16 June 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This match was judged by Mauro Javier Cardenas. For more info on the World Cup of Literature, read this, and download the bracket.

In the year 2010, seventeen years after I stopped watching soccer, I wrote a paean to Your Face Tomorrow, claiming that “here’s the wonderfully parenthetical operations of a human mind in the 21th century,” a phrase that later became a blurb in Spanish for Your Face Tomorrow, which must have flattered fleetingly me since I’m a frail human desperate for meaning, although the translation from “wonderfully parenthetical” to “maravillosamente parentéticas” must have shorn a few branches from my twig of meaning because I would have been embarrassed if any native Spanish speakers heard me say anything like “maravillosamente parentéticas,” in any case the parenthetical mind of Jacques Deza, the narrator of Your Face Tomorrow, a mind that doesn’t pay much attention to itself because “he’s given up understanding himself,” shares its wonderful operations with us throughout 1,232 pages, during a period in Deza’s life when he was delivering conjectural character reports for the British Secret Intelligence Service and was estranged from his wife Luisa.

SPAIN 1 – AUSTRALIA 0

Looking back at the passages from Your Face Tomorrow that I transcribed to my sketchbook in preparation for writing my paean to Your Face Tomorrow, I’m not surprised I transcribed so many passages supporting my partisan fervor for digressions—“digression is secular revelation,” Adam Phillips wrote—especially when they were written by a Spaniard who translated Tristram Shandy into Spanish, and out of this abundance of partisan passages there’s one from Volume II that I starred as most significant because, according to me, it summarizes the kind of fiction Javier Marias seems interested in composing, so here’s that starred passage in which Deza’s in the women’s bathroom at a nightclub, searching for the wife of a client:

[I] had lost sight of my mission, it had simply got mixed up with a few other things: lines of poetry, images and inherited memories as well as a story, none of which managed to fill my mind entirely, because none was particularly pressing, but they were all floating around in there, perhaps waiting to be picked up later by idle thought—that is, by thought at its most active—at the end of the day, when I finally went to bed.

SPAIN 2 – AUSTRALIA 0

Since the year 2010, I’ve often shared in conversation with my so-called friends two passages from Your Face Tomorrow: (1) Luisa telling Jacques please let’s not live together ever again; (2) “[O]ne never experiences genuine self-disgust, and it’s that inability that makes us capable of doing almost anything.”

(1) The anxiety about domestic life deadening human life, an anxiety featured in many pages of Javier Marias’s A Heart So White, often surfaces in conversation among those who are no longer young enough to playact at wanting so-called meaningful relationships, and what I like to share with my so-called friends who are seeking so-called meaningful relationships, as a sort of literary relationship advice, is something like look there’s this 1,232-page novel in which, at the beginning, the narrator is estranged from his wife, and, toward the end, when they reconcile at last (and here I exclude any mention of Deza assaulting Luisa’s new lover with a sword and telling him to get out of town or else), the wife says to the husband please let’s not live together ever again.

(2) Given the vast gap between our imperfections and our expectations of reasonable perfection, the question of how could we have possibly performed Sin A / Sin B, plus the question of how could we have possibly not known we were going to perform Sin A / Sin B, become central questions in (some) of our lives, or at a minimum we retrofit these central questions around our past Sins A / B, and in the case of Your Face Tomorrow (some of) the central questions that Deza contemplates are how could have Deza’s father best friend betrayed Deza’s father? “How can I not know today your face tomorrow, the face that is there already or is being forged beneath the face you show me or beneath the mask you are wearing?” How could I have not known I was going to assault my wife’s lover with a sword so I could get back together with her?

SPAIN 3 – AUSTRALIA 0

HALF-TIME

Arbitro ladrón, my high school friends and I would scream at the referee as we watched the Ecuadorian national soccer team miss yet another opportunity to qualify for the World Cup for the first time, arbitro conchaetumadre, heaping our juvenile arsenal of insults on the referee because one of our obvious consolations, the consolation of the often defeated, I suppose, revolved around placing the blame for our loss on the rigged ref.

Will I turn out to be a rigged ref because I come from a small, often defeated country? Does it make a difference that, since I left Ecuador in 1993, the Ecuadorian national soccer team has qualified for the World Cup three times?

END OF HALF-TIME

If you come across a new genre, do you raise your hand?

Gerald Murnane has invented a new genre: fiction as “remembered imaginings,” mind as place (“The far parts of my mind,” Gerald Murnane wrote in a letter to Teju Cole published in Issue 3 of Music & Literature, a literary journal that publishes more of my favorite artists per page than any other literary journal, “hold for me the same sort of interest that far countries probably hold for travelers”).

SPAIN 3 – AUSTRALIA 1

Imagine “a far-reaching and varied landscape” that contains memories of characters from books, of imaginary racehorses and racecourses, in other words imagine the contents of Murnane’s mind exiting Murnane’s head and populating a landscape that Murnane then dedicates himself to contemplate through his sentences, a contemplation that thankfully does without psychological insight (because who doesn’t enjoy a break from the murky diagrams of human motivation?), a contemplation that consists of unearthing patterns of images as a way to both architect the landscape and invent meaning, meaning defined here as (to quote Murnane from Issue 3 of Music & Literature) “the discovery of connections between things that previously seemed unconnected,” and now here’s a relevant landscape quote from Barley Patch:

He had always thought of the images in his mind as being arranged somewhat in the way the names of townships were arranged on maps of mostly level countryside and that the images were connected by feelings in the way that the names of townships were connected by lines denoting roads.

SPAIN 3 – AUSTRALIA 2

Let’s track the progression of one fragment of Murnane’s pattern making in Barley Patch. The chart below, from left to right, tracks the pattern of images that emerges from King-in-the-Lake, the name of an invisible racehorse. Names of racehorses have a peculiar effect on the narrator of Barley Patch:

The sound in his mind of one or another name would often seem to denote not a mere painted toy and not even an actual straining, racing racehorse but a knot of what he might have called compressed mental imagery . . .

The name of the invisible racehorse leads to “an image of a man lying on the bed of a lake of clear water,” which leads to a poem by Matthew Arnold, which leads to the “view that might have appeared to a man lying in the bed of a lake of clear water.” Follow the arrows to the conclusion of the pattern making: an imaginary contest in invisible racecourse.

SPAIN 3 – AUSTRALIA 3

BRIEF INTERLUDE BEFORE EXTRA TIME

I will wash my hands, I thought when I heard I was going to judge Marias vs. Murnane, I will let one of my guinea pigs choose for me and I will add a formal constraint to the pig proceedings so as to not appear unserious. Besides. I wouldn’t mind being remembered as the guinea pig critic, or, as my compatriots might say, el crítico de los cuys.

Alas.

END OF BRIEF INTERLUDE BEFORE EXTRA TIME

In the year 2014, one year after I started watching soccer again due to my eight-year-old daughter was scoring 3 goals per game for her elementary school soccer team, I decided to reread Your Face Tomorrow for the purposes of this competition, hoping to relive the engrossing experience of reading Your Face Tomorrow in the year 2010.

Writing rhythmic prose is easy, apparently W.G. Sebald said to his writing students, and as I reread Volume I of Your Face Tomorrow I was dismayed to conclude rhythmic prose can be a decent cover for the unfurling of banalities. Deza complains that people like to tell everything, for instance, but instead of just writing hey people like to tell everything, he has to unfurl a banal rhythmic list of everything that people like to tell, “the interesting and the trivial, the private and public, the intimate and the superfluous, what should remain hidden and what one day will inevitably be broadcast, the sorrows and joys and the resentments,” and it goes on, all over Your Face Tomorrow these banal rhythmic lists. I don’t approach fiction like a critic or a financial analyst, assessing the net flow of pluses and minuses per novel. I have a preferred continuum of fiction, and if a novel adds many pages to this continuum, as Your Face Tomorrow has done, I don’t relegate that novel to my kitchen cabinets (I don’t love any one novel by Stanley Elkin, for instance, but I love so many pages of Stanley Elkin). This is a goddamn match, however, not a vague intertextual pseudo-Jungian notion of fiction reading. Judgments must be made.

YELLOW CARD TO MARIAS

Who would want to compete against an Australian narrator who, as a boy, moved among the characters of the books he read, devising his own strict rules of narrative interference, unable to alter the course of the narrative but free “to take advantage of the seeming gaps in the narrative”? When one of the characters in one of the books he read abandons his wife, for instance, our Australian narrator knows that, from his “standpoint as a shadowy presence among the characters,” he cannot reverse the character’s decision. “And yet, I was able in some mysterious way to add to whatever remorse he might have felt from time to time . . .” I like to think of myself as a shadowy presence among these 1,771 words, adding to my own remorse for ruling against a writer like Javier Marias who has added so many pages to my so-called continuum, unable to alter the course of this match, however, no matter how much I tried.

SPAIN 3-AUSTRALIA 4

——

Excerpts from Mauro Javier Cardenas’s recently completed first novel, The Revolutionaries Try Again, have appeared in Conjunctions, BOMB, Guernica, Antioch Review, and Witness. His interviews and essays on/with László Krasznahorkai, Javier Marias, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Juan Villoro, and Antonio Lobo Antunes have appeared in Music & Literature, San Francisco Chronicle, BOMB, and the Quarterly Conversation.

——

Did Barley Patch Deserve to Win?

Yes
No


21 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece from Jeremy Garber on Javier Marías’s The Infatuations, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and available from Knopf.

I could take a year off of work just to read, and at the end of that year, my “to read” bookshelves would still be overflowing and I’d still feel like I didn’t get to all the things that I wanted.

I only mention this because my copy of Marías’s The Infatuations arrived yesterday and made me want to set aside everything else. (Except for the fact that that “everything else” is editing Juan José Saer’s La Grande, which may very well be the best book I’ve read since reading Saer’s Scars.) But, I also still have the Marías trilogy to get to. And a stack of 12-14 books that I want to review for Three Percent. And I now have cable and all of the La Liga, Premiere League, Serie A, and Ligue 1 games to watch. And.

Anyway, Jeremy Garber — who is a used book buyer for a large independent bookstore and has written for The Oregonian, the Oregon Historical Quarterly, and on Powells.com—wrote this fantastic review of The Infatuations. Jeremy’s reviews are always really fantastic, and I love his technique of inserting a ton of quotes from the book itself.

Here’s the opening:

“What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”

Being that there are so many ways in which one might consider a book’s overall effect (to say nothing of how certain elements may appeal to one reader over another), it can be rather arduous to convey what it is about a particular work that makes it resonate as it does. To some, prose is paramount. to others, believable characters and their development, with whom a reader can identify or at least empathize. Faithful dialogue, compelling plot, philosophical asides, broad scope, cross-cultural relevance, clever construction, unique narrative stylings, memorable voice, a timeless quality—all these and more are reasons often given when discussing what it is about a work of fiction that makes it so distinguished or outstanding. The one commonality shared by all the world’s great novels, however, be they past or present, is their remarkable ability to stay with us long after we’ve set the story aside. So it is with Javier Marías’s latest novel, The Infatuations (Los enamoramientos).

Published to wide acclaim in his native spain in 2011, the disputed king of Redonda’s most recent offering is a murder mystery par excellence. no mere formulaic thriller, Marías’s tale is one of perception, memory, grief, love, death, complicity, circumstance, doubt, chance, delusion, the multiplicity of motivation, and, of course, the nature of infatuation. Set within the capital city of Madrid and using a violent (and seemingly senseless) murder as its catalyst, the story follows María Dolz, a publishing house employee who entangles herself, however inadvertently at the onset, in the heinous crime’s aftermath.

Click here to read the entire review.

21 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

“What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.”

Being that there are so many ways in which one might consider a book’s overall effect (to say nothing of how certain elements may appeal to one reader over another), it can be rather arduous to convey what it is about a particular work that makes it resonate as it does. To some, prose is paramount. to others, believable characters and their development, with whom a reader can identify or at least empathize. Faithful dialogue, compelling plot, philosophical asides, broad scope, cross-cultural relevance, clever construction, unique narrative stylings, memorable voice, a timeless quality—all these and more are reasons often given when discussing what it is about a work of fiction that makes it so distinguished or outstanding. The one commonality shared by all the world’s great novels, however, be they past or present, is their remarkable ability to stay with us long after we’ve set the story aside. So it is with Javier Marías’s latest novel, The Infatuations (Los enamoramientos).

Published to wide acclaim in his native spain in 2011, the disputed king of Redonda’s most recent offering is a murder mystery par excellence. no mere formulaic thriller, Marías’s tale is one of perception, memory, grief, love, death, complicity, circumstance, doubt, chance, delusion, the multiplicity of motivation, and, of course, the nature of infatuation. Set within the capital city of Madrid and using a violent (and seemingly senseless) murder as its catalyst, the story follows María Dolz, a publishing house employee who entangles herself, however inadvertently at the onset, in the heinous crime’s aftermath.

All this information was published over a period of two days, the two days following the murder. Then the item vanished from the press completely, as tends to happen with all news nowadays: people don’t want to know why something happened, only what happened, and to know that the world is full of reckless acts, of dangers, threats and bad luck that only brush past us, but touch and kill our careless fellow human beings, or perhaps they were simply not among the chosen. We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten without leaving so much as a tremor of grief, not a trace. We don’t want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people’s misfortunes, as if, after each one, we thought: “How dreadful. But what’s next? What other horrors have we avoided? We need to feel that we, by contrast, are survivors, immortals, so feed us some new atrocities, we’ve worn out yesterday’s already.

Once morbid curiosity, fascination, and, perhaps, schadenfreude no longer fuel our fertile imaginations, a murder (nothing more) becomes as disposable as any of the myriad news stories that we’ve somehow indulged as being momentarily relevant to our lives. Marías works this pervasive and perverse social peculiarity to great effect—intriguing us enough to concern ourselves with the fate of his characters (with ever the freedom to simply turn or walk away), yet forever eroding the space around them from which we can watch safely from the periphery. It’s a deliriously intoxicating technique, one evinced by our daily obsession with celebrity scandal, political malfeasance, far-off disaster, or nearby crimes of passion. These truncated news stories and soundbites, in reality, often have not the slightest thing to do with our own lives, but end up somehow consuming us (however briefly) all the same—as if they were somehow vested with the weight of our own personal stake. María is unable to turn away and neither are we.

Whereas so many whodunnits content themselves with little more than revealing the perpetrator and their hackneyed impulses, The Infatuations seeks to explore and confront a much broader purview. with perceptive observations and often tender insights into thought, reason, emotion, judgment, and the murky fringes of reality, Marías draws us into an almost inescapable role of accomplice and witness. He is able to do this so effectively by extracting the reader from the mystery of the murder itself (with which so few of us can identify) and repositioning one within the more familiar confines of love lost, relationships torn asunder, and the inevitable self-doubt which follows.

We tend to hope that, of the people and habits we cherish, no one will die and none will end, not realizing that the only thing that maintains those habits intact is their sudden withdrawal, with no possible alteration or evolution, before they can can abandon us or we abandon them. Anything that lasts goes bad and putrefies, it bores us, turns against us, saturates and wearies us. How many people who once seemed vital to us are left by the wayside, how many relationships wear thin, become diluted for no apparent reason or certainly none of any weight. The only people who do not fail or let us down are those who are snatched from us, the only ones we don’t drop are those who abruptly disappear and so have no time to cause us pain or disappointment. When that happens, we despair momentarily, because we believe we could have continued with them for much longer, with no foreseeable expiry date. That’s a mistake, albeit understandable. continuity changes everything, and something we thought wonderful yesterday would have become a torment tomorrow.

Is the author manipulating us? Are we willing participants? Are we rendered prostrate simply because the story evokes the universal feeling of unrequited desire and heartbreak? What about the abhorrent murder? Is all grief transmutable and therefore inexorable? Are we failing to see beyond all that is shown?

I would never know more than what he told me, and so i would never know anything for sure; yes, it’s ridiculous, isn’t it, that after all these centuries of practice, after so many incredible advances and inventions, we still have no way of knowing when someone is lying; naturally, this both benefits and prejudices all of us equally, and may be our one remaining redoubt of freedom.

Marías’s thirteenth novel (and the tenth to be translated into english), achingly beautiful and seemingly effortless like so much of his writing, could only have been carefully constructed by one possessed of a compassion and discernment alien to lesser writers. The Infatuations is not a flawless outing, but a remarkable and impressive one nonetheless. Marías’s exploration of doubt, truth, life, love, and violence does not answer any of the age-old questions of morality and mortality, but leaves us with the sense that there is much veracity and wisdom to be found within the shadows and gradations. A master of contemporary fiction (and regularly mentioned as a perennial candidate for world literature’s highest honor), Marías is among the finest european writers at work today.

The passing of time exacerbates and intensifies any storm, even though there wasn’t the tiniest cloud on the horizon at the beginning. We cannot know what time will do to us with its fine, indistinguishable layers upon layers, we cannot know what it might make of us. it advances stealthily, day by day and hour by hour and step by poisoned step, never drawing attention to its surreptitious labors, so respectful and considerate that it never once gives us a sudden prod or a nasty fright. Each morning, it turns up with its soothing, invariable face and tells us exactly the opposite of what is actually happening: that everything is fine and nothing has changed, that everything is just as it was yesterday—the balance of power—that nothing has been gained and nothing lost, that our face is the same, as is our hair and our shape, that the person who hated us continues to hate us and the person who loved us continues to love us. And yet quite the opposite is true, but time conceals this from us with is treacherous minutes and sly seconds, until a strange, unthinkable day arrives, when nothing is as it always was . . .

7 May 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Five Dials is a really cool online PDF free magazine published by Hamish Hamilton and edited by Craig Taylor. I’ve mentioned this magazine a few times in the past—it’s consistently interesting—but thought that Three Percent readers would be especially interested in this new issue, which consists of only one piece: Javier Marias’s “Hating The Leopard.”

There isn’t much in this issue of Five Dials. Sometimes – as long-time readers know – we give over an entire issue to a single writer. The bar is high. Last time we relinquished control, the issue was placed in the capable hands of Orhan Pamuk. This issue features a single essay by one of our favourite writers, Javier Marías, whose latest novel, The Infatuations, is currently being translated by the incomparable Margaret Jull Costa. [. . .]

At some point, years ago, Marías read The Leopard and, unlike some of us who
simply wandered down streets in Camden, he wrote an essay on the particular genius of the novel, and the way the book seems heavier than most, weighted with the wisdom of an entire life. I envy any of you Five Dials readers who know nothing of Marías or Lampedusa. From this humble starting point, your journey will hopefully include the following stops on its itinerary: a page from now you’ll get to the Marías essay, which will inevitably lead you towards The Leopard (as well as Marías’s own work), and perhaps The Leopard will lead you to your own dark streets, standing in front of a row of houses, wearing a too-thin coat, feeling the weight of its lessons, aware that it is so much more than a story of crumbling Sicilian aristocracy.

And from the opening of the essay:

There is no such thing as the indispensable book or author, and the world would be exactly the same if Kafka, Proust, Faulkner, Mann, Nabokov and Borges had never existed. It might not be quite the same if none of them had existed, but the non-existence of just one of them would certainly not have affected the whole. That is why it is so tempting – an easy temptation if you like – to think that the representative twentieth-century novel must be the one that very nearly didn’t exist, the one that nobody would have missed (Kafka, after all, did not leave just the one work, and as soon as it was known that there were others, as well as Metamorphosis, any reader was then at liberty to desire or even yearn to read them), the one novel that, in its day, was seen by many almost as an excrescence or an intrusion, as antiquated and completely out of step with the predominant ‘trends’, both in its country of origin, Italy, and in the rest of the world. A superfluous work, anachronistic, one that neither ‘added to’ nor ‘moved things on’, as if the history of literature were something that progressed and was, in that respect, akin to science, whose discoveries are left behind or eliminated as they are overtaken or revealed to be incomplete, inadequate or inexact. But literature functions in quite the opposite way: nothing that one adds to it erases or cancels out what came before; rather, new books sit alongside earlier books and they coexist. Old and new texts breathe in unison, so much so that one wonders sometimes if everything that has ever been written is not simply the same drop of water falling on the same stone, and if, perhaps, the only thing that really changes is the language of each age. The older work still has to ‘breathe’, despite the time that has elapsed since its creation or appearance; and some works – the majority – are erased or cancelled out, but this happens of its own accord, not because something else comes along to take their place or to supplant or eject them; rather, they languish and die because of their own lack of spirit or – more precisely – because they aspired to being ‘modern’ or ‘original’, an aspiration that leads inevitably to an early senescence or, as others might say, they become ‘dated’. ‘It’s very much of its time,’ we tell ourselves when we read these books in a different, later age, because, given the unstoppable and ever-accelerating speed with which the world moves, ‘in a different age’ can sometimes mean a mere decade later. This is the case even with stories written by some of the great modern authors, such as Kafka, Faulkner, Borges on occasions and Joyce almost always. They can sometimes seem slightly old-fashioned or, if you prefer, dated, precisely because they were so innovative, bold, confident, original and ambitious.

The same cannot be said of Isak Dinesen or of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard. The latter is not in any way an old-fashioned nineteenth-century novel as some critics said at the time, misled perhaps by the century in which the action takes place. It is, without a doubt, a contemporary novel of the kind written by the authors mentioned above, and its author was fully aware of the new techniques and ‘advances’ in the genre, if you can call them that, and was even modest enough to abandon one possibility – that of describing a single day in the life of Prince Fabrizio di Salina – saying: ‘I don’t know how to do a _Ulysses._’ But he did know, for example, how to make masterly use of ellipsis, telling a story in fragmentary fashion, unemphatically, even withholding information and leaving unexplained what the reader need only glimpse or intuit, setting up illuminating connections between disparate and apparently secondary or merely anecdotal elements, adroitly bringing together what the characters say and do with what they think (all of which is much more common in the twentieth-century novel than in the novel of the nineteenth century), and, above all, he observes, reflects, suggests and qualifies.

Check it all out here.

7 February 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our “Review Section”: is a piece by Phillip Witte on Javier Marias’s While the Women Are Sleeping, which is translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa and available from New Directions.

Phil is one of our regular reviewers, and one of our former interns. As mentioned in the review, he also interned at New Directions, and is currently working for the Plutzik Foundation, where he’s running their poetry blog, A Fistful of Words. (Definitely check out the blog—Phil’s a great writer and great person and this deserves more attention.)

I believe Marias has a new book coming out in the not-too-distant future, but some unnnamable agent (as in, his name should never be spoken out loud for fear of repercussions sinister and royalty related), sold the rights to this (and some of the ND backlist) to a Big Six publisher. So forget that book and read While the Women Are Sleeping and Your Face Tomorrow. And trade ND editions of his earlier works (Dark Back of Time is a personal favorite) on the black market.

Here’s the opening of Phil’s review:

Javier Marias’s greatness in the world of world literature seems pretty much unquestioned. And I’ve always thought of him as a pretty cool guy—for boycotting the United States for as long as Bush was president, for example, which was one of the first things I learned about him. This was while I was interning at New Directions in the summer of 2009, and everyone at N.D. was abuzz because Marias would soon be making his first visit to the U.S. in nine years. Right about that time, they were getting ready to release the concluding volume of his monolithic trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, which, in light of recent reading, has risen significantly through the amorphous mass that is my to-read pile.

Yet despite all the excitement, somehow I got through my three months at N.D. without reading a single one of Marias’s many books. It was my summer of Bolano, I suppose—my infatuation with 2666 would give no place whatsoever to another international titan anytime soon. So here I am, two years later, finally reading Marias’s latest collection to appear in English, While the Women are Sleeping, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and published over a year ago. (I admit, I’m generally behind the times.) But if I happen to feel a bit anxious about so belatedly joining the Marias conversation on the basis of a single little collection, there’s a line from Marias’s introductory remarks to the last story in the book, “What the Butler Said,” that knowingly sets my anxieties at ease: “The books we don’t read are full of warnings; we will either never read them or they will arrive too late.” The word “warnings” here doesn’t quite work out of its proper context, but I’ll take it here to mean “things we desperately want and need to know before we die . . .” It might seem to be a remark that should make me more, not less, anxious. But this is a book that probes the dusty corners of whatever we imagine death might be and makes it a symphony of enticing enigmas, where ghosts go on writing love letters, or pursue an education, or persevere in their desire to resign—from friendship, employment, or the weird project of being alive—which, in the worlds that Marias sketches in these stories, is at times quite indistinguishable from being dead.

Click here to read the full review.

7 February 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Javier Marias’s greatness in the world of world literature seems pretty much unquestioned. And I’ve always thought of him as a pretty cool guy—for boycotting the United States for as long as Bush was president, for example, which was one of the first things I learned about him. This was while I was interning at New Directions in the summer of 2009, and everyone at N.D. was abuzz because Marias would soon be making his first visit to the U.S. in nine years. Right about that time, they were getting ready to release the concluding volume of his monolithic trilogy, Your Face Tomorrow, which, in light of recent reading, has risen significantly through the amorphous mass that is my to-read pile.

Yet despite all the excitement, somehow I got through my three months at N.D. without reading a single one of Marias’s many books. It was my summer of Bolano, I suppose—my infatuation with 2666 would give no place whatsoever to another international titan anytime soon. So here I am, two years later, finally reading Marias’s latest collection to appear in English, While the Women are Sleeping, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and published over a year ago. (I admit, I’m generally behind the times.) But if I happen to feel a bit anxious about so belatedly joining the Marias conversation on the basis of a single little collection, there’s a line from Marias’s introductory remarks to the last story in the book, “What the Butler Said,” that knowingly sets my anxieties at ease: “The books we don’t read are full of warnings; we will either never read them or they will arrive too late.” The word “warnings” here doesn’t quite work out of its proper context, but I’ll take it here to mean “things we desperately want and need to know before we die . . .” It might seem to be a remark that should make me more, not less, anxious. But this is a book that probes the dusty corners of whatever we imagine death might be and makes it a symphony of enticing enigmas, where ghosts go on writing love letters, or pursue an education, or persevere in their desire to resign—from friendship, employment, or the weird project of being alive—which, in the worlds that Marias sketches in these stories, is at times quite indistinguishable from being dead.

Though the book is not all ghost stories, it does include several, featuring narrators or protagonists enmeshed in their own strange dilemmas of love and selfhood which are complicated by the sudden incursions of a spirit from beyond the grave. “One Night of Love” has its protagonist, who complains of his wife’s lack of interest in lovemaking, discover love letters addressed to his late father from a woman who claims that she is already dead as she writes. The narrator then receives a letter from his dead father’s dead lover, importuning him to exhume his father’s body and cremate it, in order that his spirit will be released and can join her. As the narrator quibbles with himself over whether to hide the letters from his wife, her sexual interest in him mysteriously starts to grow. Another story, “A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps,” tells of a young girl who, out of charity, reads to a lonely old woman every day, and before long they are visited by a bullet-ridden ghost who turns out to be the Mexican insurrectionist Emiliano Zapata, coming just to listen quietly to the girl read.

I’m finding it difficult fun to paraphrase a Marias story, they’re so gently off-beat and beautifully constructed. And Marias is bursting with affection for his very human, very living protagonists, as boring and morally repugnant as they might be, which might make my descriptions a little less morally ambiguous than the stories actually are—and challengingly, illuminatingly so, if you’ll pardon all the adverbs. “The Resignation Letter of Senor de Santiesteban,” my personal favorite, tells of Derek Lilburn, an Englishman “of little imagination, ordinary tastes, and an irrelevant past,” who begins a new teaching job in Madrid on a short-term professional exchange program. He arrives at his new school, where he is given the simple task of locking up the school every Friday night. The first night he is to perform this chore, he is warned to pay no heed to Senor Santiesteban, the ghost who, every single night, bursts out of the school office, takes seven steps over to the hallway bulletin board, tacks up a letter of resignation addressed only to a “Dear Friend,” takes eight steps back into the office, and falls still. Oddly, this ghost is not to be seen, only heard. And no one knows who he was in life, or what he is resigning from, or why: the letter, identical every night, is enigmatically reticent of circumstantial details. Lilburn makes it his personal mission to solve the puzzle, despite the warnings of his superior, Mr. Bayo, who has been down the investigational road and found that it only leads one to admit in frustration that the mystery is unsolvable. The bored and boring Lilburn is undeterred, and shares every tiny discovery with the wearily patient Mr. Bayo, until, finally outdoing his superior, Lilburn finds a way to truly know the ghost—by becoming him, in a strange way that has nothing to do with death.

The private contemplation of death by the living preoccupies many of the stories in this book, but not all of them: see “An Epigram of Fealty,” which tells of a rare book dealer in London who is harangued by a beggar claiming to be John Gawsworth, King of Redonda; or “Gualta,” a brief tale narrating one man’s descent into total ruination after meeting his doppelgänger at a business dinner. The title story, which is the first and longest in the collection, sets the stage for meditating on the imagination’s encounter with death, but it features nothing of the supernatural either. Told from a voyeur’s perspective, the story is strongly reminiscent of Lolita: it depicts an overweight middle-aged man, Viana, who has subscribed his life to his passionate desire for Inès, the daughter of his close friends, whom he meets when she is only seven years old. Now she is twenty-three and they have been living together for five years, to the ruin of his friendship with her parents. He videotapes her body with microscopic attention every day “because she is going to die,” he says, and he wants to have a visual record of her last day on Earth. The narrator watches this videotaping take place on the beach, and then meeting Viana one night beside the hotel pool, he listens to the fat man’s tale. My next thought as I read is that Marias owes much to Nabokov’s sense of narrative play as well—from the first image in the story of the narrator spying on his fellow sunbathers on the beach through his wife’s straw sunhat, this playful seriousness continues through the story’s final lines:

Both were sleeping, that’s why they didn’t wake up or come out onto the balcony, Luisa hadn’t died in my absence, however long that had been—I’d forgotten my watch. Instinctively, I glanced up toward the rooms, toward my balcony, toward all the balconies, and on one of them, I saw a figure wrapped in a sheet toga and heard it call to me twice, saying my name, as mothers say their children’s names. I stood up. On Inès’s balcony, though, whichever it was, there was no one.

The texture of the collection as a whole may seem uneven, but this is hardly a detractor. The ten stories here are dated across a period of more than 30 years, the earliest being “The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga,” written (according to the Author’s Note) in 1965, when Marias was just fourteen years old (“be kind, please,” he beseeches his readers). The story is narrated by a man on his deathbed who continues to be able to see and hear but is unable to move or speak, “alive and well” mentally even as his body has ceased to function. A certain lack of maturity in the writing comes across at times with a coarse brashness, a mix of youthful courage and naivete in the tone that can be highly entertaining:

At six o’clock on the evening of the 22nd, when the fever intensified, I tried to get out of bed, but fell back against the pillow, dead. . . . I couldn’t speak or move or open my eyes, even though I could see and hear everything going on around me. My mother-in-law said:

“He’s dead.”

“May he rest in peace,” chorused the others.

Certainly it is the weakest story in the collection, so one wonders why Marias chose to include it. My guess is that it is at the very least to demonstrate that certain themes and meditations that set the writer to work in youth may keep him busy many years later. By including this story along with the much more mature “A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps” (dated 1998), with “The Resignation Letter of Senor de Santiestaban” (1975) and other stories from the mid-80s falling in between, the book offers us a glimpse of a long range of Marias’s life in writing.

The final and perhaps greatest pleasure in the book, however, is found in rereading and discovering that the work is not quite what you thought it was—it’s not the stories only, it’s the soft surprises that burst from Marias’s delicate prose (via Margaret Jull Costa’s rendering in the way that I like best in a translation: she gives the feeling that what you’re reading is decidedly not English, though you can’t point to exactly why it feels that way, as her English at the same time feels perfectly natural—Chris Andrews’s translation of Cesar Aira’s Ghosts is another example of English prose that dexterously retains some flavor of the original Spanish). As I’ve gone back over the book in composing this review, in order to describe these ghosts and enigmatic perusals of death, this is the kind of thing I find—the most careful, disquieting attention to a curious scene:

The young man took some time to reappear—perhaps ghosts go into mourning, for who else has more reason to or perhaps they are still wary, perhaps words can still wound them—but he did finally return, attracted perhaps by the new material, and he continued to listen with the same close attention, not standing up this time, leaning on the chairback, but comfortably installed in the now vacant armchair, his hat dangling from his hand, and sometimes with his legs crossed and holding a lit cigar, like the patriarch he never, in his numbered days, had the chance to become. (from “A Kind of Nostalgia Perhaps”)

Everyone probably already is, but I’ll say it anyway: Read Marias, read him again, and read him again.

3 October 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This morning at Conversation Reading, Scott Esposito announced an exciting new project of his to publish long essays:

So here’s the deal: I’ve long made my love of long essays known around here. From books like Nicholson Baker’s U&I to Barthes’ S/Z to the work of Geoff Dyer, William H. Gass, Michael Martone, DH Lawrence, and plenty more, the long essay has a pretty awesome reputation as the place critics go when they’re ready to write in a more creative way.

And that goes a long way toward explaining why I’ve decided to start publishing long essays in the series “TQC Long Essays.” These are going to come in at around 20,000 words each–roughly 70 pages. In my opinion, that’s way too much for your average webpage, not quite enough for a printed book, but an ideal length for an ereader. For the series I’ll be bringing on people who I think have something to say, and we’ll be talking about the interesting authors and questions of contemporary literature.

These aren’t free. 20,000 words takes a lot of work to write, and I like to think it takes some skill and dedication to the critical craft to be able to write at that length and have it be worth the time. So, we’re starting this first ebook off at the modest price of $2.99, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

The long-form essay has become more and more popular in the ereader age, and this project fits that niche nicely. We’ll have more to say about these Long Essays as they come out, but for now, here’s Scott’s intro to the first one in the series:

I’d like to introduce the first in a new series of ebooks published under the auspices of The Quarterly Conversation. The book is called, Lady Chatterley’s Brother, with the rather chatty subtitle, Why Nicholson Baker Can’t Write About Sex, and Why Javier Marias Can. It is co-written by me and longtime Quarterly Conversation contributing editor Barrett Hathcock. It will be available to the public on Monday, October 17, exactly 2 weeks from today. [. . .]

The project got started when Barrett realized that House of Holes was going to be yet another sex book from Baker. He groaned, told me that Baker just doesn’t get good sex writing, and I asked him why. As we started talking, it struck me that Marias understood sex writing for precisely the reasons Baker didn’t. And we were off.

8 February 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new issue of everyone’s favorite provocatively named webmag/blog is now available and includes a few translation-related items.

First off, there’s a review of To Hell with Cronje by Ingrid Winterbach and translated from the Afrikaans by Elsa Silke. The review is solid, and starts with a nice bit that references BTBA longlist title Agaat.:

2010 might be called a banner year for Afrikaans women in English, if a few fat books can be said to make a banner. Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat won a blurb from Toni Morrison and a review from The New York Times, while a reprint of Begging to be Black by Antjie Krog flew disappointingly under the radar. Somewhere in the middle was Ingrid Winterbach’s To Hell With Cronjé, published by Open Letter Books back in September in an adroit translation by Elsa Silke. Not to be outdone by the extravagant praise heaped on Agaat, Open Letter brought out the big guns: Winterbach has produced no less than “a South African Heart of Darkness,” we’re told, “an eerie reflection of the futility of war.”

Heart of Darkness, of course, was published in 1902, the same year in which To Hell With Cronjé takes place. And to be sure, there are other similarities as well: Winterbach’s novel explores the familiar “dark side” of English colonial expansion, and it does it in a chilly, not-quite-accessible way that recalls Marlow’s uncanny journey upriver. But there is a pointed irony to the fact that a book about the Anglo-Boer war should be compared to this most famous “Khaki” exploration narrative. Winterbach’s is a tale told from the other side, of a people formatively stuck between colonizer and colonized. (She is not alone in this effort: André Brink, for example, has made numerous recent forays into white South African vigilantism at the turn of the twentieth century.) While Conrad anticipated the glorious twilight of an empire, Winterbach rests on the tip of an iceberg that’s only begun to form.

There’s also a review of Javier Marias’s While the Women Are Sleeping, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa:

Given Javier Marías’s clear love for dark motivations and ghost stories — not magical realism, thanks, but the kind of creepy Poe-tasting that confounds literalists and raises kids’ hackles ‘round the campfire — While the Women Are Sleeping is initially a confusing prospect. The collection’s ten stories span thirty years, from 1968 on, but his narrators all feel like different flesh on the same skeleton, a parade of bourgeoisie vacationing with wives or visiting New York or taking sinecures in Spain; they exist as non-entities, mere witnesses with interchangeable values. Characters encounter specters both literal (“The Resignation Letter of Senor de Santiesteban”) and dubious (“One Night of Love”), but with resignment: where rabbit-hole fate draws, say, thematic predecessors like Juan Preciado (from Juan Rulfo’s classic spookfest Pedro Páramo) or Felipe Montero (Carlos Fuentes’s Aura) deep into the uncanny, Marías’s narrators operate in helpless acquiescence to the macabre. When the nameless chronicler of Sleeping’s title story discovers an acquaintance’s plan to murder his lover Inés, he’s not provoked or frightened so much as discomfited — while the prospect of another’s death gives him pause, it’s the newly discovered proximity to the dark side that makes him paranoid and neurotic.

Of course, that’s Marías’s milieu: for all his promised heebie-jeebies, his real hobbyhorse is everyday solipsism.

There’s a lot of interesting non-translation related stuff as well, including an article on the lifespan of the literary magazine, and interviews with Bradford Morrow (whose new book seems to be getting a lot of praise), Emma Straub (interviewed by super-bookseller Michele Filgate), and Evan Lavender-Smith.

31 January 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles.

All posts in this series can be found here. And I’ll kick things off with a post I wrote about Javier Marias’s book.

Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico by Javier Marias, translated by Esther Allen

Language: Spanish
Country: Spain
Publisher: New Directions
Pages: 57

Why It Should Win: Elvis! and a hysterical description of Fun in Acapulco; stars a translator and the plot hinges on translator’s interpretation; it’s Javier Marias, it’s Esther Allen, it’s New Directions

Although it’s only 57-pages long, this novella is packed with awesomeness. The basic story: some years back, a young Spaniard is hired to go to Mexico with Elvis and help him with his Spanish pronunciation. (Elvis wants to speak his ‘c’s like a true Spaniard—not like a Mexican.) While there, a confrontation takes place with locals in a bar—a confrontation that, by linguistic necessity, puts out narrator in the line of fire (literally and figuratively).

Marias is absolutely one of the best, and this book dazzles from its opening line:

No one knows what it’s like to be hunted down without having lived it, and unless the chase was active and constant, carried out with deliberation, determination, dedication and never a break, with perseverance and fanaticism, as if the pursuers had nothing else to do in life but look for you, keep after you, follow your trail, locate you, catch up with you and then, at best, wait for the moment to settle the score.

It might be due to the brevity of the text, but there’s a way in which every scene, every description, every event seems absolutely locked together, with each paragraph having to follow from the one previous. That’s not usually how I think of Marias, with his long-winding sentences (see above), constant contemplation, and the way his prose mulls. But Bad Nature really is the very definition of tight.

The fact that this book is about a translator—and the process of translation—might give it an edge with the panelists. This isn’t the first time Marias has written about a translator or used an act of translation as a plot point (see A Heart So White). Regardless, the moment in which the translator chooses his words in conveying Elvis’s insult to the ruffians is thick with tension, and such a perfect example of how translation is interpretation . . .

All that’s great, Marias is great, Esther’s translation is great, but the real reason this should win? These two passages. First, a description of the film:

I don’t really know what the plot of the film was supposed to be, and not because it was too complicated; on the contrary, it’s hard to follow a plot when there is no story line and no style to substitute for one or distract you; even later, after seeing the film—before the premiere there was a private screening—I can’t tell you what its excuse for a plot was. All I know is that Elvis Presley, the tortured former trapeze artist, as I said—but he’s only tortured sometimes, he also spends a lot of time going swimming, perfectly at ease, and uninhibitedly romancing women—wanders around Acapulco, I don’t remember why, let’s say he’s trying to shake off his dark past or he’s on the run from the FBI, perhaps some thought the fratricide was deliberate (I’m not at all clear on that and I could be mixing up my movies, thirty-three years have gone by). As is logical and necessary, Elvis sings and dances in various places: a cantina, a hotel, a terrace facing the daunting cliff. From time to time he stares, with envy and some kind of complex, at the swimmers—or rather, divers—who plunge into the pool with tremendous smugness from a diving board of only average height.

And from this description of the ridiculousness of Elvis:

Since he was a hard and serious and even enthusiastic worker, he couldn’t see how his roles looked from the outside or make fun of them. I imagine it was in the same disciplined and pliant frame of mind that he allowed himself to grow drooping sideburns in the seventies and agreed to appear on stage tricked out like a circus side show, wearing suits bedecked with copious sequins and fringes, bell bottoms slit up the side, belts as wide as a novice whore’s, high-heeled goblin boots, and a short cape—a cape—that made him look more like Super Rat than whatever he was probably trying for, Superman, I would imagine.

Super Rat FTW!

25 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Again with me and the last minute postings, but if you’re planning on participating in Conversational Reading’s YFT Reading Group, here’s the official schedule:

VOLUME 1

–1: Fever–

  • Week 1, March 21-27: pp. 3 – 95 (Section ends at: “But before getting back to the Tupras . . .”)
  • Week 2, March 28 – April 3: pp. 96 – 180 End of Section 1

–2: Spear–

  • Week 3, April 4-10: pp. 183 – 233 (“Yes, I did remember . . .”)
  • Week 4, April 11 – 17: pp. 234 – 316 (“This ability or gift was very useful . . .”)
  • Week 5, April 17 – 24: pp. 317 – 387 (End of VOLUME 1)

VOLUME 2

–3: Dance–

  • Week 6, April 25 – May 1: pp. 3 – 60 (“And so in the disco . . .”)
  • Week 7, May 2 – 8: pp. 61 – 121 (“I left the restroom as resolutely . . .”)
  • Week 8, May 9 – 15: pp. 122 – 201 (End of Section 3)

–4: Dream–

  • Week 9, May 16 – 22: pp. 205 – 264 (“He fell silent for longer this time . . .”)
  • Week 10, May 30 – June 5: pp. 265 – 341 (End of VOLUME 2)

VOLUME 3

–5: Poison–

  • Week 11, June 6 – 12: pp. 3 – 113 (“Yes, we almost certainly shared that in common . . .”)
  • Week 12, June 13 – 19: pp. 114 – 171 (End of Section 5)

–6: Shadow–

  • Week 13 June 20 – 26: pp. 173 – 230 (“When you haven’t been back . . .”)
  • Week 14, June 27 – July 3: pp. 231 – 328 (End of Section 6)

–7: Farewell–

  • Week 15, July 4 – 10: pp. 331 – 393 (“I didn’t in fact think much about anything . . .”)
  • Week 16, July 11 – 17: pp. 394 – 482 (“Wheeler stopped speaking and eagerly . . .”)
  • Week 17, July 18 – 24: pp: 483 – 545 (End of VOLUME 3)

And more importantly, for anyone getting started, Scott posted an excellent overview of Marias’s work, linking to a number of overview pieces in The Quarterly Conversation, New York Review of Books, and elsewhere.

Even if you’re not participating in the book club, Scott’s piece is really interesting for finding out about Marias’s work. So often people talk about the more crazy aspects of his life—like the fact that he is the King of Redonda.

I’m already behind in the readings, but hopefully will catch up by the 3rd . . .

22 March 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

After reading a bunch of glowing reviews for the third volume of Javier Marias’s Your Face Tomorrow trilogy (including this one from the Independent in which the trilogy is referred to as “one of the most thoughtful and inspiring fictional works of the last decade”) I tentatively decided that I would spend the last few months of 2010 reading all 1,500 pages, so that I could fully experience the hype.

I love Marias’s other books—especially the twinned All Souls and Dark Back of Time, the latter of which actually references Normal, Illinois of all places—and back years ago, like literally years ago, when Volume I of the YFT trilogy came out, I read about half of it on a plane to somewhere and remember greatly enjoying it. Actually, all I really remember is that the sentences were labyrinthine in that Marias way, and that the book was all about reading, about learning how to read, how to interpret. At the time it seemed like vintage Marias: pensive, thoughtful, detailed and methodical to a point of near-overkill. But in contrast to some of his other books, which are often about secrets, human relations, and women’s legs, the mental meanderings of the YTF trilogy are strung onto a spy-thriller plot. It’s like Proust meets Ian Fleming. (Or some other reviewer platitude.)

Anyway, as compelling and mentally exhilarating the idea of reading one of the great twenty-first-century works (so far) might be, I still need a little motivation . . . It’s not like I’m not already inundated with fascinating samples, readings for the Best Translated Book Award 2011, or Open Letter books that need to be proofed. But still . . .

Which is why I’m thrilled that Scott Esposito put together a Your Face Tomorrow Reading Group. Kicking off this week (I believe—more info TK), this should be pretty interesting. Scott does shit right. (Check recent issues of The Quarterly Conversation if you doubt.) And I know he already has a number of great features lined up.

Hopefully we’ll be able to do some cross-posting, etc., etc., between Conversational Reading and Three Percent, and regardless, I’ll definitely keep everyone updated as things progress.

Now, if you’re not up for 1,500 pages of European intellectual spy games (of however you want to categorize this), you might be more interested in Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, a very, very short Marias book that just came our from New Directions. I know little about this novel (except that Esther Allen translated it, so it must be awesome), although I do know that ND absolutely nailed the jacket copy: “In this classic Marias story, Elvis and his entourage abandon their translator in a seedy cantina full of enraged criminals.” Sold!

12 March 10 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

So, even though we’re in danger right now of becoming a blog that only writes about book prizes (or maybe I’m only feeling that way because the Best Translated Book Award has been on my mind for so long), we would be remiss if we didn’t make mention of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Longlist:

  • Boris Akunin The Coronation (translated by Andrew Bromfield from the Russian) Weidenfeld & Nicolson
  • Ketil Bjørnstad To Music (Deborah Dawkin & Erik Skuggevik; Norwegian) Maia Press
  • Hassan Blasim The Madman of Freedom Square (Jonathan Wright; Arabic) Comma Press
  • Philippe Claudel Brodeck’s Report (John Cullen; French) MacLehose Press
  • Julia Franck The Blind Side of the Heart (Anthea Bell; German) Harvill Secker
  • Pietro Grossi Fists (Howard Curtis; Italian) Pushkin Press
  • Elias Khoury Yalo (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) MacLehose Press
  • Jonathan Littell The Kindly Ones (Charlotte Mandell; French) Chatto & Windus
  • Alain Mabanckou Broken Glass (Helen Stevenson; French) Serpent’s Tail
  • Javier Marías Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (Margaret Jull Costa; Spanish) Chatto & Windus
  • Yoko Ogawa The Housekeeper and the Professor (Stephen Snyder; Japanese) Harvill Secker
  • Claudia Piñeiro Thursday Night Widows (Miranda France; Spanish) Bitter Lemon Press
  • Sankar Chowringhee (Arunava Sinha; Bengali) Atlantic
  • Rafik Schami The Dark Side of Love (Anthea Bell; German) Arabia Books
  • Bahaa Taher Sunset Oasis (Humphrey Davies; Arabic) Sceptre

There are a few things to note: Although the bigger presses, or big name presses, are well represented, it’s interesting to note how much of the heavy lifting for translation in the UK is done by smaller independent presses (Comma, Maia, Bitter Lemon); there are three books (three!) that are translated from Arabic, which has to be some kind of record; and Humphrey Davies and Anthea Bell have the knack—two nominated titles each.

30 November 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Always a big fan of TLS‘s best books of the year feature in which they ask authors to talk about the best books they read over the past year. Even cooler when an Open Letter title is included . . . (And we’re 2 for 2! Last year, The Pets by Bragi Olafsson was selected.)

Ali Smith

The final parts of two great European novel trilogies were published in English this year: Jan Kjærstad’s Wergeland trilogy with The Discoverer (Arcadia/Open Letter), and Javier Marías’s Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell (Chatto). Kjærstad’s trapeze act of interconnection makes life force out of its endgame; translator Barbara J. Haveland navigates this irrepressible Norwegian voyage through the universe with a studied lightness. Marías is simply astonishing. The concluding volume of his mighty Spanish trilogy about power, surveillance, morality and mortality is even more gripping than its predecessors. With its contemporary longsightedness and unique ethic-aesthetic agenda, Your Face Tomorrow seems to me unparallelled in literature – as, in its own right, does Margaret Jull Costa’s translation.

See the whole list by clicking here.

27 August 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Literary Saloon pointed us to this El Pais article entitled “Esta absurda aventura” (This Absurd Adventure) about Javier Marias’s Reino de Redonda publishing house.

(For non-Marias fans, here’s a short history of the Kingdom of Redonda and Marias’s ties to it. It really is a fun story and cool idea.)

He’s publishing two or three books a year under this venture, mainly lost classics (including a number of books by Redonda founder M.P. Sheil), which, unfortunately (although not much of a surprise), aren’t selling that well. Most titles are in the 1,000 copy range . . .

23 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

Scott points out an 8-book overview-review of Javier Marias’s novels in the NYRB.

Above all Marìas’s novels are concerned with the processes of telling, with what it means to tell and not to tell, with the bonds we establish or dissolve by telling, with the ways telling may either release us from the past or seal us in it. “One should never tell anyone anything,” Deza declares in the opening sentence of Your Face Tomorrow, but then proceeds to tell us all he does and thinks, and he makes of that telling a compulsive and enthralling performance; for he is one of those people on whom nothing is lost.

26 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments [2]

I’m a big Marias fan, and can’t wait for the third volume of Your Face Tomorrow to be translated into English. In the meantime, the Financial Times* has an interesting article on Marias, aka King Xavier I of Redonda:

Earlier this month Poison, Shadow and Farewell, a final, third volume of Your Face Tomorrow was published, as yet only in Spanish . I arrive at Marías’ flat in Madrid a couple of minutes after the author’s copies have been delivered. We stand in the entrance hall surveying the pile of books. I pick one up. My wrist buckles.

“Seven hundred and seven pages ,” says Marías. “Shorter in English.”

“Goodness,” I say, hefting the wodge of pages. “You’ve outdone Tolstoy.”

“Never mind Tolstoy. Don Quixote is 1,200 pages. Mine is over 1,600 pages. I have beaten Cervantes.” He smiles. “Not in quality, of course, only in extension.” He smiles more. “It’s a terrible boldness on my part.”

  • Why is it that business publications have some of the best arts sections?
15 June 07 | Chad W. Post | Comment

In today’s Guardian, Richard Lea has an article on Javier Cercas, one of Spain’s most renowned contemporary writers.

His first novel to make its way into English was Soldiers of Salamis, from Bloomsbury USA, which also recently published The Speed of Light.

I like the interview, because rather than focusing on the details of Cercas’s life (a la Terry Gross), he focuses on the details of the “Javier Cercas” found in Cercas’s novels. (Confused yet?)

Cercas devised this strategy while writing a series of experimental columns for the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, which continues to this day. ‘I began to write some weird stuff in El Pais, using the ‘I’,’ he says, ‘and then I became aware that this ‘I’ was fictional, even in a newspaper. They were experimental, crazy columns, and I began to write in a different way, that some people describe as ‘self-fiction’.

Reminds me a bit of Javier Marias’s All Souls and it’s “sequel” Dark Back of Time, which is my favorite of Marias’s books. (I haven’t finished the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy yet though.) A similar technique drives the books of Vila-Matas, but I’ve already said enough about him for one day.

....
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Love Sonnets & Elegies
Love Sonnets & Elegies by Louise Labé
Reviewed by Brandy Harrison

With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .

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Conversations
Conversations by César Aira
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .

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Nothing Ever Happens
Nothing Ever Happens by José Ovejero
Reviewed by Juan Carlos Postigo

You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .

The narrative history of. . .

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The Pendragon Legend
The Pendragon Legend by Antal Szerb
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .

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Mr. Gwyn
Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco
Reviewed by Paul Doyle

Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .

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Bombay Stories
Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto
Reviewed by Will Eells

I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .

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