The Infatuations by Javier Marias

InfatuationsThe 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.

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 16, 2014, in Book Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Good lord. I couldn’t finish even that sentence. I am not familiar with Spanish or this author, but I think it may have read differently in the original language?

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  2. Interesting. I kinda like quirky stories, but after 180 pages of not knowing the plot–that’s a tough one.

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  3. I was actually skimming the sentence — never mind attempting the entire book. Is this some sort of literary technique, like stream of consciousness? Could this also be a clumsy translation? Thanks, L.

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  4. Well what a whopper of a sentence. Reminds me of Proust. His sentences were almost one page long but apparently grammatically correct in French. I don’t think I’d like having to read too many sentence like that. Yikes and I have this book. I read the back cover in WH Smith Paris and felt enticed by the story. But Lord that writing is just a bit too heavy going for my taste. Will try it, but if it doesn’t work for me bye bye. To be continued….

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  5. Of course it’s hard to see where he’s going with it – it’s a Javier Marías novel! At this point, it is a long tradition in which he is working: Joyce, Faulkner, Nabokov. It is not a coincidence that Marías is the Spanish translator of Tristram Shandy.

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  6. It’s museum. English, and Spanish, too, allow ambiguities that can be resolved by context.

    I do not believe that it is true that the sentence you picked reveals nothing about the character. It perhaps reveals a lot. After all, she is the one writing it. Why does she choose to do that? Sorta odd, ain’t it?

    Personally, I thought this novel was on the trivial side of Marías’s work, but it is also true that his books are not well suited for winding down. They are tricky puzzle books. More for winding up.

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    • the fact that you read it as the museum and Alex as the technical college maybe illustrates the way the syntax doesn’t lend itself to clarity :). I think my point about that extract wasn’t that it didn’t reveal character, but that it was so convoluted it was hard to see where he was going with it. I don’t know about his books in general having only looked at this one .

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  7. I think it’s part of the technical college, but suspect that the difficulty probably comes from the demands of translation. As I’ve said to you before, I had to give up on Marias as well. I know that he is very highly thought of but I simply can’t see the attraction.

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    • You did give me fair warning that my experience could well be similar to your own. And so it proved to be. The fact it is in translation may well have been a contributing factor but I don’t think it was all down to that.

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