Javier Marías: Tu rostro mañana 2: Baile y sueño (Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream)
The second novel in Marías’ trilogy follows on from the first, though with even less plot than that one. In the first one, there was a plot as we followed Jaime Deza’s transition from working for the BBC to working for an unspecified agency where he had to interpret people, both as regards the language they used as well as interpreting them as people. Whether he was working for MI5 or some other agency is not clear and he deliberately makes the nature of the agency even murkier in this book, telling us that it involves a variety of British agencies, including what he calls Buckingham, presumably Buckingham Palace.
However this book is even less about plot than that one. It is mainly about Marías/Deza’s musings on life. Marías has been compared to Proust, though a more modern comparison might be Sebald. However, Sebald is more inclined to muse about matters of great import, such as war and the Holocaust, though, like Proust, memory plays a great part in his work. Marías, on the other hand, while touching on such matters as the Spanish Civil War (he again brings up his theory that Rosa Klebb, from From Russia With Love, may have murdered Andréas Nin), his musings are often on more mundane matters. The opening fifty or so pages of the book, for example, are on the issue that when someone asks you for a favour you are under an obligation to them and become even more so if you do a favour for them. He cites, as an example, a Bosnian girl who was begging in the streets of Madrid, whom his estranged wife, Luisa, helped. The girl then started asking Luisa not just for money but for other things, saying that she was afraid to use the money she received from begging, as it had to go to her family. This is followed by an example that Deza faces, when his colleague, Pérez Nuix, whom we have met in the previous book, asks him go easy on someone he is to interview shortly.
These musings, which are so well written that even those seeking a plot should not be bored, are not the whole novel. Much of the plot, such as it is, revolves around a night out Deza has with Tupra and an Italian couple (the man is”big in the Vatican”). Of course, he goes off on all sorts of side-tracks, including speculating about Tupra, whose surname changes according to where they are and to whom they are speaking. In this restaurant, for example, he is Reresby but he has a slew of other names. In the previous book, Marías, the linguist, has speculated on the origin of the name Tupra and continues his linguistic musings. Indeed, the book is full of linguistic musings, concerning English, Spanish and Italian (I suspect that the couple they dine out with have been made Italian purely so that he can muse about the Italian language). But it is also here that we can see that Marías is really a very funny writer. We once again meet his friend from the Spanish Embassy, the buffoon, Rafael (Rafita) de la Garza. De la Garza, who, amongst other things, considers himself God’s gift to woman, disappears with a woman friend of Deza. Deza suspects that he might be hiding in the ladies’ room and bursts into it, shouting Security! Security and telling the bemused (but not frightened) women that he is looking for a well-known pickpocket. The whole scene is hilarious but also gives Marías time for more musings. For example, he spots seventeen pairs of legs and remembers that his mother had told him that one of the things a hero must be able to do is recognise the heroine solely from her legs. He is unable to recognise the lady he is looking for but does notice that one of the pair legs is not wearing stockings and he immediately assumes that she is not English. This is confirmed when she is the only one to invite him to come and look for the pickpocket (an offer he declines). The fact that he then goes into a musing about menstruation (you have to read it) does not detract from the scene.
Marías may not be to everyone’s taste. Some people may well ask and, indeed, have done so, what the point is. Of course, there isn’t a point. Marías is a superb writer, well worth reading, but if you are looking for a fast-moving plot you may well want to look elsewhere. But, for the lovers of literature, this is well worth the read.
First published in Spanish 2004 by Alfaguara
First published in English 2006 by Norton/New Directions
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa