The Infatuations by Javier Marias
The Infatuations is a dark murder mystery that also poses moral and philosophical questions about the extremes to which we humans will go in pursuit of love. Coming from the pen of Javiar Marias, considered one of Spain’s greatest contemporary writers, all the elements seemed in place for a deeply engaging read. And for people who have a fondness for verbosity, philosophical meandering and convoluted sentence constructions, it probably does equate to an enjoyable experience. I am not one of them and so this has gone onto the Did Not Finish pile.
I enjoyed the first few chapters as we get to know Maria Dolz, the narrator. She cuts a lonely figure as she recounts her daily routine of breakfast in a cafe near her Barcelona apartment. She observes the other customers. One couple in particular catch her eye; well-dressed, confident and so happy in each other’s company, that Maria labels them The Perfect Couple’. Perfect until that is, the husband Miguel Deverne is stabbed to death. Soon after Maria becomes more closely involved in the life of his widow Luisa and intimately acquainted with Luisa’s friend Javier. The more she is drawn into their world, the more she begins to feel that something doesn’t quite add up.
I never got to discover anything more about the murder and whether Luisa or Javier were implicated since it was at this point that my patience ran out with The Infatuations. For 180 pages (just a few pages shy of the book’s half way mark) we’d had barely any plot development but oceans of digressive narrative and dialogue which traced the same argument over and over again, the essence of which was whether a widow should feel so welded to her former love that she cannot then find happiness with another partner. Javier Marias kept returning to this question like a dog returning to its favourite bone.
It all became overwhelmingly tedious to the point I began skimming – never a good sign for me with a book. With a different style of writing I could have continued but Marias seems to specialise in tremendously long sentences consisting of multiple clauses hitched together so by the time you’ve reached the end of the sentence, the meaning of the first part has long since disappeared. There is little to break up this piling up of words so you keep going back to find the start of the point or just something — anything — to hang onto. Javiar Marias’ novel seems appropriately titled since the guy seems infatuated with his ability to create words regardless of whether they add to our understanding or enjoyment
Here’s an example from page 105 of my copy:
I didn’t see Luisa Alady again for quite some time, and in the long between-time I began going out with a man I vaguely liked, and fell stupidly and secretly in love with another, with her adoring Diaz-Varela, whom I met shortly afterwards in the most unlikely of places, very close to where Deverne had died, in the reddish building that houses the Natural History Museum, which is right next to or, rather, part of the same complex as the technical college, with its gleaming glass-and-zinc cupola, about twenty-seven metres high and about twenty in diameter, erected around 1881, when these buildings were neither college nor museum, but the brand-new National Palace for the Arts and Industry, which was the site of an important exhibition that year; the area used to be known as the Altos del Hippodromo, the Hippodrome Heights, because of its various promontories and its proximity to a few horses whose ghostly exploits have become doubly or definitively so, since there can be no one alive who saw or remembered them.
One hundred and eighty one words in one sentence with details that add nothing to our understanding of the characters or the plot. Despite reading this four times I still wasn’t absolutely sure from the syntax whether the technical college had the cupola or if it was the museum.
This and several later similar examples tested my patience too far. Farewell The Infatuations. I doubt I will want to attempt anything by this author again.