Tuesday, October 25, 2016
A challening, typically European novel by Javiar Marias
Read and was impressed by a Javiar Marias novel a few years back - a difficult and eminently European (Spanish, in this case) author - nothing is as it seems, self-consciousness is all, the unexamined life is not worth writing about - and when I saw he was one of the consensus picks for this year's Nobel - sorry, Javiar, but the best person won - thought I'd read more of his work and have started what I think was his 2nd novel (at least into English translation) from the early '90s, A Heart So What (S. allusion there, as the epigraph reveals). Again, from the first 50 pp. or so, we can see that it's a difficult novel - lots of type on big pages with only rare paragraph breaks - meant to capture - and does capture - the rolling, inquisitive, consciousness of the narrator: we don't narrate our lives to ourselves in paragraph breaks; "stream of consciousness" is not exactly the apt metaphor, at least not in this case (nor my own I think) but more like a rush, a torrent, a waterfall of consciousness. OK so it's not the most accessible novel in the world - neither was the other one I read, can't even remember the title, it's in the blog index to the right of these words - but what keeps it going is the plot unfolding beneath the narrative torrent. This novel starts with a bang, literally - a young woman shoots herself in the heart in the midst of a family dinner; they're a formal and upper-crust Madrid family, ca 1950, the woman who kills herself has just returned from her honeymoon - and her husband, as we soon learn, was widowed from a first marriage. Hm. In 2nd chapter we just toward the present; the narrator - who recounted for us the dramatic events of ch. 1 - is the nephew of the woman who shot herself - I forget the exact family connection - and he describes the early days of his marriage. What's truly striking and weird is his very dark sense of what marriage entails: surrendering your identity and individuality to your spouse, someone who once you're married you can never escape from: most would not describe marriage thus, or at least not a happy and successful marriage. We go back to his own honeymoon, a very awkward and unloving one it seems, spent partly in Havana - during which a woman sees him standing in his hotel balcony and yells at him, believing him to be a man w/ whom she has a planned tryst; the man she was meeting, it turns out, is in the adjacent room, and narrator (and his wife) overhear not only their love-making but also a plan to kill his wife, who is back in Madrid - if she even exists at all - she may be just a fiction he makes up to prevent his marrying the woman he's w/ in Havana. In a weird way we begin to see that the man in the adjacent room is a double for the narrator - whose job, by the way, is as a translator (his wife's too), which has a lot of connotations: translating one life, one time, one event into something else, one person into another, life into art, dross into gold. This edginess to the story makes the challenge worthwhile - at least up to a point. We'll see as we move on.