Javier Marías: Los enamoramientos (The Infatuations)
As in many of Marías’ other books, while there is a plot, he is just as much interested in ideas as in the plot. He has said lo interesante son las posibilidades e ideas que nos inoculan y traen a través de sus casos imaginarios [What is interesting are the possibilities and ideas that inform us and carry us through the imaginary representations of these ideas.]. Contrary to what the title may indicate, love is not the key idea he addresses (though it certainly is considered) but, rather, death.
María Dolz works for a publisher. Her job involves dealing with authors and Marías has his mockery of the authors. One author, for example, called Cortezo, phones her almost every day to ask what he should wear. Another author, called Garay Fontina, is even more a butt of Marías’ humour. There has been much speculation on whom he is based and it has been suggested that he may be based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Garay Fontina is one of the most successful (commercially) of the writers whom María’s employers publish so they have to be nice to him. He himself (though no-one else) regularly suggests that he is likely to win the next Nobel Prize. He is always asking for help, such as having his house painted or having holidays booked, and then forgetting to reimburse the company for the costs. Early in the book, he phones María and ask her to get him some cocaine and to get it that day before nightfall as he wishes to see it in daylight. However, the key event of the book involves what María does at lunch. Every day, she sees a couple at the café. He is around fifty, she is a few years younger. They have lunch together every day and seem very happy. She imagines them as the ideal couple, like a couple from a book or a film. She fantasises about this couple. One day, they do not appear. They do not come for some time, so she asks the waiter what has happened. Her tells them that they may have gone on holiday. However, when she mentions it to her colleague, she learns that the husband has been brutally murdered and, it would seem, that María last saw the husband at the same time as the wife last saw him. It seems he was collecting his parked car, when he was approached by a homeless man (who lived in an abandoned car) who accused him of putting his daughters into prostitution. The husband denied it completely, at which point the homeless man pulled out a knife and viciously stabbed him many times.
María learns that the victim was called Miguel Desvern or Deverne. His family name was Desvern but the family had adopted the name of Deverne for their film distribution company, of which Miguel was the head. His widow is called Luisa Alday. María sees the widow a few days later at the café, talking to her children. When they leave, María approaches her and says how she had observed the couple and offers her condolences. It turns out they had observed María and called her la Joven Prudente [The Cautious Young Woman]. The two women start a friendship. Meanwhile, María starts a relationship of her own, with a man called Leonardo, but also with another man, whom she falls in love with, whom she meets at Luisa’s house. His name is Javier Díaz-Varela. However, much of the book is about ideas. The first idea, as the title shows, is about love and successful relationships. However, the main point of discussion is about death – its effect on the survivors and how they adapt but also the whole meaning of what death means to us as humans. But then, suddenly, there is a plot twist which, in itself, has another twist. Marías does not make it easy for us or for María. However, I felt that the plot twist was not entirely convincing. Would a woman have acted the way that María did or is this more a male perception of how a woman would act? Indeed, could María said to be Marías’ feminine side, with the María/Marías similarity. It certainly is a fascinating book and his discussions of death and its consequences are as interesting as his ideas in his other novels but I am not wholly convinced by the plot.
First published in 2011 by Alfaguara
First English translation by Knopf/Hamish Hamilton in 2013
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa