(We continue our reader responses to Your Face Tomorrow with Maylin Scott, who made quite a few comments during out read. Here she talks about the pivotal scene where Deza stands up and dances, and how it refracts throughout all three volumes of YFT.)
Having now finished Your Face Tomorrow (and read All Souls and Dark Back of Time for good measure–fascinating and complimentary reads both), I keep coming back to one pivotal section that seems to encapsulate many of the resonating thoughts and themes of the novel.
The scene takes place right in the middle of YFT (Volume II pages 185-201) which I don’t think is at all coincidental, and it is the one where Deza looks out his window at his neighbour dancing with the two women, then starts to dance himself, eventually realizing the trio are in turn observing him and copying his dance with the newspaper. They signal to Deza to join them and he, embarrassed, backs away. At first I was in the spell of how breathtakingly beautiful the image was–that section contains some of the best writing in the whole novel–but I think it serves a much more important narrative function. And it’s all to do with the fact that Deza refuses to join in the dance.
As the novel progressed, I’m sure I wasn’t the only reader frustrated (but still intrigued) by Deza’s character–his brooding aloofness and apathy, both in his initial response to his job (and its possible sinister implications) but also particularly in his relationships with women. Marias never lets us glimpse Deza when his love life is flourishing. In YFT, he’s separated from Luisa and we don’t get a sense of how they met or their early courtship and marriage. In All Souls, he is brooding over the absence of his lover Claire and the eventual end of that affair. And there couldn’t be a colder, more dispassionate and mechanical sexual encounter than the one Deza has with Perez Nuix, made all the more sad and horrifying by Deza’s competitive obsession with whether Tupra has also slept with her. Marias has created a main character who muses intelligently and philosophically over life but stands outside it as a reluctant participant. And this dancing scene is a crucial narrative turning point. Deza is invited to join in, to participate, to engage with his neighbours and he refuses. He needs to remain the passive outsider. But this is also the midway point of the novel when Deza turns from being the observer–of the clients he makes reports on, of Tupra’s horrifying actions with the sword in the washroom, and his subsequent viewing of Tupra’s videotapes–to becoming the active instigator of violence in the episode with Custardoy, forcing him to act in a way contrary to his previous beliefs as to what he is morally and physically capable of.
So why does Marias create this distant outsider? This personality suits Deza for his spying duties, but it curiously distances the reader from engaging more emotionally with the character. Reading Dark Back of Time–a sort of philosophical meditation on the blend of fiction/reality that resulted in Marias’s life as result of having published All Souls–illuminated a number of aspects of Marias’ style and intellectual concerns, a key one being the fine line between fiction and reality, or the perception of how closely they can become intertwined, mostly through strange coincidences. (These can be as slim or amusingly innocuous as the one experienced by myself–reading in Dark Back of Time about Melville’s treatment at the hands of his stingy publishers while in a hotel room located on Melville St .) Marias likes to explore how literature, consciously or not, affects people’s subsequent actions and in YFT, he seems to be challenging his readers to put themselves in Deza’s position in terms of being either a passive observer of the novel, or to actively engage with its ideas (as we’ve been doing in this forum), and let it continue to influence and reverberate through your own life. And there couldn’t be a better metaphor for this notion than inviting one to dance with a newspaper, to dance with words as your partner.
This “dance” is also a dance with literary tradition, fascinated as Marias is with notions of time and memory, both historical and cultural. Readers here have compared him in style to Sebald, Bernhard and Proust in particular. But where Proust takes a submerged moment in time and, from a different temporal perspective, examines how that memory can change, Marias almost suspends time. He freeze frames the episode, has his narrator walk around it, ponder it from all angles, and then turns the projector on again so that the event loops concurrently alongside the narrative present, with frequent inescapable incursions into it. As such, I’d like to suggest that, thematically at least (and definitely not in terms of writing style), the novel that YFT reminded me the most of is Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, though this comparison didn’t hit me until I’d finished the book. Marias’s novel is a dance with the music of time, or a dance with time itself, with an accompanying narrative movement and use of language that is graceful, sensual and elegant. And so back to that key episode and the end of that section and Deza’s summation of himself: “That is what I will be, what was and has never been. That is, I will be time, which has never been seen, and which no one ever can see.”
But Marias has made us see, giving us an imaginative vision of time in this extraordinary novel.