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Berta Isla

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  3,271 ratings  ·  426 reviews

When Berta Isla was a schoolgirl, she decided she would marry Tomás Nevinson - the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her
Paperback, 542 pages
Published 2020 by Litera (first published September 5th 2017)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,271 ratings  ·  426 reviews

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Elements to combine:

Oxford University
Circular sentences
A tad of sex
Leftist clichés
Beckettian musings

Element that does not change:

It is always the same voice - for the narrator and for all the characters.

And this for all his novels...

Also, several ingredients of the plot in this Berta Isla were unbelievable and I could guess the ending when I had read 74% of the novel.

This was a choice from my book club. I hope future books will provide more variety.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish-lit, español
There has been a lot of hype on this book. El país rated it as one of the best books of the year (2017) and the review came from Juan Gabriel Vasquez, an author a I admire. I had just read “Así empieza lo malo” his last book and truly loved it. So I cracked open this big book (544 pages) with anticipation.

It opens with this memorable line, “There was a time I was not sure if my husband was not my husband...” Berta Isla and Tomás Nevinson were a young couple in Madrid in the 1970s. His mother was
Paul Fulcher
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
After so great a gap in his matrimonial felicity - when his death was reckoned certain, his estate settled, his name dismissed from memory, and his wife, long, long ago, resigned to her autumnal widowhood - he entered the door one evening, quietly, as from a day's absence, and became a loving spouse till death.
Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a m
“How easy it is to be in the dark, or perhaps that's our natural state"
Again Marias delves into the world of spies, just like in his magisterial trilogy Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear / Dance and Dream / Poison, Shadow, and Farewell. He even recycles some important characters from that novel: the cerebral-cunning professor Peter Wheeler and the ruthless-cynical Bertram Tupra. Again, his main character is a Spaniard who has ended up in England, the polyglot Tomas Nevinson, and is recruit
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish
Readers of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy will recognize that familiar terrain here. Even Peter Wheeler, the old spook, makes an appearance. And that begs the obvious question why Marías felt the need to return to the well-plowed themes of that massive, earlier work.

Well, it comes down to point of view. The previous work was written through the perspective of the young spy. But what if the young spy had a wife. What would that life be like for her? And what insights would she have?

That wife, her
Katia N
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“History is full of women who sit and wait, who gaze out at the horizon every day at dusk, trying to make out a familiar figure, and who say precisely this: “Not today, no, not today, but perhaps tomorrow, tomorrow.”

And that is what this novel is about. Marias seemed to assign himself a task to reflect how is that to spend a long chunk of your life waiting for someone dear without even knowing if he ever be back. What you would do and what would be your feelings the day after day, after day…

Roman Clodia
3.5 stars

For a while, she wasn't sure her husband was her husband

You know how almost every 'domestic/psychological thriller' these days comes with the strapline 'how well do you know those closest to you?' - well, in some ways Marias asks the same question here, albeit in a more cerebral, discursive way. And it's not just that the eponymous Berta Isla loses sight of the man who is her husband, it's that Tomas, too, finds his own sense of identity fractured, provisional and fluctuatin
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
First off, I won this as a goodreads giveaway. Thank you Knopf.

When this book comes out in August 2019 in its English translation, it is going to be in high demand. The translator did a brilliant job of translating the story into English.

This story is going to appeal to a wide range of readers. I put this story on the same level as John Le Carre’s Smiley novels and then some. This book may be categorized as a spy novel, but it is way more than that. It also has mystery and family drama that kee
Stephen P
He is befuddled. This aging master. The ingredients are familiar.Yet the overall theme; the work and all its interconnections to form a whole escapes him. He paces the floor lightly hitting one hand into the palm of the other. The further he walks the further the vision escapes him. He feels it dwindling away.

Two more cups of black coffee and he resumes but barely aware the thread is lost. One time he catches a blur, the second time too. Then, in a gradual movement of time the repetition feels l
Mark Joyce
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve spent nearly ten years wishing I could step back into the world of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, which got under under my skin like few other novels I can think of. Evidently I wasn’t the only one begging for another instalment, and Marias has mercifully agreed with those of his fans who felt there was more mileage yet in Bertram Tupra, Peter Wheeler and the shadowy MI6-esque organisation they vaguely represent.

I say instalment, but this is in fact a self-contained novel and there is abs
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, translation
the seventeenth(!) of his books to be translated into english, javier marías's berta isla returns us (tangentially) to the realm of his brilliant your face tomorrow (though a reader needn't have read yft before enjoying this one). full of intrigue, suspense, spycraft, deceit, and the spanish author's trademark ruminations and philosophical asides on, well, nearly everything, berta isla is one of marías's finest works of late (and perhaps one of the best places for a neophyte to begin).
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘The spy who loved me’

School sweethearts Berta and Tomás are to marry once they graduate from university. Tomás is bi-lingual (his father is English) and he goes away to study at Oxford. When he returns to Berta in Madrid, he is a changed man.

This is the story of a man who works for the British intelligence services in the 1980s and is told predominantly from his wife’s point of view: her husband’s protracted absences from the home, the impact this has on the family, his wife’s fears and concer
Mr Marías is clearly enamoured with his own writing, which probably makes it difficult for him to sense when the reader has had enough. Potentially promising beginning, strikingly dull middle (which is about 80% of the novel, getting more boring as time goes on), somewhat redeeming ending (nothing extraordinary, but shifts the story from 2 to 3 stars - or rather 2.5). This is especially surprising given that the plot, a story of love and international espionage spanning a lifetime, theoretically ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really tried with "Berta Islas." I thought it might be the first Javier Marias book I made it through, but I did not.

He spends so much time on every detail, every bit of minutiae that the story takes forever to move ahead, creating a hard slog through a literary landscape where everyone's voices sound the same. Is it like that in Spanish? Margaret Jull Costa is usually a terrific translator, but I recall having the same issue with his other books.

Very self-important.

Did not finish.
Excellent reading! Even if it's a long book and it takes some time for the reader to get involved in the plot, the narrative flows quite well.

4* Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me
3* The Infatuations
4* Berta Isla
TR Fever and Spear (Your Face Tomorrow, #1)
TR Thus Bad Begins
TR A Heart so White
TR All Souls
Jessica Jeffers
Every year, I tell myself I'm going to quit fewer books and every year there is a book that causes me to say, "fuck that." This book, which I started on January 1st, is killing me. It's so unnecessarily verbose that I started skimming on page 17 and am abandoning it on page 120. ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This novel has a really interesting plot but the characters, especially that of Berta Isla, are treated superficially. Not sure if Marías was intending to criticize the post-Franco generation as limited by the horrific and suppressive politics in which they grew up, but, if that was the intent, the novel misses the chance to make that argument clearly and ends up disappointing.
This is just a poor copy of Your Face Tomorrow
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having already read all of Javier Marías “mature” novels save one (I still need to get to THE DARK BACK OF TIME), I finally got around to one of his very earliest this past June, namely VOYAGE ALONG THE HORIZON, originally published in 1972, when Marías was still in his early twenties. The Believer Books edition of the English translation of the novel published in 2006, concludes with a then contemporaneous interview with the author, consisting of his answers to eight questions, the second of wh ...more
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the reading the latest from Marías, I was reminded of the latest from Ondaatje, Warlight, for in both cases what I most loved was the reading of prose that I specifically related to the author. Although there was plot and style, success or failure to dicuss, I felt that Warlight could be summed in one word, Ondaatje. To clarify this, I would suggest Proust, Woolf, Hemingway, and Henry James are also authors whom I enjoy for little more reason than they write in the style that they do. Enjoy i ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's no single path to go in life. Paths constantly cross. You don't always choose which one has to be followed. Speed of life kicks you from one unto another, parallel, path. You keep going. And sometimes you catch an opportunity to jump back to an earlier followed path. You can choose to risk the jump and find back what you left behind in earlier times. People, places, activities, emotions,... But you can never get back to the one you were yourself before. ...more
Garrett Rowlan
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long (Javier Marias, of course) and essentially two-person novel, Berta Isla is the book's protagonist, the wife of a secret agent employed by the British government in spite of his Spanish background. He has a flair for languages, can acquire and speak them rapidly, with no apparent accent. As such, he is recruited by the MI6 for field work.
Much of his work is unknown to Berta Isla, his wife, the mother of his two children who remains something of a Penelope waiting for her Ulysses to return,
Jackson Brown
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first Marías, and an impressive if at times frustrating work. The framework of this story is the relationship of the eponymous Berta Isla and her lover and eventual husband Tom Nevinson, who is recruited into a foreign agency and has frequent absences from his wife, the nature of which he cannot discuss. Immediately noticeable is Marías' style, which toes a fine line between being beautiful and pedantic in its discursiveness. I would dive into this work at times enthralled and at others aggra ...more
051119: this is an espionage novel unlike most others, maybe closest to le carre or greene, where what matters is not the acts of espionage, violent, mundane, deceitful etc, but the lives of those who are somehow involved. in this case it is the title character and her husband, she never told all, he never tells all, for he is the spy....

in interlocking narratives, the novel follows how this young man with remarkable mimicking ability, is swept into mi6, how his life is redirected, how his wife
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Javier, we need to talk. It's...not's me. OK, yes, it's you. You're just re-writing the same book, with the same style [1], and with the same themes, over and over again. Even the same characters, even the same words and the same literary references. And it doesn't feel like a story anymore, but the explanation of a story. It feels almost like an essay on the importance of a story. [2] And then you even inexplicably mix third and first person. What was the thinking behind this? In fact, ...more
Three things about the writing in this book:
1. Why say things in one word when you can take pages.
2. And if the reader is a bit slow let's repeat the thought, action or event a few times.
3. Then let's change the narration from third person to first but don't change the voice.
The story is about teenage boyfriend/girlfriend destined to get married and they do. But during his time at Oxford, Tomas is recruited by MI6 and their lives are never the same again.
I feel this book is part of the author
Iria D.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spanish
1st book I read from this author and I've found interesting. The differente voices to tell a story, the rythm. Fine for me :) ...more
Anthony Ferner
A Spanish woman, Berta Isla, looks back on her life married to her Anglo-Spanish childhood sweetheart, Thomas Nevinson. Tom is pressurised as a student into joining the British intelligence services. They are keen to harness his peculiar talent for languages, and particularly his ability to mimic accents to perfection. Tom can never reveal the reality of his secret life to Berta, though she is vaguely aware that he is part of the shadowy world of intelligence. She endures his progressively longe ...more
This novel was described to me as a high-brow spy novel. And that's what it is and what it is not. Don't expect hardboiled scenes or noir elements à la Hemmet or Chandler outranking the plot. You will certainly figure Tomás (the male protagonist and story trigger) has had a lot of that, but even as curious as you become about what he does when he's away, the novel does well without digging into that –which might make it a little slow or repetitive at times. What you'll find yourself after here i ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-extra
Berta and Tomas fall in love at school, then marry after he returns from university in England. Tomas is half Spanish and half English and is recruited by the British security services at university, so spends periods away from Berta throughout their married life when she is unable to contact him. Most of the story is told from Berta's point of view, so we learn the extent she manages to cope with this way of life. There is one terrifying incident, but much of the book is about her feelings.
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Javier Marías is a Spanish novelist, translator, and columnist. His work has been translated into 42 languages. Born in Madrid, his father was the philosopher Julián Marías, who was briefly imprisoned and then banned from teaching for opposing Franco. Parts of his childhood were spent in the United States, where his father taught at various institutions, including Yale University and Wellesley Col ...more

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