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Javier Marías: Tu rostro mañana 1: Fiebre y lanza (Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear)

This is the first book in a trilogy but it follows on from Todas las almas (All Souls). The unnamed narrator of that book is back in England but this time with multiple names. His surname is Deza but his first name is variously Jaime, Jacobo, Jacques or Jack, depending on who is doing the talking. When we left him at the end of Todas las almas (All Souls), he was finishing up his assignment in Oxford and planning on returning to Spain, to his fiancée, Luisa. He has now married Luisa, had two children with her and separated from her. He is working for the BBC in London at the start of the novel. As in the previous novels (and his other novels), this one is thin on plot and heavy on ideas, discussions of language and vignettes.

This novel takes him into the world of spies. He has remained friendly with Sir Peter Wheeler, a retired Oxford don and former professor of Spanish and Portuguese. Sir Peter invites him to an evening get-together, where he meets Bertram Tupra (giving him the opportunity to speculate on the origin of Tupra’s last name as well as on the use of Bertram as a first name in England) and, as he later finds out, where he is being considered as recruit for MI5. He passes the test and is recruited to work for them, which is what the second part of the novel is about.

But this is not a novel about spies and undercover work and the like, though James Bond does figure in it. His work tends to be mundane and involves both interpreting as well as giving his straightforward views (for which he seems to be respected) on the various people he interprets, sees in videos or listens to surreptitiously. His first client, if that is the right word, is a Venezuelan, who seems to be trying to get money from the British government to overthrow Hugo Chávez. Deza recommends against him but is not surprised when he reads of a plot to overthrow Chávez later. Other similar work follows.

But much of the novel is a series of vignettes as well as discussion of ideas. For example, he has a long meditation on Andrés Nin, a Spanish revolutionary murdered in suspicious circumstances, probably under orders from Stalin. While staying at Sir Peter Wheeler’s house, he reads about Nin in Sir Peter’s extensive library of books on the Spanish Civil War and connects him to Sir Peter (who clearly had a role, though unspecified, in the Spanish Civil War), Ian Fleming (the Bond connection, as Nin is mentioned in From Russia With Love (the book, not the film)) and his (Deza’s) father. As for ideas, there are long discussions on language (particularly the differences between Spanish and English), communication (e.g. a long discourse on the wartime idea of careless talk) and, of course relationships. Some might find these boring and, indeed, there is certainly a case to be made that their proper place is in Marías’ newspaper articles, but they work for me and clearly work for many readers. But don’t look for any great plot.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 2002 by Alfaguara
First published in English 2005 by Chatto & Windus/New Directions