52 books in 1 year. Weeks 19-20, Book 9: ‘The Infatuations’ by Javier Marías

I’m sorry, I either missed something completely with this book, or I simply didn’t get it. I didn’t even think there was much of a plot. I didn’t find it ‘absorbing, thrilling, unnerving, magical, stupendous, blindingly intelligent or engagingly accessible’ (just some of the words used to promote it), but pretty tedious and extremely repetitive. And by repetitive, I mean description repetitive. How many ways can we describe the same thing? Or, if you prefer, how can the same thing be described in many different ways? Or how many identical things can be described in various ways, manners, methods, styles, modes or schemes? On and on and on they crop up in ‘The Infatuations’ … maybe that was the point of it all? I can give you some examples, extracts, samples, or even some extracted examples of some samples, such as:

‘ … a time will come when it will seem incomprehensible that he could ever be restored to life, that he could ever exist, when merely imagining a miraculous reappearance, a resurrection, a return, will seem intolerable to her … ’

‘ … we cannot pretend to be the first or the favourite, we are merely what is available, the leftovers, the leavings, the survivors, the remnants, the remaindered goods … the person we rescued from an attic or a clearance sale, or won in a game of cards or who picked us up from among the scraps … ’

The ‘story’ is this: Maria Dolz, a book editor in Madrid, regularly observes a married couple (Miguel and Luisa) sharing breakfast before their work day begins, in the same café she frequents. Maria is infatuated with them. After they fail to appear over a few days, she discovers the husband has been stabbed to death in a street argument. She befriends the grieving widow, spends an evening at her house, meets some of her friends, and falls in love with the murdered husband’s best friend. That’s it, more or less – but obviously there’s a bit of a ‘mystery’ to it all, too.

It took until page 159 for something to really happen, and then it took the rest of the book to monotonously explain, pretty repetitively, what had just ‘possibly’ happened. I’m not giving anything away by saying that it has something to do with ‘the dead man who ought to remain dead’ – but it was something like that.

I’d hoped to see and feel more of Madrid, too – a city I love – but most of the repetitive prose took place indoors, inside, not outside, and/or in the mind, in the brain, in the head, through talking, speaking, muttering, murmuring, whispering, thinking out loud, on and on and on. At one point, on page 222, Maria Dolz visits another café – this time one that I recognise, the ‘Embassy’, very accurately described as ‘an archaic place where ladies and diplomats take afternoon tea’. But then nothing happens! In fact she sits there for 5 more pages, bizarrely recalling quotes from The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan until page 227, when she repeats and reminds us that she’s sitting ‘in the Embassy tea rooms, wrapped in the continuous buzz coming from ladies talking very fast and from the occasional idle diplomat’ … when suddenly, suddenly, ‘another quotation from The Three Musketeers surfaced in my memory, one that my father did not quote, but which I knew in Spanish, for things that impress us as children endure like a fleur-de-lys engraved on our imagination … ’ Yawn.

I have to give the multi-award-winning author, Javier Marías, the benefit of the doubt, not that he needs it from me. He’s published 13 novels, translated into 43 languages, and has been tipped as a potential Nobel laureate. He’s also a highly practised translator, and has held top academic posts in Spain, the USA and the UK. Javier Marías is also a Madrileño. Many of my friends are Madrileños. They are famed for a great deal of descriptive and gesticulating conversation, or repetitive and emotional speculation. I love listening to them and observing them – but I struggled with the three main protagonists of ‘The Infatuations’, Maria Dolz, Javier Díaz-Varela and Luisa Alday – who all seemed to speak or think and ponder in the same repetitive tone.

This work was first published in Spanish as ‘Los Enamoramientos’ in 2011, and has been translated by Margaret Jull Costa – who has also won many awards for her translations. But I felt for her as I read every single repetitive description throughout the 345 pages, and which I believe could have been condensed to probably around 50 pages of real ‘story’ in the original novel.

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