Javier Marías: Tu rostro mañana 3. Veneno y sombra y adios (Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell)
The final book in Marías’ trilogy is the longest, weighing in at over 700 pages in the Spanish version. However, it is still more of the same. He muses extensively on language, with detailed comparisons between English and Spanish usage, on spies and spying, on male-female relationships, on history, particularly the history of his own country, on violence and on life in general. He is still working for the spy agency and still having long conversations with Tupra, his boss. Indeed, length is the key. Two examples will suffice. At one point, his colleague, Patricia Pérez Nuix (whom he refers to only as the young Pérez Nuix, almost never using her first name), comes to visit him. They chat a long time – she wants another favour from him, namely to help her father who is in trouble. As it is late and raining, he lets her stay in his flat. However, he does not have a spare bed. First, he will sleep on the sofa and then she will. Finally, they agree that they are adults and can share the bed without anything happening. Pages are spent in his musings about whether and how to have sex with her and wondering if she is wondering the same thing. The second occasion is when he visits his estranged wife in Madrid. She seems to have a black eye and, on discussion with her sister, he finds out that this is not the first time. He suspects her boyfriend, Estebán Custardoy, an artist or, rather, a copyist and possible forger. With a bit of sleuthing he tracks down Custardoy to the Prado and then follows him back to his flat. Pages are spent while Deza observes Custardoy at the Prado, much of it on musings about the paintings in the gallery (we are given black and white photos of some of them in the book) and then further pages are spent on his following Custardoy, with musings both on the numerous statues and historical plaques around Madrid as well as the sleuthing techniques he has learned in his job.
The book effectively starts with a musing on what Tupra calls the K-M issue, which Deza takes to mean killing-murdering but which Tupra uses to refer to Kennedy-Mansfield, i.e. the untimely and often violent death of celebrities, in this case, of course, President Kennedy and Jayne Mansfield. Tupra reveals himself to be even more sinister than we thought when he shows Deza a series of videos of various celebrities in compromising positions, both sexual and violence. He starts with a famous right-wing woman politician having sex with two men and then shows various men involved in committing violent acts. All these tapes are to be used for possible blackmail. We find that Pérez Nuix’ father has been involved, too, but she does not know. Sometimes, Tupra is involved in violent acts, as he has Rafael (Rafita) de la Garza, the Spanish Embassy official whom Deza has taken a dislike to, beaten up. Deza even goes to the Spanish Embassy to see the effect on de la Gaza, who flees in fear from him. Violence also extends to his wife’s boyfriend as, once he has found out his whereabouts, Deza contacts Tupra for advice. Tupra’s advice is, for a Spaniard, ambiguous though it seems clear that is telling Deza to take care of Custardoy. Deza visits a friend who was a former bullfighter, to ask for the loan of a sword to scare Custardoy but ends up with a gun. He does manage to frighten Custardoy off, but when Tupra asks if Custardoy has been permanently frightened off, Deza expresses his doubts and Tupra points out that if he has doubts, he hasn’t done it.
Back in London he learns that Dick Dearlove, a fellow spy, has apparently killed an underage Russian and Deza suspects that not only has Dearlove been set up but that he, Deza, may be implicated. Indeed, it is this as much as what is happening back home in Madrid that persuades him, at the end, to return to Madrid. Before he does, he has a long chat with Sir Peter Wheeler, his mentor and the man who advised him to join the agency. Wheeler, based on Sir Peter Russell, is long since retired but tells Deza a few tales, including how he, together with Ian Fleming, ushered the Duke and Duchess of Windsor out of Madrid to the Bahamas via Lisbon. Wheeler also brings home one of the key issues of this book, namely how the violence that the various agencies are involved in affects the individual. Deza has, of course, seen it in himself in his dealings with Custardoy. Wheeler tells the story of his late wife, Valerie. She had worked for a secret agency in the War, which conducted black operations, i.e. used dirty tricks to disrupt the Nazis, including sending out fake broadcasts and the like. Valerie, who was involved because she was a fluent German speaker, having spent considerable time in Austria as a child, knew of an SS officer, whom she had disliked as a child, who had a Jewish grandmother but had managed to have this fact concealed to join the SS. Valerie had proposed outing him and others (including some who did not actually have any Jewish ancestry). After the War, she learned that the man she wanted outing had indeed been caught and sent to a concentration camp where he presumably died. However, on Hitler’s orders, the relatives of SS officers who had concealed their Jewish ancestry were also arrested and sent to a concentration camp and some of the man’s relatives, including two children, ended up in the camps. The effect on her is so devastating that she kills herself. This is the basic theme of this book and Deza/Marías discusses it in detail. Can we escape this violence? Probably not, says Marías but he writes an excellent book telling us this.
First published in Spanish 2007 by Alfaguara
First English translation by New Directions in 2009