20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I am convinced that Javier Marías is one of the world's greatest living authors. "The Dark Back of Time" probably is one of the ten best books I have ever read, and "Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me" is an exceptional novel, with "A Heart So White" not far behind. So I approached this first volume of Marías's trilogy, presumably his magnum opus, with great anticipation. But having read it, I find that I will have to reserve judgment at least until I read Volumes II and III.
Javier Marías is not an easy author to read, but one does become accustomed to his convoluted sentences and his narrative sprawl and digressions. Still, I don't believe a newcomer to Marías should make YOUR FACE TOMORROW his introduction to Marías's elaborate, almost baroque, style. Further, the plot is thin, tissue-paper thin, much less substantial than in his other novels that I have read. And while there are many wonderful passages of astute observations or profound meditations, there also are passages that I find pointless, seemingly nothing more than Marías showing off (although I recognize that they may take on significance in Volume II or III).
The narrator, ostensibly, is the same Spaniard who narrated "All Souls." There he had the false name "Emilio"; here he is Jaime Deza (or Jacobo or Jacques). He is separated from his wife Luisa and young son, and he is back in Great Britain, specifically Oxford and London. Most of the novel pertains to either of two situations: one, Deza's lengthy conversations with Sir Peter Wheeler, an elderly Oxford professor and ex-MI6 agent, or two, Deza's work "interpreting" people (i.e., assessing or evaluating them) for a group with nebulous connections to British intelligence services.
As is typical of Marías, there are numerous digressions into various and sundry subjects. One of the most prominent such discursive subjects is the Spanish Civil War, and Deza's ruminations often turn to the experiences of his parents and injustices they suffered at the hands of the fascists and their toadies. (Marías's own father was persona non grata with and under Franco, and I suspect - although I don't know this for certain - that much of the family history of the fictional Jaime Deza is the history of the real Javier Marías.)
The blurring of fact and fiction, characteristic of Marías's other work, seems also to be operative in YOUR FACE TOMORROW: VOL. I. Other themes are trust and betrayal (which lends the novel its title in the form of the question "How can I know today your face tomorrow?"), confidences and secrets, human speech versus silence, names and identity, memory and time, the present versus the past, and the absolute terminality of death.
As in most of Marías's other books, the title is taken from Shakespeare, in this instance from "Henry IV, Second Part" (Act II, Scene 2, line 14). Other plays from Shakespeare also are referred or alluded to. In addition, Marías makes very effective use of the dying words of Cervantes ("Farewell, wit; farewell, charm . . .") and a haunting quote from Rilke's First "Duino Elegy" (beginning "It is strange to inhabit the earth no longer").
But Marías is not simply a literary recycler. He is himself a complex and original thinker and a distinguished craftsman of language (albeit vicariously transmitted to us in what surely is a magnificent translation from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa). YOUR FACE TOMORROW, VOL. I is studded with notable passages. I will offer one, which I hope will convey some sense of Marías's style. It is part of a brilliant critique of the modern political fad of reparations:
"Who do our representatives and our governments think they are, asking forgiveness in the name of those who were free to do what they did and who are now dead? What right have they to make amends for them, to contradict the dead? * * * A person is a person and does not continue to exist through his remote descendants, not even his immediate ones, who often prove unfaithful; and these transactions and gestures do nothing for those who suffered, for those who really were persecuted and tortured, enslaved and murdered in their one, real life; they are lost for ever in the night of time and in the night of infamy, which is doubtless no less long. To offer or accept apologies now, vicariously, to demand them or proffer them for the evil done to victims who are not formless and abstract, is an outright mockery of their scorched flesh and their severed heads, of their pierced breasts, or their broken bones and slit throats."
Like W.G. Sebald, Javier Marías is fascinated with the past. How can we know the past? How can we memorialize it? How can we even begin to tell it without distorting or destroying it? As for the present, "It's a curse, * * * it allows us to see and appreciate almost nothing."
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2010
This book is the first part of a trilogy which has just been completed. I came across the author because of a truly wonderful story about his fear of flying in the summer 2009 issue of Granta. More recently, The Economist highly recommended the (third volume of the) trilogy, acknowledging that readers have to cope with several problems.
This first part is a personal and a family history, and a history of the Spanish civil war, by a man endowed with a unique talent. He is able-on the basis of brief encounters (interviews, sometimes observations with only a few words exchanged)- to assess persons, know them better than they know themselves and put his findings on paper, in report form. It is a very rare gift and his talent is turned into employment by a shady agency in London, after his marriage in Madrid breaks up. The agency and the history of his sponsors suggest he is hired to play a role in support of post-Cold War intelligence work. After all, he lived in the UK before he married, lecturing in Oxford, building a network of friends. Interesting!
However, Jaime Marias(JM) is his own writer, full of ideas and ambitions beyond a simple spy novel. The way the novel is written has led one Amazon.uk reviewer to give up reading well before reaching the half-way point. Why? Most pages are solid blocks of text, indentations are few, white lines absent. Fortunately, the chapters are fairly short. Real dialogues are rare. Usually, one character answers a question and holds forth for pages on end. It is sometimes interrupted by page-long musings by the hero himself, and then the lecturing continues. Is it a book written for women rather than men?
But it is also on occasion a warm, passionate book because of the personal ingredients. His description of the emotions at work during a break-up are unsurpassed: the fury, the incomprehension, the doomed efforts to win back a loved one, the autism received. Same for definitions and examples of betrayal in general. The description of the hero's frenzied midnight search in his mentor's library for details about the Spanish civil war is superb.
After finishing this book, I was in need of something else. But I will read Part Two of JM's trilogy, because he has really made me curious about what happened before and happens next.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2012
Violation of confidence, distrust, betrayal, secrets ... The narrator of this contemporary novel, which has, with some justification, been called Jamesian for its pondering style and non- linear structure, is obsessed with listening, noticing, interpreting, telling...
Javier Marías takes us into a world of secret services, history, and literature. That involves the history of the Spanish civil war. Orwell more than Hemingway. His main protagonist and narrator is a translator and journalist, suitably called Jaime. For Jaime, this history is personal, it affected his father, who had been on the republican side and was betrayed to the victors by a friend. The story has autobiographical components.
This is volume one of a trilogy. The language (translated convincingly from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) builds up some resistance, it is not easily accessible, but once an initial hurdle is conquered, it flows and delights, like in many James stories, where one needs to find the door first. Nothing seems to be lost in translation here. This is, after all, also the language of John le Carré.
The narrator has a valuable gift, which makes him an asset to his secretive employers. He is a kind of living polygraph. His high social/ emotional intelligence enables him to 'read' people and look through their hidden agendas. That is the meaning of the enigmatic title of the novel. What happened to his father could not have happened to Jaime. He would not have been clueless like his father. Presumably. The word `prescience' comes up.
Marías draws us into a complex story: the strange job for the government (the chapters about that have a tongue in cheek satirical touch: 'lack of definition was its essence'), and how it came about that the spooks hired him, and the unraveling of an ugly past.
'There is nothing worse than looking for a meaning or believing there is one. ... Believing that we do not owe ourselves entirely to the most erratic and forgetful, rambling and crazy of chances, ...'
A brilliant and entertaining novel, strongly recommended for Orwell fans. It also makes me interested in reading Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love. Jaime thinks that Fleming was a far better writer than lit history gives him credit for.
A final piece of wisdom: 'talking is probably the biggest waste of time among the population as a whole. It is wastage par excellence. Strangely, though, and despite everything, the majority continues to talk endlessly and every day'.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2011
Pay attention to what the reveiwers say and read between the lines to figure out who is writing the review. Are they like you? Do they appreciate fine writing, ambiguity, interpretation, translation? Or do they want a simple plot and romance? It's true that this trilogy is difficult to read, they are complex, that Marias has a Faulknerian writing style. That's what makes his work so extraordiary. These books are among the more memorable ones you will find, if you devote the effort and time to them. I am now in the middle of A Heart So White and find it to be just as exceptional.
on March 10, 2014
This complex part of a larger novel (Volume 1 of 3) explores questions of trust, knowledge, identity, love, and betrayal. Not much happens. The narrator, Jacobo, or Jacques, or Jack, or Jaime, is recruited after an Oxford dinner party by Tupra (probably not his real name) and Wheeler (actually Rylands) to work for a shadowy agency that seems to be an offshoot of MI5 and MI6. Jacques, as he calls himself, has an excellent gift for understanding others' feelings, motives and propensities. While Jack, as Tupra calls him is delving ever deeper at Tupra's urging into the psyches of Venezuelan military figures (called Bonanza or Ponderosa, or nothing at all), movie stars, and various and sundry others, Wheeler, in decline, is revealing his own hidden past and decrying the unknowability of and by others to Jacobo.
Lonely work, compounded by Jacques' estrangement from his wife Luisa (she calls him by his last name, Deza). Tupra is estranged from his last, latest wife, Beryl, and Wheeler is still grieving over the loss of his young wife of many years ago, Valerie. None of these issues are resolved in this book.
Marias' discourses about our inability to know, to divine the future, and tends to despair of the present. As to the past, much is made of the faithlessness of others. Deza is still working out his father's betrayal by friends in the Spanish Civil War as well as the still unsolved execution of his Uncle Alfonso in that time. As in other books by Marias the occasional photograph takes on disproportionate importance, perhaps because the writing is rather prolix.
The writing is best when most direct. The passages about Uncle Alfonso, who is pictured, are moving indeed. Also well done are the too infrequent encounters of Deza with other real people--young Nuix and the group at the cocktail party.
For me, the examination of every thought and motive and particulate of speech and emotion betrays a deep and probing intellect but one a bit out of control. Like Henry James, Marias is great, but doomed to a certain level of inacessibility.
I will read the next two volumes, almost in spite of myself, if only to find out who the lady and the dog are, approaching Jaime one rainy night in London. Infuriatingly fascinating stuff.
on February 26, 2011
This review is from: Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear (Vol. 1) (New Directions Books) (Paperback). But, there's really only one way I can adequately discuss Volume I and that is to discuss the remaining two of Javier Marias's trilogy at the same time -- at least to some degree. Some of you may not have the stamina to pursue the other two in any case, so I will do my best to treat all three as one in a comprehensive discussion, rather than individually or in the order in which they were published.
Javier Marias is considered a genius by many and was Spain's hope for the 2010 Nobel Prize, which (unfortunately) went to the Peruvian conservative, Mario Vargas Llosa whose books I've never been able to finish because of the dark, unforgiving landscapes that plague his characters.
Reading Marias, however, is more like a romp through a lush playground of swings and slides. The anticipation is high in the beginning, but gradually we fall into a sort of passive walk around someone else's mind, an intellectual voyeurism that eventually numbs us into submissiveness the longer we read, until soon we've lost interest in the swings and slides and wander off with the writer into a rich labyrinth of words that makes us reach, question, deviate and learn.
We see everything through the eyes of Jaime (or Jacques, or Jacobo or . . . )Deza, an expatriate Spaniard living in London alone, with an estranged wife and children still living in Madrid. Deza is attractive and sharp and gains the attention of a man named Tupra, an enigma extraordinaire who remains an enigma throughout the three volumes of the novel. Nevertheless, Deza is eventually employed by Tupra through the recommendation of an elderly mutual friend named Peter Wheeler, who is, as I understand it, the reincarnation of Marias' mentor in real life, Sir Peter Russell.
Tupra, we suspect, is involved in a highly secretive organization supported by MI5 and MI6 and Deza is assigned the job of secretly analyzing and interpreting personalities of prospective employees, agents, enemies, even friends of the highly placed Tupra. Even with the long bouts of tediousness, the book moves along at its own respectable pace holding the reader's attention despite complex sentences and long paragraphs that contain repetition of phrases from earlier in the book -- phrases that become much like a refrain. It is not boring, fundamentally because of the intellect behind all the observation, a key word that bears repeating. He (Deza) "observes," without much action, but he observes with such a brainy substance. The language is leisurely and contemplative and wraps you up into a nice rich cocoon of contentment that you don't really want to leave even though the plot really doesn't go anywhere, except into a deep, shocking psychological territory that most of have never been. The required resolution is there -- which ultimately becomes the change that takes place in Deza.
Those of you who want a captivating and complex intellectual mystery which involves questions of good and evil, action and non-action, and a skewed re-apportioning of moral responsibility, this book may be for you. If you're looking for a James Patterson murder mystery, skip it.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2011
I know this review is a little long, but although I did not thoroughly enjoy this work, it provoked a great deal of thinking that I think may be interesting and helpful. In fact, it is an edited version of a slightly longer piece I will soon be posting to a literary blog. Please let me know if you are interested.
Both nothing and so much seem to happen in the first of three books that constitute Javier Marías' noir-tinted intellectual opus Your Face Tomorrow. At least, those who've enjoyed Henry James may not be put off by the slowness of the action--although it seems there might actually be less dramatic action across 350 pages of Marías than in any story by James! So much time and so many pages are devoted to the at-first seemingly mundane event of a single evening, an awkward and stuffy house party, most of Oxford dons. However, so much is built up beforehand, and the scene of the small house party itself so extended by lengthy interruptions largely summing up the events of the following months--that this mundane evening unsurprisingly turns out to be anything but. In fact, it is so built up that it disappoints; and disappointment regarding dramatic action persists until the end of this volume, dense with Proust-style paragraphs. Yet it is only the first of a trilogy--surely so much more of interest is bound to occur over the next two volumes. Having just read this first volume however, I feel it is an uncertain investment.
If the reader is looking for narrative drama and strongly distinguished characters, I would recommend coming back to Marías after you've gained that satisfaction elsewhere.
The characters are uniformly gnomic and impossible to sympathize with. They are unsentimental which is fine; but they express little beyond their own judgments about people and the world generally. These judgments are very eloquent--the narrator and his Oxford mentor, the elderly Wheeler, speak with Marías' voice. The author clearly has a strong moral conscience, and the most interesting passages concern how easily people can allow themselves to slip into and take active part into fascism, specifically focusing here on the Spanish Civil War. Marías is not just concerned with Spain however. A better part of the novel is concerned with the WWII British domestic propaganda aimed to get British citizen and soldier alike to `keep mum' and be wary of German spies. With a readiness to silence themselves even in the most innocuous circumstances, Wheeler tells our protagonist that the real surprise was that the campaign resulted in everyday people talking as much as they could, loudly and in public. Inadvertently, they'd been led to believe that what they had on their minds might be important to someone--a first for many, perhaps most who thought they were simply nobodies and know-nothings. The point is, Marías has his two main characters insist, that talking is what every human has in common. We all talk. And this constitutes the base of our freedom as human beings.
And of course it is all very clear from the start that the entire work will be exploring how some very clever individuals (the characters in this novel) want to continually find ways to exploit that to their own darkly Machiavellian ends. It is the narrator who is cajoled and sucked into this gray world. It is a gray London world; the characters work in a featureless, unnamed building, for an unnamed organization of no certain agenda, although clearly high-political.
But do not hold your breath for suspense à la Clancy or Le Carré. Much is made of Ian Fleming; and Marías regales us with the names of many classic detective novelists as Deza the protagonist wanders Wheeler's immaculate library. We also learn there about lesser-known events of the Spanish Civil War.
Not only does the novel lack worthwhile dramatic suspense, the sort of suspense that doesn't require a cheap payoff, as for instance, Ishiguro poignantly illustrated in his powerful When We Were Orphans. Your Face Tomorrow lacks the sort of characters many Anglophone readers gravitate towards--those with humor, charm, even exuberance (this especially in America, since England seems to have all-but left behind Dickensian vitality). Marías writes eminently European fiction--international and sophisticated, measured and poised, deliberate and perhaps overly artificial, cool and pessimistic.
Even so, among the novel's handful of life sketches, those reports on Deza's interpretations of those he watches--as paid voyeur--that extend beyond a mere half-page are immensely creative, clearly the result of someone who understands a wide variety of personalities, their strengths and illnesses, peculiarities and manias. And yet they don't seem to go anywhere! None of those characters are dramatically developed; they are described, interpreted. The interpreter, the narrator, is himself nearly a cipher, almost admittedly so. One nameless female judge is the most intriguing: she's buried or `deadened' (exactly how is unknown and unreported by Deza's `interpretation') "the memory of atrocities and disappointments," "wrapping them in the smoke of accumulated years," where they slowly and inevitably take on "the consistency and configuration of dreams," dreams of things that might well have never happened. The subjunctive strikes again. This is powerful writing. It does seem to speak to how we bury our disappointments. But no, Marías is not going to flesh any of these details out; this is just a brief, interpretive sketch of what might be, or rather might have been. Of course, Deza is an ever-so-minimally dramatic example of that deadening of the awareness of disappointment and life's mutability.
It seems unclear then what Marías want us to make of his art as a novelist!
Granted, Dickensian characters might seem like caricatures in comparison to Marías' weighty consciousnesses--although they are not so distinctly distinguished as the weighty minds populating James' literary universe. But a comparison to America's greatest and too-little-read novelist is perhaps unfair--although Marías clearly has a Jamesian striving.
But damn it, I want fully realized vitalities, the exuberance and helplessness of a Mr. Micawber, a Huck Finn, even a Gatsby (hello, Don Draper), even a Leopold Bloom, just wondering around the city streets, thoughts a-burble in all directions. Marías will never create any larger-than-life figures, let alone a Tyrone Slothrop. His Deza is an invisible man--even Ellison's Invisible Man overshadows him!
Marías as a novelist has a handful of conceits; he could be a great essayist however.
on September 11, 2011
Prepare yourself for the annoying need to read and then reread and reread again, many sections of this astonishing novel. Nothing much happens, as one of the other reviewers pointed out. But as nothing much happens to most of us, between birth and death, why should we expect literature to be different? That it is, and is not here, that there is confusion, humour, illusion, allusion, double entendre, and a vague ominous minor key throughout, should not surprise us. Or even that it's boring at times!
The lack of paragraphs, the question as to subject and object, the straightforward sentences whose length causes you to forget subject before one comes across object... you get the gist? For those with stamina, or stubbornness, this is a rewarding work. If you hope for a traditional narrative, it is not. But if you want a work of art that in many ways reflects the oddities and slowness of life, then you should read this work. Disregard the noir surface if you can: I think it's only a hook for a much greater project, which is both Proustian and, admittedly, Procrustean. Life doesn't always fit, but Marias is trying to make it so.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2010
Fever and Spear is an interesting read, but VERY slow. The lead character has a special talent for discerning whether someone is lying, and for predicting how they will act during a crisis. Most readers of suspense fiction would expect that this talent will be put to some use, and that thereby will hang the tale . . . . but that's not what happens here. It takes the whole book to get the talent described and shown in operation; and then the book ends. In the meantime we find out a considerable amount about the lead character's ex-wife, his father (a journalist who was on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War) his academic friends in England, and so on.
But nothing HAPPENS.
Don't read this expecting a thriller. On the other hand, if you want a psychological study of a character, you might consider it.
on February 10, 2010
This first volume of the trilogy is superior novel/ commentary on the human condition. Plot is slow, characters 3 D, and the asides on all aspects of the human
dilemmas equal to the best [ Borges, Camus etc.]. I believe the reviews that suggest he is a future Nobel Prize winner