“The Infatuations” by Javier Marias (2013) – 338 pages Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
We have all heard the rules for good fiction writing: well-defined characters, sharp dialogue, exciting plot. It is as if there is an imaginary fiction instructor inside our heads repeating these rules over and over. However Javier Marias ignores all these rules, but it does not matter at all. Let me elaborate.
Well-defined Characters. “The Infatuations” begins with our narrator going to a restaurant for breakfast each workday morning, and a married couple, ‘the Perfect Couple’, are also there each day. Our narrator observes this couple carefully. It is only on page 45 that the narrator is finally identified as a woman, ‘the Prudent Young Woman’. Up until that point, I had assumed that the narrator was a man. The narrator is constantly expounding, explicating, or speculating in detail on some matter. I mistakenly associated these ways of thinking with men. But after all it is the twenty first century, and maybe women think a lot more like men than I ever thought they did. Let’s just say that Marias gave no hints as to the sexual identity of the narrator. On the other hand our imaginary good fiction writing instructor in order to achieve a well-defined character would have had our woman narrator adjusting her skirt on page one, even though women don’t wear skirts that much anymore.
Sharp Dialogue. Our imaginary fiction instructor would say that there should be a lot of back-and-forth in dialogue between characters, and no one character should talk for too long. Yet Marias totally ignores this rule in “The Infatuations. In this novel conversations between characters tend to be a series of long monologues of up to two pages. I hesitate to use the word ‘philosophy’ to describe these conversations, because that would make them sound a lot less interesting than they actually are. These long conversations are entirely fascinating.
Exciting Plot. Well, there is one murder in “The Infatuations” which takes place off-camera, so to speak. Readers should not hold their breath waiting to find out what will happen next, because nothing much else does happen. The rest of the novel is discussion and speculation about that murder. Yet Marias’ writing sentence-by-sentence is so captivating that at least this reader did not feel the need for any more action.
Here are a few sentences from “The Infatuations” which are quite typical of the quality of discourse in the novel. See if you like them as much as I did.
“When someone is in love, or, more precisely, when a woman is in love and in the early stages of an affair, when it still has all the allure of the new and surprising, she is usually capable of taking an interest in anything the object of her love is interested in or speaks about. She’s not just pretending as a way of pleasing him or winning him over or establishing a fragile stronghold, although there is an element of that, she really does pay attention and allow herself to be genuinely caught up in what he feels and transmits, be it enthusiasm, aversion, sympathy, fear, anxiety, or even obsession.”
There has been some talk of Javier Marias as being a potential future Nobel prizewinner. I’ve read several novels by Marias, and each one has been an enjoyable as well as a worthwhile experience.. He would certainly be a stronger laureate than some of the recent previous winners (Daniel Fo?).
Although Marias does not follow the rules.