© Elliott Erwitt/Magnum
Javier Marías is Spain’s most celebrated living novelist. His work has been translated into 32 languages and has won many international literary awards. WG Sebald wrote of Marías that, “he uses language like an anatomist uses the scalpel to cut away the layers of the flesh in order to lay bare the innermost secrets of that strangest of species, the human being.”
The passage below comes from the beginning of Marías’s new novel The Infatuations. The narrator, María Dolz, describes how she became obsessed with a couple who would come each morning to the café where she ate her breakfast. It was not until later that she discovered the identity of the man, when she saw his photo in a newspaper after he had been stabbed to death.
The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him, which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word. I didn’t even know his name, or only when it was too late, only when I saw a photo in the newspaper, showing him after he had been stabbed several times, with his shirt half off, and about to become a dead man, if he wasn’t dead already in his own absent consciousness, a consciousness that never returned: his last thought must have been that the person stabbing him was doing so by mistake and for no reason, that is, senselessly, and what’s more, not just once, but over and over, unremittingly, with the intention of erasing him from the world and expelling him from the earth without further delay, right there and then. But why do I say “too late,” I wonder, too late for what? I have no idea, to be honest. It’s just that when someone dies, we always think it’s too late for anything, or indeed everything—certainly too late to go on waiting for him—and we write him off as another casualty. It’s the same with those closest to us, although we find their deaths much harder to accept and we mourn them, and their image accompanies us in our mind both when we’re out and about…