Ever since the Your Face Tomorrow group read, I’ve made it a project to slowly work my way through as much Javier Marias as I can get my hands on. There are two books I’ve read since YFT; the first is All Souls, which is essentially a book about Jacobo Deza when he was an Oxford professor, about 15 years before Your Face Tomorrow (although he is never identified by name in the book and probably would have remained nameless had Marias not written YFT, and the book is quite unlike YFT in structure and delivery).
The second book is Dark Back of Time, which is something of a companion book to All Souls: it’s the story (fictional or non, I’m not quite sure yet; or maybe both) of the fallout from the release of All Souls in Oxford, wherein Marias claims that many of his Oxford associates imagined All Souls was a roman a clef and had various reactions to the characters they believed were based on themselves. I know this sounds like a conceit that could make Dave Eggers’ early work look downright self-abnegating by comparison (writer who wrote a book about his two years in Oxford then writes a book about the reaction to said book; how much more solipsistic can you get?), but Marias has actually made it into an amazingly robust form. In his hands the book becomes something along the lines of an ever-expanding literary detective story (threads beget threads, when then beget more threads), and anyway he spends a substantial amount of time gently mocking himself. After a while the book begins to develop a strong forward momentum, even though it’s by far the woolliest Marias book I’ve read yet.
These three books–YFT, All Souls, and Dark Back of Time–are all of a piece, not just in terms of plot and character and location, but also thematically; in fact, they hew together so well that I’m actually quite intrigued to read something by Marias from outside of this universe, just to see if I still like him as much when he’s not writing out of this vein.
I currently own three chances for that to happen: they are Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, which, given that the titular phrase has already occurred more than once in these three books, I am thinking may be similar; Bad Nature or With Elvis in Mexico, which is really more of a long story than a novel; and Travesia del horizonte, Marias’ second novel and published in English as Voyage Along the Horizon, which is already out of print in English and was not well reviewed, but, if it has no other virtues, will at least distinguish itself as being nothing at all like any other Javier Marias book I’ve read.
After that there are a few more novels left, and surely the most intriguing of the bunch is A Heart So White, which generally evokes hushed tones and fond gazes from those who have already had the honor. (The book also won the IMPAC-Dublin Award, which netted Marias and Margaret Jull Costa a cool 100,000 euros, though I’m not sure how that prize was split.)
And then we get to the nonfiction: Marias, who has written a weekly column for the Spanish newspaper El Pais for many years now, is a prolific essayist, though to the best of my knowledge virtually none of his nonfiction has been translated into English. One would think given his increasing popularity some press would take a chance on some of these intriguing titles, such as Faulkner y Nabokov: dos maestros.
And, lastly, I should mention that New Directions will be publishing the first book of Marias’ short stories to appear in English later this year.