Javier Marias speaks for a confident modern Spain with its calculated suppression of recent historyby Bella Thomas / April 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Javier Marias has been hailed as the voice of modern Spain. He writes, invariably, about violent death, usually in a disconcertingly aseptic fashion. His stories are fielded by casual curiosity, quiet assumption and random detail. The effect can be like watching a silent horror film. Some critics describe him as “Anglo-Saxon” because of a cold, steely quality. But he is particularly popular in Germany. So where does he belong?
His Anglo-Saxon flavour is quite conscious. He has translated Laurence Sterne and Richardson and other English classics. He has written a novel set in Oxford, All Souls, depicting life among incestuous, self-regarding dons. His references are classically English. He will introduce a quotation from Shakespeare and, in an extravagant, un-English aside, mull over its import. The titles of four of his books are quotations from Shakespeare’s plays: from A Heart So White (Macbeth, “My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white”) to Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me (from Henry III). At several junctures in the books, these lines are repeated and the layers of reference are slowly teased out. Spaniards are unselfconscious about making sudden illustrious asides.
His subjects are usually Spanish. There are men in “patriotic trousers” (Spaniards, he says, can be recognised by their carefully ironed trouser cut); a brazen Seville girl jilted by her lover; a man whose secret lover dies on him. There are scenes which are Almod?varesque in their absurdity: a woman finally, desperately gives in to the necessity of making some extra cash by auditioning for a porn film; in the waiting room she meets her screen partner, who insists on telling her how he was once employed to prevent a girl killing herself. Spain, of course, celebrates death in a way that some can find jarring: from the bullfight to the awesome processions of Holy Week. Marias turns that dramatic obsession on its head, but remains absorbed by death.
Another theme is the probing of well-preserved secrets which, once exposed, are quickly buried again. A Heart So White, Marias’s most popular book, tells the story of a man, Juan Ranz, who feels uneasy about his father’s past. It begins at his own wedding when his father slips him some troubling advice about the importance of keeping secrets from his wife. Ranz’s curiosity is roused-but it is his new wife who makes it her business…