The playful fiction of Javier Marias is brilliantly funnyby Miranda France / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Sometime towards the end of the 1980s, I remember sitting with a group of friends in a bar in Madrid. As dawn broke, one of us said that he really ought to get some sleep. “I’m an eye surgeon,” he explained, “and in three hours I’ve got to do an operation.” The rest of us gulped, raised a glass to the patient and ordered a final round before having breakfast and going to bed.
Javier Marías’s new novel is set during that first, upside-down decade of Spain’s new democracy, an era of sleeplessness, parties and sexual freedom Madrileños call La Movida (the movement). It’s easy to forget, from this distance, the speed at which Spanish society changed after Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. One character in Thus Bad Begins can’t fathom the capital’s burgeoning transvestite community: “Don’t talk nonsense, they’re clearly women and pretty spectacular ones at that. The race has improved over the years, that’s why they’re tall.”
The narrator of Thus Bad Begins is Juan de Vere, now in his fifties and looking back on a time spent working as an assistant to film director Eduardo Muriel in 1980. By this time, Franco has been dead for five years and social change is under way both in the streets and on the statute books. A new divorce law is set to liberate thousands, perhaps including Muriel, whose hateful treatment of his wife baffles the young de Vere. “Pure lard” he calls her, when anyone can see Beatriz is a gorgeous woman who looks particularly good astride her Harley-Davidson. To de Vere, it seems that his boss has embarked “on a revenge that would never end, never be sated.” What can Beatriz have done to deserve this punishment? And where does she go in the afternoons?