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Marías in America

By Bud Parr

It is significant, we learned from Javier Marías's U.S. publisher Barbara Epler recently at the New York Public Library, that he was in America. Marías refused to come to the United States for the eight years Goerge Bush was in office, much, I'm sure, to his publisher's chagrin since he published two of the three volumes of his trilogy Your Face Tomorrow in those years. That eight years also roughly corresponds to how long it took Mr. Marías to finish his trilogy, a book, he revealed to us, that he very nearly abandoned at one point. 

The occasion for Mr. Marías's visit then was the highly anticipated  - by those of us who've read the first two parts - of the final volume of the three part novel, Your Face Tomorrow - Poison, Shadow and Farewell. Volume one of Your Face Tomorrow, Fever and Spear was published in 2007, and volume two, Dance and Dream was published in 2008, making for a total of over 1200 pages, a word count not so terribly high for an author who can easily stretch a five minute scene for a hundred pages or so.

I've yet to finish the third volume, so I'll leave my comments for later, but the reviews are stunning: David Haglund (editor of the PEN America magazine) writes in The National:

Like so much fiction by Marías, Your Face Tomorrow returns again and again to the moral complications of storytelling: the hidden motives behind the stories we tell; the inevitable inaccuracies of language; the way that just listening to a story can implicate us in what it recounts.

James Lasdun writes in The Guardian

Your Face Tomorrow is in fact a work of sublime lunacy, closer in spirit to Sterne or Cervantes than some of the more modern mega-tomes – A la Recherche, for instance – to which it has been compared. (Musil might be more apt than Proust, with a dash of Anthony Powell to take care of its peculiar Englishness, but even that fails to do justice to the book's sheer waywardness.)

And, Lasdun writes, Your Face Tomorrow is the "first authentic literary masterpiece of the 21st century."

However, I don't think Marías is to become the sensation (at least not in America) that, say, Bolaño has. His work, as Lasdun points out, doesn't come with the instant gratification that we're used to from many authors. His books are built upon an intellectual underpinning and are full of (what seems like) digression.

That digression is a hallmark of Marías's writing and is sure to whittle away some of his readers, but rewarding for most. It was also a topic of Marías's talk with Paul Holdengräber at the New York Public Library, where, among other things, Marías acknowledged that the sword (readers will know the sword) is a nod to Cervantes. On digression, Marías remarked that "Time doesn't give time to exist" and that novels give you time back. In real time, for example, after a long night of discussion, you may remember only a single moment, but the novel gives you the duration of the evening you never have in real life. 

Readers might also want to know that Marías is writing another book. However, he doesn't believe writers who say that writing is a necessity. "I live happily without writing," he said, and remarked that he never knows if he will continue to write, or if he's "emptied" himself. Luckily he hasn't, but after eight years writing the last novel, he said that the characters in the new novel feel like "intruders!"

Today, as you may know, is the 75th birth anniversary of Elvis Presley. Marías connection? Look soon from New Directions for a terrific Marías short story called "Bad Nature, or Elvis in Mexico."

More Marías at:

Interview at "Flavorwire"

Review at "The Times Online"

Review at "The Independent"

Video interview at "The Guardian"

New Directions (publisher) page where you can read an excerpt of the book.

Published Jan 8, 2010   Copyright 2010 Bud Parr

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