Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Infatuations book review

The Infatuations, by Javier Marias
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Hamish Hamilton

Rs 550/-

Pp 345

This novel goes on to explore beyond an apparently senseless murder, with which  it opens. Maria Dolz, an editor at a publishing house, remembers Desvern and his wife Luisa as the ‘perfect couple’. Every morning before going to work, she would admire their blissful love from a distance as they breakfasted with her in the same cafe.

The rest of the novel delves into what could have brought a wealthy gentleman with no known enemies to such a gruesome end. Was there a stealthy enemy with a secret motive? How did the dying man feel in his last moments? What could have gone on in the mind of the deranged assailant? The specific incident gives rise to far-reaching speculations. What motivates the perpetrators of acts of violence? How does violence affect the instigator, the victims and bystanders, and change them?
The author does the opposite in this book, making a specific killing the launching point for far-reaching metaphysical and moral speculations. “What happened,” says Diaz-Varela, the self-confessed mastermind behind Desvern’s killing, “is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matter 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.”

However, the first half of the novel is tedious reading. Pages filled with paragraph-long sentences about theoretical speculations can tax the reader’s patience. The author deliberately reinforces this by making the characters mouthpieces for complex ideas, rather than fleshing them out as individuals. The scholarly Rico, the penurious working class Maria Dolz, Luisa the grieving widow, the man-of-the-world Diaz-Varela, all spew forth pages upon pages of identical speculative monologues. Real people rarely think and speak like this, but everyone in this book has their head in the clouds.
....Touches of humour attempt to relieve the monotony of philosophical and moral theorising , which occur more often in reality than in novels. With a self-deprecatory sense of fun, the author allows Maria to dissect publishers and bestselling authors and their book launches...

It is then that the author rewards the patient and persistent reader with his “grave, somehow inward-turned voice and the often arbitrary syntactic leaps he made, the whole effect seeming sometimes not to emanate from a human being, but from a musical instrument that does not transmit meanings...” From the second half of the novel, we are regaled with a marvelous symphony of quickly succeeding waves of speculations; life, love, death, war, crime, morality, human perversity and cunning. Delightful vistas of endless possibilities, stories and mysteries open up, making this book a rewarding read.
My detailed review is published in Sunday Herald