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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lost patience with Marias's A Heart So White. Why?

What yesterday seemed a torrent of words as the narrator of Javiar Marias's A Heart So White recounts in a series of multi-page paragraphs the odd events that occurred on his honeymoon as he and wife, Luisa (?), overhear a lover's spat in an adjacent hotel room has become on my 2nd (and last) night of reading this novel not a torrent but a cement wall - pages andp ages of narration about events that to my mind don't cohere and don't build a story. We get a very long chapter in which the narrator describes how he met his wife: they are both translators, and he was assigned as an interpreter and translator for a private meeting between the PM of Spain and, apparently, Margaret Thatcher; Luisa, also a translator, was assigned as the "net" to monitor the narrator's translation and step in if there are egregious errors. There are, as the narrator has a little fun distorting and editing some of the conversation - which remains small talk and never gets into any diplomatic issues, in any event, and Luisa lets his deliberate errors go unchecked, forging a bond between them that will endure. OK, so if you read this chapter with close attention it's pretty funny, but then follows another dense chapter and another and at last I felt entirely oppressed by this self-conscious narration and lack of clear design or even plot momentum. Obviously, I'm wanting something from this novel that it's not going to deliver; Marias, like so many European novelists of the late 20th century, is interested in narrative doubles, self-referential narrative, high-level irony, and technical dexterity - books to be studied, perhaps savored by some, but not by me; that said, I did read his (most recent?) novel, The Infatuations, a few years back (posted on this blog) and found it compelling and provocative - like this one it began w/ a sensational act and then settled into a slow narration - but not nearly as slow and obscure as this one, and its story centered on this single sensational event - a shooting if I remember - and everything developed around that act, while this one is all over the place: we see a suicide in the first scene but 90 pages later there's been no further reference to that event, for just one example.

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