Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Javier Marías - Thus Bad Begins (Hamish Hamilton, 2016) ***½

Javier Marías might be Spain's best writer of the moment. Last year, I gave "The Infatuations" a five-star rating, and rightly so, I guess, which made me take the next novel that appeared on the shelves of the book stores.

We meet young Juan De Vere, who works for Eduardo Muriel, a Spanish film director in the 1980s, just after the Franco regime. He ends up living with the excentric Muriel, whose relationship with his wife is one of neglect and vicious contempt, and young Juan eavesdrops on their misery and pain, the possible result of something that she may have done in the past, or still doing. As a result, she does her own thing, and young Juan suspects her of having affairs, even if he is also attracted to her, and at the same time he is wracking his brain to find out what she could have done to deserve all this.

One of these possible lovers is the dark figure of a Dr. Jorge Van Vechten, about whom rumours circulate, but who is also willing to take De Vere on night trips to clubs and bars.

Marías is a master of slow and precise prose, and his narrative sucks the reader into the bizarre situation of becoming a spy in the household of two bourgeois people, and even if you think that the narrator has long passed the boundary of privacy, you still read on, to know what is happening. And that is the strength of the book, there is no escape to be taken on a trip to the darker side of human nature, deep under the visible cover of decent bourgeois life, where appearances are almost by definition deceptive. What appears a boring marital problem becomes a moral investigation of respect, guilt, and self-knowledge, full of uncomfortable moments for both reader and narrator.

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