Tony's Reviews > A Heart So White

A Heart So White by Javier Marías
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Aug 02, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: spanish
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.
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Donna (new) - added it

Donna "I offer no defense to the argument that he is repetitive or untidy or insufficiently profound." Hmmm...I might enjoy this because once all the over-reaching for profundity starts in a book, I get really tired. Then again, maybe I've just reached the age of endless summer.


Tony I think the painter in you would love this very much.


Tony But Spain is alphabetically so far away.


message 4: by Donna (new) - added it

Donna Tony wrote: "I think the painter in you would love this very much."
words about seeing without words. I think I would enjoy that.


Tony You brought a Target store to life, after all.


message 6: by daniel (new)

daniel greeson I've been contemplating Marias for awhile now, do you suggest a place to begin?


Tony A Heart So White is the only Marias I've read. I just found it at Half-Priced Books and something made me read it right away. His trilogy and Tomorrow in the Battle Think of Me sure look tantalizing though.


message 8: by daniel (new)

daniel greeson His trilogy is what caught my eye. I need to find it in Half-Priced Books this weekend! *crosses fingers*

The last book that I came across and beckoned me to read it quickly was W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, a truly delightful book.


Tony Two nights ago, I found Rings of Saturn and Vertigo in pristine condition. And I started Rings already. It's silly, I know, but these little finds thrill me.


message 10: by daniel (new)

daniel greeson Absolutely!! How are you enjoying Rings?


message 11: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Too early to tell. It's, uh, different.


message 12: by Donna (new) - added it

Donna Tony wrote: "Two nights ago, I found Rings of Saturn and Vertigo in pristine condition. And I started Rings already. It's silly, I know, but these little finds thrill me."

That's one I want to read again. My life is quieter now. That's how I wanted to read it the first time, but it just wasn't possible.


message 13: by Jim (new)

Jim Coughenour I'm a great admirer of W. G. Sebald (all of his strange novels, plus his poetry & A Natural History of Destruction). I can't say the same for Marías – I've bought almost all of his books as they were published, but have never managed to finish a single one. Your review makes me want to try again. What am I missing?


message 14: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Which, I suppose, proves the point of the subjectivity of fiction appreciation. From what I've read in your reviews, you don't miss too much, Jim. I've only read the one Marias but what I liked about it was the impressionistic feel it rendered. It was painting, the way other novels have a musical quality. If that makes sense. He's fundamentally a good storyteller, keeping my attention even in vignettes which were slight. Broad brush strokes. But when I stepped back and saw them all together, interlinking, that gave me just enough satisfaction to say, "I'll buy it."


message 15: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Not His Real Name Tony wrote: "unlike Murakami, who searches his own soul while boiling spaghetti, Marias instead searches voyeuristically."

The two do, however, meet over puttanesca.


message 16: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Secor Not a novel That I connected with but, reading your review, I can understand why you connected with it.


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