That’s Andrew Seal’s advice for budding readers of Javier Marias:
My advice for reading Marías is to read him as quickly as possible, with as few breaks as possible. Despite a moment in All Souls where the narrator refers to his “general state of disequilibrium,” what marks Marías’s prose is an extreme sense of total equanimity, in fact a very powerful sense of equilibrium, of minute adjustments within a sentence or paragraph—even within a thought—that are constantly calibrating, correcting, reconsidering. This is not a prose style which one feels pleasure from by just reading a few pages at a time (although some of Marías’s individual set-pieces—like the scene in A Heart So White where Juan meets his future wife, or the scene in All Souls where the narrator eats at the high table—are so good that they do provide just that immediate jolt of pleasure); it is a pleasure that one must adjust oneself to, and that adjustment takes time.
I’m not quite sure if our preordained pace of 60 – 70 pages per week for Your Face This Spring later in March quite holds to Andrew’s advice, but if you want you can try and read the week’s entire segment in one day (or just go on ahead of everyone . . .).
Andrew also offers a little more advice: if Marias’s first sentences strike you at impossible opaque, just keep going:
This all may be an odd thing to say about an author who is famous (or relatively famous) for the nonpareil fireworks of his opening lines, lines which are almost obscenely deft at leaping over expository throat-clearing and knocking you immediately on your heels. They are plunging, precipitous, like building a floor under you and knocking it through with the same gesture. “I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl anymore and hadn’t long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the dining room with other members of the family and three guests” (A Heart So White). . . .
So it is rather strange that an author who could fire off these lines without preamble might be so resistant to giving other immediate pleasures—although the prose is always very good and often very funny, I don’t think one can successfully read Marías often just for the joy of a single page, or of a single paragraph. The effects are generally cumulative, even concatenating, almost always the product of something one has just encountered and something that is buried many pages before (or perhaps even in another of his books).
Reading all this is really keying me up for the Marias read starting later this month. We start with Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear on March 21.