I must begin this with a confession: as I suspect many of you have already, I went drastically ahead of schedule in my YFTS reading. It’s a testament to Marias’ abilities as a storyteller that after 1,000 pages of this book Volume 3 has me more hooked than ever (and that’s saying something, as YFT is certainly not a book that flagged for me very often). I do have some critiques of this book, but I will say that more than anything I’ve read lately, YFT has satisfied hugely on the level of plot, something I seem to be finding less and less often in literary fiction.
But anyway, onto the blogging! Though I’m ahead and will likely finish before the week of July 11, I’m going to continue blogging the read up through that week as though I weren’t. And I should preface all of these final posts with the fact that I have very mixed opinions about divulging any spoilers for these last couple hundred pages, given that the plot is so ripe, and I hate to spoil a good plot for any reader.
I’m curious to know people’s opinions on why Marias has chosen to label this segment “shadow.” It’s an odd choice for a section that takes place during Deza’s return to his home country, a place he has been pining for throughout YTF and which one would think would inspire a noun with more presence than shadow. Yet his opinion on Madrid and his life there is very ambiguous. At one point he says that two weeks is a good amount of time to be home, since after seeing his kids and friends he wouldn’t know what to do with himself. That’s certainly not how I felt upon returning to my hometown after two years in foreign countries. And Deza seems to be at a distance from all the people and things he comes back to. His father in particular seems worthy of the word shadow, though even Deza’s return to his apartment, children, and books is strangely muted.
Distant as Deza’s father did seem, though, I found the scene in which father and son are back together one of the more touching and well-wrought segments in the entire book. The moment on page 272, when Deza momentarily becomes the father and his father the son, was lovely, as is the fragment “and so perhaps, more than anything, he saw now with his memory.”
But I feel like I’m burying the lede here, so let’s get right to the main event from this segment: [Spoiler alert] Who was surprised by Luisa’s shiner? It seemed inevitable that some complication would arise once Deza returned to Spain, and it seemed even more inevitable that it would involve Luisa, although the turn to violence in this form was a bit of a surprise. And of course Deza’s parenthetical words (words we’ve been leading up to all throughout this book) will prove prophetic: “(who knows when anything will stop once it’s begun)” .
And I’d also like to put forth this question from the comments to last week’s post:
I suppose it’s the sort of thing one ought to have seen coming, but has anyone besides me found themselves less and less able to identify with Deza, or to excuse his decisions, over the course of the the “Poison” and “Shadow” sections? Tupra I can grudgingly respect; he seems acting on an ideal. Deza seems oddly & increasingly incapable of caring about much besides his own personal spheres, the things that are important to him. As far as we know, that wasn’t & isn’t the case for Tupra or Wheeler.
I can kind of see this, as Deza has been more or less holding up an ideal contrary to Tupra’s view of the world, but now with Luisa he’s so easily prepared to abandon all of that. It would indeed be easier to bear if Deza was willing to admit the superiority of Tupra’s world from the start, but he continually insists on upholding a contrary standard, and it is disappointing to see him abandon it at this juncture.
And now for something completely different. I loved the section where Deza is looking at the paintings in the Prado [301-17]. Marias is a writer frequently put in the same conversation as Sebald, and though I didn’t see a lot of obvious stylistic similarities throughout YFT, I could definitely see it here. This section had the same “sifting through the archives of history” quality as Sebald, particularly with the images of the paintings Deza observed sliced into the text. I particularly liked Deza’s reading of “The Three Ages and Death”:
. . . in the background, a solar landscape that looks instead lunar, grim and desolate, with a ruined tower in flames; the inevitable cross hangs in the sky. I had always wondered, eve since I was a child if the young woman and the old were the same person at very different ages or if they were two separate women. I mean, if the older woman had always been tugging at herself from youth onwards and into old age, when she finally allows herself to be carried off by Death, for if that were not the case, the subject would be graver and more troubling. [314-5]
I like the injection of ambiguity in there, whether the older woman drawing her younger self toward old age and death or a corrupted woman simply looking to corrupt another. (Both interpretations have obvious resonances for YFT).
And lastly, I’d like to point out all those statues that Deza comes across as he tracks Custardoy through Madrid (and what an odd name in a book of notable names). With their little nameplates and sentence-long bios they seem the very embodiments of the long past stuck somehow in the present, not wholly of it but not wholly irrelevant either. It felt very appropriate for Deza to smack up against them again and again and again at this point in the book, the one moment where Deza is perhaps more in the present–and divorced from the long past–than any other so far.