlessly was prepared for another rant. After 30 years of friendship he well knows my attempts at persuasion and my underlying insistence on being right. (We spent a similar evening arguing with voices raised but without consequence over who was the most musically influential Beatle). But skills that serve one well in a career can become tedious in a bar. So he stopped me with a pas encore, saying simply that there can be nothing as subjective as one's taste in fiction. I sputtered, but eventually gave up, realizing he was right.
See, Javier Marias suits me. I offer no defense to the argument that he is repetitive or untidy or insufficiently profound. He makes the commonplace come alive. But unlike Murakami, who searches his own soul while boiling spaghetti, Marias instead searches voyeuristically.
Look at that cover. A man in a hotel room looking out his open windows, across the esplanade, to a female figure waiting alone. What does he see? Well, that woman's adulterous affair that intersects thematically with a friend's search for love (or something like it), his father's three wives, and his own recent marriage. Let us not forget the Shakespearean clue of the title. For there is murder here and it is most foul. The mixing of vignettes serves as impressionism. Our voyeuristic protagonist sees the hand, hears the voice of the man in the next room. A stranger. But he also sees his father, or a man in a dating video sent to his friend; and will he also see himself. Because the woman, myopic, mistakenly calls to him.
There is one vignette which I must relate. Our protagonist is a translator. The woman who will become his wife is also a translator, and they meet when she is assigned to monitor his translation between a Spanish political leader and the female Prime Minister of England. At one point, everyone leaves but the four of them. The leaders engage in small talk. Our protagonist, however, takes some liberties which re-directs the conversation, warming the leaders to each other, and charming, without consequence, the real intended audience.
Good stuff. All told in a voice that resonates.