The Extemporaneous Javier Marías

Author signings tend to be a crapshoot, but Andrew Seal claims to have seen a great one with noted Spanish novelist Javier Marías, who must be touring for the third book of the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy:

Marías was not cagey; in fact, he was much more candid than I would have anticipated. He seemed completely comfortable noting autobiographical correspondences with his characters or with events in his books (e.g., the girl’s suicide at the beginning of A Heart So White is part of his family’s history, though the rest is not, or not factually). There were no self-inflating pretensions of “it’s so reductive to read this as autobiography!” It was merely, “well, yes, I use things from my life, but I trust my readers to know where one ends and another begins.” (These aren’t direct quotes or even paraphrases, but rather impressions—I had a shortage of paper and didn’t feel like transcribing anyway.)

And Marías was more eloquent in extemporaneously articulating his philosophy of the novel and his own perceptions of his writing than many writers are with a prepared speech. . . .

Marias is a novelist I haven’t yet read, though the high praise he has received from impressive authors (including Roberto Bolano) makes him high on my TBR list. Though, I know of at least one notable detractor . . .

This tidbit on his method of composition sounds vaguely reminiscent of Cesar Aira:

Finally, he offered an interesting account of how he writes. After a page is finished—I don’t believe he said “perfected,” but he could have, not because he was less than humble, but because that would be an appropriate verb for his writing—he will not add new material or subtract anything from it to restructure the shape of the narrative. He says he will make continuity corrections (switching a Thursday to a Tuesday), but he doesn’t change what he has written if doing so might make things more convenient for the novel at a later stage; if Marías didn’t think of it the first time, he has to write his way around it at the point in the narrative when it becomes necessary to do so.

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You will definitely enjoy Marias.
But I wouldn’t start with Your Face Tomorrow… everyone mentions “All Souls” and “A Heart So White” but another, shorter place to start is “When I Was Mortal” – ostensibly a collection of short stories in which the themes, characters, and repetitive elements are so similar that it reads like a novel.

I’ve read all the Marias which has been translated into English, and the only one which I wasn’t 100% excited about was the one McSweeney’s published–Voyage Along the Horizon–which I believe is one of his earliest books. It’s pretty different from all the New Directions stuff. A Heart So White is still my favorite, and a great place to start. Really sets you up to understand his style . . .

They are very different. Aira plays. Maria has pains. Sometimes ironical, but pains. He employs spy novel, lots of Sterne and Bernhard and plays an interesting and large novel.
PD: A short story of a contemporary great spanish writer.

The first Marias that I read was the first volume in the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy. I was hooked immediately as I thought that novel was a virtuoso display of writing. Definitely not for everyone though, as plotting is thin and pace is practically a snails crawl. However the writing itself is amazingly impressive.

I suggest beginning with Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me.

I would second “Tomorrow in the Battle…”–one of the most thrilling reads of my year by a long shot.

I’ll third “Tomorrw in Battle, Think on Me” – it was my first MArias and the one that hooked me.

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me is a great novel and would recommend it anytime. If you want to get an insight into Marias’s writing, take some time to read this lengthy interview:


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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