The Artizan Street Library Reading Group Met To Discuss:
Javier Marias’ Novel The Infatuations
This time we had Javier Marias’ novel The infatuations, his extended rumination on a man’s murder from the point of view of a female publisher’s editor who involves herself in the doings of his widow and her suitor, he being the likely perpetrator of the crime.
Was it fate? Malcolm wanted to know. We lately swore off first person male autism narratives and here we are with another dodgy genre, that of the subjective transgender male. We’ve had Colm Toibin’s New York, SJ Watson’s Before I go to sleep, and lately Wu Ming Yi’s The man with the compound eyes. Another library bay-heading in the offing.
Given that we are dealing here with a first-person (female) account of enthusiastic promiscuity, boastful bustiness and ‘deep satisfaction’ in bed, was no one else uncomfortable with our gentle author’s cross-dressing? Yes, Jenny was. She’d given up after the first detailed account of brassiere-wearing. But most of us hadn’t baulked. The story had to be done through a woman’s eyes, according to Sara. It didn’t matter the author was male, he got it spot-on, according to Janet. So there.
Back to the plot. Rory was a test case, hadn’t reached the end, didn’t know whodunnit. We told him. It was all made up as the author went along, Sara thought. Wasn’t surprising you’d not know. The problem, for Rory, had been the lengthy thought processes of each character being spelled out unsparingly. I should coco, Malcolm opined. Not only the narrator, but every character given a voice is inordinately prolix. It became a sort of comic take on the murder mystery – even when the facts of the murder are revealed in a sort of threesome bedroom scene (the narrator has been humping the culprit, who is surprised by the arrival of his accomplice!), the action is slowed to a Proustian level of cogitation as the possible reaction of each character is reviewed from every angle before the next narrative event is dropped into the story.
Maybe it was a Spanish thing. Like the characterisation of the novel as being about love (the victim and his wife are a loving couple, the killer is in love with the wife, the narrator is in love with the killer), whereas it is (metrically) a morbid discussion of death, punctuated by perfunctory bonking. Was this an insight into the Spanish libido? It was an insight into the aftermath of the Spanish civil war, according to Sara. A stream of consciousness inflected by the Franco regime. OK. The main characters are unsympathetic: unpleasant killer, Rory thought; unpleasant narrator, too, by Sara’s mark.
So. Morbid? Well, the narrator is a publisher’s editor and the author is… an author, literary type, and what we find occupying a fair amount of type here are extended analyses of a Balzac novella, Le Colonel Chabert, an account of a presumed dead soldier returning to his remarried wife from the grave, and Dumas’ Les trois mousquetaires in respect of the execution(s) of Milady DeWinter. Grisly stuff. In fact both narrator and killer indulge in fantasising about moments of death to such an extent that one could be forgiven for thinking Marias is making some point about morbid obsession as pathological – at one point we have the narrator fantasising about the murder victim fantasising about other people fantasising about partners’ deaths. That’s weird.
And the literary schtick doesn’t stop there. The narrator takes the opportunity to have a proper go at the (fictional) posse of self-important authors (all male) seeking her editorial attentions. Vain, enough to rehearse acceptance speeches for the Nobel Prize, and not necessarily still alive – even Emile Zola comes in for being affected and contrived! Rory had near swooned. But wasn’t this arch tongue-in-cheek? Some joke Marias, arguably the most fêted author in Spain, makes in self-deprecation. (And of course that works in reverse – the self-mockery demonstrates the maestro’s supreme self-confidence.)
Just one example of a lot of jokes Sara had spotted. And some odd things, surely uniquely Spanish, like describing a jacket as ‘Nazi-green’ and having your hair combed back (men only) as ‘like a musician’. And what about the Adam and Eve skeletons in Madrid’s Natural History Museum? An exercise in primeval voyeurism? Go figure. Finally, the title. Los enamoriamientos, claimed as uniquely Spanish in the text, and translated as ‘Infatuations’. Pretty good Übersetzung, if you asked Malcolm, but did it apply to the murderer? Jenny wanted to know. Perhaps the Spanish carries more weight?
Altogether an interesting read in Janet’s opinion. Why, Rory wondered, did Marias break chapters mid conversation? Maybe because there were no natural breaks to this sort of trawl through characters’ motives? But Sara thought she might have a clue in that Marias is an admirer of Lawrence Sterne, whose chapter-breaks, in the case of his most famous work, Tristram Shandy, are wildly eccentric.
Next time we have Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, classic 1954 cold war dystopia – third person narration without a hint of transgender. I checked. We meet 6pm Tuesday 22 December at Artizan Street Library