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The Infatuations

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The Infatuations Cover

ISBN13: 9780307960726
ISBN10: 0307960722
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him, which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word. I didn’t even know his name, or only when it was too late, only when I saw a photo in the newspaper, showing him after he had been stabbed several times, with his shirt half off, and about to become a dead man, if he wasn’t dead already in his own absent consciousness, a consciousness that never returned: his last thought must have been that the person stabbing him was doing so by mistake and for no reason, that is, senselessly, and what’s more, not just once, but over and over, unremittingly, with the intention of erasing him from the world and expelling him from the earth without further delay, right there and then. But why do I say “too late,” I wonder, too late for what? I have no idea, to be honest. It’s just that when someone dies, we always think it’s too late for anything, or indeed everything—certainly too late to go on waiting for him—and we write him off as another casualty. It’s the same with those closest to us, although we find their deaths much harder to accept and we mourn them, and their image accompanies us in our mind both when we’re out and about and when we’re at home, even though for a long time we believe that we will never get accustomed to their absence. From the start, though, we know— from the moment they die—that we can no longer count on them, not even for the most petty thing, for a trivial phone call or a banal question (“Did I leave my car keys there?” “What time did the kids get out of school today?”), that we can count on them for nothing. And nothing means nothing. It’s incomprehensible really, because it assumes a certainty, and being certain of anything goes against our nature: the certainty that someone will never come back, never speak again, never take another step—whether to come closer or to move further off—will never look at us or look away. I don’t know how we bear it, or how we recover. I don’t know how it is that we do gradually begin to forget, when time has passed and distanced us from them, for they, of course, have remained quite still.

 

But I had often seen him and heard him talk and laugh, almost every morning, in fact, over a period of a few years, and quite early in the morning too, although not so very early; indeed, I used to delay slightly getting into work just so as to be able to spend a little time with that couple, and not just with him, you understand, but with them both, it was the sight of them together that calmed and contented me before my working day began. They became almost obligatory. No, that’s the wrong word for something that gives one pleasure and a sense of peace. Perhaps they became a superstition; but, no, that’s not it either: it wasn’t that I believed the day would go badly if I didn’t share breakfast with them, at a distance, that is; it was just that, without my daily sighting of them, I began work feeling rather lower in spirits or less optimistic, as if they provided me with a vision of an orderly or, if you prefer, harmonious world, or perhaps a tiny fragment of the world visible only to a very few, as is the case with any fragment or any life, however public or exposed that life might be. I didn’t like to shut myself away for hours in the office without first having seen and observed them, not on the sly, but discreetly, the last thing I would have wanted was to make them feel uncomfortable or to bother them in any way. And it would have been unforgivable and to my own detriment to frighten them off. It comforted me to breathe the same air and to be a part—albeit unnoticed—of their morning landscape, before they went their separate ways, probably until the next meal, which, on many days, would have been supper. The last day on which his wife and I saw him, they could not dine together. Or even have lunch. She waited twenty minutes for him at a restaurant table, puzzled but not overly concerned, until the phone rang and her world ended, and she never waited for him again.

 

 

 

 

It was clear to me from the very first day that they were married, he being nearly fifty and she slightly younger, not yet forty. The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop, laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the very first time, and not as if they had left the house together, dropped the kids off at school, having first got washed and dressed at the same time—perhaps in the same bathroom—and woken up in the same bed, nor as if the first thing they’d seen had been the inevitable face of their spouse, and so on and on, day after day, for a fair number of years, because they had children, a boy and a girl, who came with them on a couple of occasions, the girl must have been about eight and the boy about four, and the boy looked incredibly like his father.

 

The husband dressed with a slightly old-fashioned elegance, although he never seemed in any way ridiculous or anachronistic. I mean that he was always smartly dressed and well coordinated, with made-to-measure shirts, expensive, sober ties, a handkerchief in his top jacket pocket, cufflinks, polished black lace-up shoes—or else suede, although he only wore suede towards the end of spring, when he started wearing lighter-coloured suits—and his hands were carefully manicured. Despite all this, he didn’t give the impression of being some vain executive or a dyed-in-the-wool rich kid. He seemed more like a man whose upbringing would not allow him to go out in the street dressed in any other way, not at least on a working day; such clothes seemed natural to him, as though his father had taught him that, after a certain age, this was the appropriate way to dress, regardless of any foolish and instantly outmoded fashions, and regardless, too, of the raggedy times in which we live, and that he need not be affected by these in the least. He dressed so traditionally that I never once detected a single eccentric detail; he wasn’t interested in trying to look different, although he did stand out a little in the context of the café where I always saw him and even perhaps in the context of our rather scruffy city. This naturalness was matched by his undoubtedly cordial, cheery nature, almost hail-fellow-wellmet, you might say (although he addressed the waiters formally as usted and treated them with a kindness that never toppled over into cloying familiarity): his frequent outbursts of laughter were somewhat loud, it’s true, but never irritatingly so. He laughed easily and with gusto, but he always did so sincerely and sympathetically, never in a flattering, sycophantic manner, but responding to things that genuinely amused him, as many things did, for he was a generous man, ready to see the funny side of the situation and to applaud other people ’s jokes, at least the verbal variety. Perhaps it was his wife who mainly made him laugh, for there are people who can make us laugh even when they don’t intend to, largely because their very presence pleases us, and so it’s easy enough to set us off, simply seeing them and being in their company and hearing them is all it takes, even if they’re not saying anything very extraordinary or are even deliberately spouting nonsense, which we nevertheless find funny. They seemed to fulfil that role for each other; and although they were clearly married, I never caught one of them putting on an artificial or studiedly soppy expression, like some couples who have lived together for years and make a point of showing how much in love they still are, as if that somehow increased their value or embellished them. No, it was more as if they were determined to get on together and make a good impression on each other with a view to possible courtship; or as if they had been so drawn to each other before they were married or lived together that, in any circumstance, they would have spontaneously chosen each other—not out of conjugal duty or convenience or habit or even loyalty—as companion or partner, friend, conversationalist or accomplice, in the knowledge that, whatever happened, whatever transpired, whatever there was to tell or to hear, it would always be less interesting or amusing with someone else. Without her in his case, without him in her case. There was a camaraderie between them and, above all, a certainty.

 

There was something very pleasant about Miguel Desvern or Deverne’s face, it exuded a kind of manly warmth, which made him seem very attractive from a distance and led me to imagine that he would be irresistible in person. I doubtless noticed him before I did Luisa, or else it was because of him that I also noticed her, since although I often saw the wife without the husband—he would leave the café first and she nearly always stayed on for a few minutes longer, sometimes alone, smoking a cigarette, sometimes with a few work colleagues or mothers from school or friends, who on some mornings joined them there at the last moment, when he was already just about to leave—I never saw the husband without his wife beside him. I have no image of him alone, he only existed with her (that was one of the reasons why I didn’t at first recognize him in the newspaper, because Luisa wasn’t there). But I soon became interested in them both, if “interested” is the right word.

 

Desvern had short, thick, very dark hair, with, at his temples, just a few grey hairs, which seemed curlier than the rest (if he had let his sideburns grow, they might have sprouted incongruously into kiss-curls). The expression in his eyes was bright, calm and cheerful, and there was a glimmer of ingenuousness or childishness in them whenever he was listening to someone else, the expression of a man who is, generally speaking, amused by life, or who is simply not prepared to go through life without enjoying its million and one funny sides, even in the midst of difficulties and misfortunes. True, he had probably known very few of these compared with what is most men’s common lot, and that would have helped him to preserve those trusting, smiling eyes. They were grey and seemed to look at everything as if everything were a novelty, even the insignificant things they saw repeated every day, that café at the top of

Príncipe de Vergara and its waiters, my silent face. He had a cleft chin, which reminded me of a fi lm starring Robert Mitchum or Cary Grant or Kirk Douglas, I can’t remember who it was now, and in which an actress places one finger on the actor’s dimpled chin and asks how he manages to shave in there. Every morning, it made me feel like getting up from my table, going over to Deverne and asking him the same question and, in turn, gently prodding his chin with my thumb or forefinger. He was always very well shaven, dimple included.

 

They took far less notice of me, infinitely less, than I did of them. They would order their breakfast at the bar and, once served, take it over to a table by the large window that gave on to the street, while I took a seat at a table towards the back. In spring and summer, we would all sit outside, and the waiters would pass our orders through a window that opened out next to the bar, and this gave rise to various comings and goings and, therefore, to more visual contact, because there was no other form of contact. Both Desvern and Luisa occasionally glanced at me, merely out of curiosity, but never for very long or for any reason other than curiosity. He never looked at me in an insinuating, castigating or arrogant manner, that would have been a disappointment, and she never showed any sign of suspicion, superiority or disdain, which I would have found most upsetting. Because I liked both of them, you see, the two of them together. I didn’t regard them with envy, not at all, but with a feeling of relief that in the real world there could exist what I believed to be a perfect couple. Indeed, they seemed even more perfect in that Luisa’s sartorial appearance was in complete contrast to that of Deverne, as regards style and choice of clothes. At the side of such a smartly turned-out man, one would have expected to see a woman who shared the same characteristics: classically elegant, although not perhaps predictably so, but wearing a skirt and high heels most of the time, with clothes by Céline, for example, and earrings and bracelets that were striking, but always in good taste. In fact, she alternated between a rather sporty look and one that I’m not sure whether to describe as casual or indifferent, certainly nothing elaborate anyway. She was as tall as him, olive-skinned, with shoulder-length, dark, almost black hair, and very little make-up. When she wore trousers—usually jeans—she accompanied them with a conventional jacket and boots or flat shoes; when she wore a skirt, her shoes were low-heeled and plain, very like the shoes many women wore in the 1950s, and in summer, she put on skimpy sandals that revealed delicate feet, small for a woman of her height. I never saw her wearing any jewellery and, as for handbags, she only ever used the sort you sling over your shoulder. She was clearly as pleasant and cheerful as he was, although her laugh wasn’t quite as loud; but she laughed just as easily and possibly even more warmly than he did, revealing splendid teeth that gave her a somewhat childlike look, or perhaps it was simply the way her cheeks grew rounder when she smiled—she had doubtless laughed in exactly the same unguarded way ever since she was four years old. It was as if they had got into the habit of taking a break together before going off to their respective jobs, once the morning bustle was over—inevitable in families with small children—a moment to themselves, so as not to have to part in the middle of all that rush without sharing a little animated conversation. I used to wonder what they talked about or told each other—how could they possibly have so much to say, given that they went to bed and got up together and would presumably keep each other informed of their thoughts and activities—I only ever caught fragments of their conversation, or just the odd word or two. On one occasion, I heard him call her “princess.”

 

You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a fi lm for whom one is rooting right from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no novel or fi lm. In real life, though, there was no reason why that should be the case, and I expected to continue seeing them every morning exactly as they were, without ever sensing between them a unilateral or mutual coolness, or that they had nothing to say and were impatient to be rid of each other, a look of reciprocal irritation or indifference on their faces. They were the brief, modest spectacle that lifted my mood before I went to work at the publishing house to wrestle with my megalomaniac boss and his horrible authors. If Luisa and Desvern did not appear for a few days, I would miss them and face my day’s work with a heavier heart. In a way, without realizing it or intending to, I felt indebted to them, they helped me get through the day and allowed me to fantasize about their life, which I imagined to be unblemished, so much so that I was glad not to be able to confirm this view or find out more, and thus risk breaking the temporary spell (my own life was full of blemishes, and the truth is that I didn’t give the couple another thought until the following morning, while I sat on the bus cursing because I’d had to get up so early, which is something I loathe). I would have liked to give them something similar in exchange, but how could I? They didn’t need me or, perhaps, anyone: I was almost invisible, erased by their contentment. A couple of times when he left, having first, as usual, kissed Luisa on the lips—she never remained seated for that kiss, but stood up to reciprocate it—he would give me a slight nod, almost a bow, having first looked up and half-raised one hand to say goodbye to the waiters, as if I were just another waiter, a female one. His observant wife made a similar gesture when I left—always after him and before her—on the same two occasions when her husband had been courteous enough to do so. But when I tried to return that gesture with my own even slighter nod, both he and she had looked away and didn’t even see me. They were so quick, or so prudent.

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t engle, September 1, 2013 (view all comments by t engle)
"...nothing is incompatible in the land of memory." This is a wonderful psychological thriller. Thought by thought the reader is drawn into the mind of the narrator, finally left shocked and disturbed. Think of Graham Greene combined with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I simply must go find more of Javier Marias - I cannot believe I have missed him to this point.
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hasnul, August 23, 2013 (view all comments by hasnul)
The Infatuations is as sophisticated as crime fiction can be, managing in its 346 pages to say so much about human nature, with its myriad fragilities, uncertainties and self-deceptions. No wonder Marías is translated into 42 languages; his themes are universal.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307960726
Author:
Marias, Javier
Publisher:
Knopf
Translator:
Costa, Margaret Jull
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Publication Date:
20130813
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
352

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The Infatuations Used Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Knopf - English 9780307960726 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.

Being that there are so many ways in which one might consider a book's overall effect (to say nothing of how certain elements may appeal to one reader over another), it can be rather arduous to convey what it is about a particular work that makes it resonate as it does. To some, prose is paramount. To others, believable characters and their development, with whom a reader can identify or at least empathize. Faithful dialogue, compelling plot, philosophical asides, broad scope, cross-cultural relevance, clever construction, unique narrative stylings, memorable voice, a timeless quality — all these and more are reasons often given when discussing what it is about a work of fiction that makes it so distinguished or outstanding. The one commonality shared by all the world's great novels, however, be they past or present, is their remarkable ability to stay with us long after we've set the story aside. So it is with Javier Marías's latest novel, The Infatuations.

Published to wide acclaim in his native Spain in 2011, the disputed King of Redonda's most recent offering is a murder mystery par excellence. No mere formulaic thriller, Marías's tale is one of perception, memory, grief, love, death, complicity, circumstance, doubt, chance, delusion, the multiplicity of motivation, and, of course, the nature of infatuation. Set within the capital city of Madrid and using a violent (and seemingly senseless) murder as its catalyst, the story follows María Dolz, a publishing house employee who entangles herself, however inadvertently at the onset, in the heinous crime's aftermath.

All this information was published over a period of two days, the two days following the murder. Then the item vanished from the press completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don't want to know why something happened, only what happened, and to know that the world is full of reckless acts, of dangers, threats and bad luck that only brush past us, but touch and kill our careless fellow human beings, or perhaps they were simply not among the chosen. We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten without leaving so much as a tremor of grief, not a trace. We don't want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people's misfortunes, as if, after each one, we thought: "How dreadful. But what's next? What other horrors have we avoided? We need to feel that we, by contrast, are survivors, immortals, so feed us some new atrocities, we've worn out yesterday's already.

Once morbid curiosity, fascination, and, perhaps, schadenfreude no longer fuel our fertile imaginations, a murder (nothing more) becomes as disposable as any of the myriad news stories that we've somehow indulged as being momentarily relevant to our lives. Marías works this pervasive and perverse social peculiarity to great effect — intriguing us enough to concern ourselves with the fate of his characters (with ever the freedom to simply turn or walk away), yet forever eroding the space around them from which we can watch safely from the periphery. It's a deliriously intoxicating technique, one evinced by our daily obsession with celebrity scandal, political malfeasance, far-off disaster, or nearby crimes of passion. These truncated news stories and soundbites, in reality, often have not the slightest thing to do with our own lives, but end up somehow consuming us (however briefly) all the same — as if they were somehow vested with the weight of our own personal stake. María is unable to turn away and neither are we.

Whereas so many whodunnits content themselves with little more than revealing the perpetrator and their hackneyed impulses, The Infatuations seeks to explore and confront a much broader purview. With perceptive observations and often tender insights into thought, reason, emotion, judgment, and the murky fringes of reality, Marías draws us into an almost inescapable role of accomplice and witness. He is able to do this so effectively by extracting the reader from the mystery of the murder itself (with which so few of us can identify) and repositioning one within the more familiar confines of love lost, relationships torn asunder, and the inevitable self-doubt which follows.

We tend to hope that, of the people and habits we cherish, no one will die and none will end, not realizing that the only thing that maintains those habits intact is their sudden withdrawal, with no possible alteration or evolution, before they can abandon us or we abandon them. Anything that lasts goes bad and putrefies, it bores us, turns against us, saturates and wearies us. How many people who once seemed vital to us are left by the wayside, how many relationships wear thin, become diluted for no apparent reason or certainly none of any weight. The only people who do not fail or let us down are those who are snatched from us, the only ones we don't drop are those who abruptly disappear and so have no time to cause us pain or disappointment. When that happens, we despair momentarily, because we believe we could have continued with them for much longer, with no foreseeable expiry date. That's a mistake, albeit understandable. Continuity changes everything, and something we thought wonderful yesterday would have become a torment tomorrow.

Is the author manipulating us? Are we willing participants? Are we rendered prostrate simply because the story evokes the universal feeling of unrequited desire and heartbreak? What about the abhorrent murder? Is all grief transmutable and therefore inexorable? Are we failing to see beyond all that is shown?

I would never know more than what he told me, and so I would never know anything for sure; yes, it's ridiculous, isn't it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom.

Marías's 13th novel (and the 10th to be translated into English), achingly beautiful and seemingly effortless like so much of his writing, could only have been carefully constructed by one possessed of a compassion and discernment alien to lesser writers. The Infatuations is not a flawless outing, but a remarkable and impressive one nonetheless. Marías's exploration of doubt, truth, life, love, and violence does not answer any of the age-old questions of morality and mortality, but leaves us with the sense that there is much veracity and wisdom to be found within the shadows and gradations. A master of contemporary fiction (and regularly mentioned as a perennial candidate for world literature's highest honor), Marías is amongst the finest European writers at work today.

The passing of time exacerbates and intensifies any storm, even though there wasn't the tiniest cloud on the horizon at the beginning. We cannot know what time will do to us with its fine, indistinguishable layers upon layers, we cannot know what it might make of us. It advances stealthily, day by day and hour by hour and step by poisoned step, never drawing attention to its surreptitious labors, so respectful and considerate that it never once gives us a sudden prod or a nasty fright. Each morning, it turns up with its soothing, invariable face and tells us exactly the opposite of what is actually happening: that everything is fine and nothing has changed, that everything is just as it was yesterday — the balance of power — that nothing has been gained and nothing lost, that our face is the same, as is our hair and our shape, that the person who hated us continues to hate us and the person who loved us continues to love us. And yet quite the opposite is true, but time conceals this from us with its treacherous minutes and sly seconds, until a strange, unthinkable day arrives, when nothing is as it always was...

*translated from the Spanish by the estimable Margaret Jull Costa (Saramago, Pessoa, De Queirós, Atxaga, et al)

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Marías (While the Women Are Sleeping) shows that death is hardest on those left living. Each morning Marí­a Dolz has breakfast at a cafe watching perfect couple Miguel and Luisa. One morning Miguel is stabbed to death on his birthday by a knife-wielding panhandler, a seemingly random act of madness. This rupture in Marí­a's idyllic voyeurism causes her to intersect her life with Luisa's, enmeshing herself in the murder's aftermath. Yet, as the story unfolds it becomes clear that nothing is certain but death. With philosophical rigor, Marí­as uses the page-turning twists of crime fiction to interrogate the weighty concepts of grief, culpability, and mortality. Indeed, scattered throughout are metafictional reflections on the limits and power of literature's hypotheticals, while María's job at a publishing company provides comic relief in its caricatures of the vanities of writers. The novel's power lies in its melding of readable momentum and existential depth. Through Costa's lucid translation, the prose exhibits Marías's trademark clarity and digressive uncertainty; a novel that further secures Marí­as's position as one of contemporary fiction's most relevant voices." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Review" by , “A haunting masterpiece....The lasting challenge to literature is to achieve a satisfying marriage between high art and the low drives of a simple plot. The Infatuations is just such a novel....Marías plays with perception, memory, and guilt like a toreador. With every flourish of his literary cape, the enthralled reader is never allowed to forget that, in the end, the author will make a killing. Just as Macbeth is a thriller that’s also a great tragedy, The Infatuations is a murder story that’s also a profound story of fatal obsession....Great Spanish novels don’t come along too often. Don Quixote was first published as long ago as 1620. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Infatuations soon acquired an equally devoted following.”
"Review" by , “Extraordinary....[A] masterly novel....The classical themes of love, death, and fate are explored with elegant intelligence by Marías in what is perhaps his best novel so far....Marías has defined the ethos of our time.”
"Review" by , “Absorbing and unnerving....For all the currents that ripple across its surface, The Infatuations is powered ultimately by the pressure of good old-fashioned suspense....A labyrinthine exploration, at once thrilling and melancholy, of the meanings of one man’s death—and a vivid testimony to the power of stories, for good or ill, to weave the world into our thoughts and our thoughts into the world.”
"Review" by , “Keeps us guessing until almost the last page. Yet what lingers in the reader’s mind is not the murder mystery, compelling though it is. Rather, it is the author’s examination of the ebb and flow of flawed relationships; the chances that bring us together and the fates (in this case, murderous intent) that pull us apart.”
"Review" by , “Uniquely luminous....A reading experience that is sometimes urbanely sensual and sometimes abstractly philosophical; or, maybe more precisely, sensual and philosophical, simultaneously....Like Beethoven, Marías is a brilliant escape artist....But Marías is original; he cannot help it.”
"Review" by , “Plotted with tremendous skill and elegance, this cerebral tale is entirely absorbing.”
"Review" by , The Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration masquerading as a murder mystery....Quietly addictive.”
"Review" by , “This cerebral, coolly compelling crime novel appears in the first instance to have one of those observant but passive narrators recognisable from works such as The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, and The Secret History....As it turns out, María, our guiding voice here, gets a little closer to the flame than the reader is initially given to expect — and responds in a rather more complex way....Smart, thoughtful, morally challenging, and consistently surprising in its tense twists, this is a sleek atmospheric work.”
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