Tag Archives: javier marías

New review of an old fave.

Slightly late to posting: my review of Javier Marías latest novel, Thus Bad Begins went live awhile back at Literal Magazine. I have written about Marías before, having reviewed his penultimate novel, The Infatuations, for The Millions.

Here’s how my review starts, picking up on a line I had mentioned in my review of The Infatuations:

Javier Marías doesn’t want to be “what they call a ‘real Spanish writer.’” These are authors who, Marîas says, prominently feature themes and motifs of classic Spain, including bullfighting and passionate women. While these tropes are certainly absent from his novels, which tend more to involve analytic and voluble narrators dissecting the vagaries of life, Marías is still obviously fascinated with the Spanish character, and with its gestalt, and perhaps that is in no clearer form than in his latest novel, Thus Bad Begins.

The first in a series.

savetwilightMy review of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight: Poems (from City Lights Books) is up at Literal Magazine. It should be the first in a multiple reviews for Literal, where I have been given the opportunity to regularly write on Latin American and/or Spanish language literature.

If you know me, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Latin American lit, from my days obsessing over One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school to discovering Dagoberto Gilb and Sandra Cisneros in college. As much as one can lump such disparate books together, there is something to these books that I respond to, that speaks to me in a louder voice than other novels and stories. More recently, many of the books I tackled for Necessary Fiction—including Álvaro Bisama and Eduardo Lalo—have been from the region, but I’ve also become deeply interested in the works of Spanish writer Javier Marías.

In fact, it’s to Marías that my next review turns: his brand-new Thus Bad Begins.

On James Salter.

Enigmatic—and brilliant—writer James Salter has died. Invariably, the obituaries and online remembrances call him a “writer’s writer” and point to his reverential, if small, following. That is probably true. It’s ironic, then, that Salter’s true gift was how he was able to encompass the entire human experience.

A couple years ago I first encountered Salter in reviewing his final novel, All That Is, a work that is almost unparalleled in its hypnotism—Salter was able to cast the kind of spell that few writers for me (among them, Coetzee, Morrison, Marías, and most of all, Sebald) could cast. The beginning of All That Is, taking place on the sea during World War II, was one of the best openings to any novel I’ve read. But beyond that, All That Is, just as his most famous work A Sport and a Pastime, manage the not insignificant literary trick of hypnotism. As I wrote in my review:

Although the word “hypnotic” seems often overused in book reviews, the writing in “All That Is” demands the description. From the astonishing opening on the sea, each sentence is charming, and paragraphs cast spells. For good reason has Richard Ford described Salter as the best American sentence-writer, and for good cause has Teju Cole recently noted he “cherish[ed]” every sentence Salter wrote. Salter captures the quotidian like few can.

He will be missed.

Seven Reasons Not to Write Novels.

Javier Marías, listing about the many reasons not to write a novel:

What’s more, it can take months or even years of work to write an average-length novel that some people then might want to read. Investing all that time in a task that has only a one per cent chance of making any money is absurd, especially bearing in mind that these days no one – not even aristocrats and housewives – has that amount of time to spare. The Marquis de Sade and Jane Austen did, but their modern-day equivalents do not; and worse still, not even the aristocrats and housewives who don’t write but do read have time enough to read what their writing colleagues write.

Subconsciously, maybe this is why I’m only writing short stories at the moment?

Paperback of “The Infatuations.”

theinfatuationsThe paperback of Javier Marias’ superb novel The Infatuations is now out.

A few months ago I wrote what turned out to be a glowing review in The Millions. Just recently, I was walking through a Barnes & Noble in Baltimore only to discover that my review became a blurb in the actual paperback. (On Amazon, you can read my quote here, too.)

Anyway, it’s kind of crazy to be be actually quoted in the front matter of a major novelist’s paperback. Pretty cool.

Oh, and buy the paperback, while you’re at it. I did, even though I had a galley already.

Of the books I read published in 2013, these are my favorites.

Last year I joined list hysteria (“listeria”?) of end-of-the-year reading. At the end of 2013, I’m succumbing again. I’ll just quote myself from last year regarding the rather lengthy title to this post:

Since it would be silly to say these are the “best” books of 2012—”best” is impossible to determine, and considering I’ve read only about 20 books that were published this year, I’d be hardly one to determine it—these are, then, my “favorites of the books I read this calendar year that also happen to be published in 2012.” Not quite as catchy as “Best of 2012,” but far more truthful.

Sub 2013 for 2012, and we’re on—with one caveat. Because I read so few 2013 nonfiction books this year, it doesn’t seem fair to pick a winner—so I’ll keep my choices to fiction:

  1. The Infatuations, Javier Marías
    This is the best novel I’ve read this year, by far. Marías is the most exciting novelist alive. He doesn’t wow with descriptions or aesthetics, but he picks the most challenging and interesting ideas and themes. His novels—which contain “systems of echoes”—are intricately plotted and brilliant. If I were on the Nobel committee, I’d pick him. (My review of this book is here.)
  2. The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabriel Vásquez
    The latest novel by (for my money) the most promising South American novelist, Vásquez effortlessly blends history and narrative. Though it could have ended stronger, this novel opens wonderfully—and in a more interesting way—than many books I’ve lately read. (Review here.)
  3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra 
    This was my beach book, consumed while looking out at the Gulf of Mexico, which made Marra’s accomplishment—making me feel as if I was there, in a blown-out hospital in Chechnya—even more impressive. This has the best denouement of any 2013 novel I read. (Review)
  4. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner
    What hasn’t already been said about this novel? Kushner showed great promise in Telex From Cuba, but The Flamethrowers has her in stride. There’s so much on the page and so much more between the lines. Kushner is not a strong plotter, but everything else that comprises a great novel—interesting settings, dynamic characters, relevant themes, aesthetic beauty, originality—she has in spades. I’ll read anything Kushner writes.

New York Times’ 100 Notable Books.

It’s getting to be my favorite time of the year—at least as far as book lists go. The New York Times’ notable “100 Notable Books” is the monarch of lists, and it’s a good one. I can recommend several titles on the list, a few of which I’ve reviewed before:


  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra (review)
  • Dissident Gardens, Jonathan Lethem (my review is upcoming)
  • The Infatuations, Javier Marías (probably the best novel I’ve read this year; my essay)
  • The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri (my review upcoming)
  • The Sound of Things Falling, Juan Gabríel Vásquez (my review upcoming)
  • Tenth of December, George Saunders (review)


  • My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor (review)

For more “best” books lists go here.

“The Darkness is Deep Indeed”: Essay on Javier Marias.

theinfatuationsMy essay on Spanish writer Javier Marías has gone live at The Millions. It’s also a review of his latest novel, The Infatuations, which was just released this past Tuesday (August 11). The very short and very rough version of the essay: Marías is brilliant, and the book is brilliant, and you should read it. The full essay opens:

Maria Dolz sees the same couple at the same café in the same city, Madrid, nearly every morning. “[T]he sight of them together” calmed her, and provided her “with a vision of an orderly or, if you prefer, harmonious world.” Maria works for a book publisher, where she often must deal with vain and pretentious authors — including one who is so infatuated with the Nobel Prize that he has already prepared an acceptance speech in Swedish. She is somewhere just south of 40, and has not married. To her, the couple was the ideal form of love, a couple who unselfconsciously enjoyed every second in each other’s presence. “[I] didn’t regard them with envy, not at all,” Maria says, “but with a feeling of relief that in the real world there could exist what I believed to be a perfect couple.”

The Millions’ Most-Anticipated Books.

The Millions has posted its fantastic most-anticipated books list—this one of books for the second half of the year. Their round-ups are always must-reads.

One notable book on an auspicious list: The Infatuations by Javier Marías. My ARC of the book just arrived in the mail today, and I’m preparing an essay on Marías—an absolute genius—in time for the book’s August release. (It will be a review of the book, too.)

Paris Review Interview with Javier Marías.

Javier Marías, in an interview with The Paris Review:

Some have said that writing is a unique way of knowing, but it is a unique way of recognizing. This happens very often in Proust in particular. You read something and you say, Yes, this is true, this is something I have experienced, this is something I have seen, I have felt this, but I wouldn’t have been able to express it the way he has. Now I really know it. That is what the novel does better than any other genre or any other art, in my opinion. I wouldn’t say that I think best when I am writing. But I think differently.

I’m late to reading Marías, but I am glad I finally tackled A Heart So White. Breathtaking book.

One of these days I will get through the absolute treasure-trove that is the PR’s collection of interviews.