Legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa, who of course translated Your Face Tomorrow, as well as books by Jose Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz, Bernardo Atxaga, and a ton more, has graciously agreed to join in on our discussion next week. Here’s how it’s going to work: I’ll have her answer a few questions about the book and the translation of it, and then everyone can pose some questions to her in the comments. So please make sure to drop by next week and get her insight on these books.
I also wanted to pull a few comments that you might have missed from the past couple weeks of discussion. Here we go:
Ginny on the use of fever throughout volume 1:
Also, I’m reminded that when one is in the process of getting sick, a fever is usually the first symptom. It feels to me in this section as if Deza is developing a fever for Tupra and his work, being drawn in and pulled under for the first time. Much like an illness, I suspect this fascination for Tupra’s work will turn in time and Deza will become less excited and enamored by the secrecy and idea of the and more appalled at what he’s gotten himself into. (By the nature of the work as it’s been described to us thus far, I sense him becoming more like the betrayer of his father than like his father.) The progression, “spear, fever, my pain, words, sleep & dreams”, reminds me of the entire progression of an illness when said in that order, as on p. 4.
Maylin on some thematic resonances with the Bond film From Russia to Love:
For those who haven’t seen the film, the opening sequence involves a man stalking Bond in a garden at night. He kills him and then just before the opening credits, it turns out that the man killed wasn’t Bond of course, but wearing a face mask to look like Bond (it’s been a training exercise). Which eeriely ties in with the title of novel and that quote on page 159 – I don’t think it’s at all unintentional that Marias chose this particular Bond film to reference.
The chronology of the narration is interesting – one step forward in real time, then back in memory. This has echoes of Proust but also Woolf (and she too was often obsessed with feet – see the many references to shoes in Jacob’s Room for example). It’s not the same style as Woolf of course, but I do think there are similarities in themes of time and memory.
Stephen on links to contemporary Spanish politics:
It’s that persistent blood stain, and the recurring image of the languid murmuring river, which connects like a thread to the past, as well as what I’ve come to learn about the context in which the novel was written. I believe the work is overshadowed, and influenced by what has come to be referred to in Spain as the pact of forgetting, wherebye Franco’s friends and foes agreed to a mutually benificial amnesty law, in effect putting the past to one side during the transition to democracy. Yet, despite these efforts to bury the past in the interest of reconciliation, many victims of Franco’s purges continue to be unearthed in mass graves.
Also, make sure to check out Andrew Seal’s post on Marias’s idiosyncratic use of language, particularly how the form of his sentences resonates with the theme of spying:
Yet he is also caught up in a world that puts unusual pressure on this skill set, a world that is, if you’ve read John Le Carré or really any spy novel other than James Bond, also about redundancy, about creating repetitions that overlap and embed themselves within one another—games within games, wheels within wheels. Spymasters in these novels always have multiple plans in place—not just contingency plans, but ancillary plans, schemes that are deployed within other schemes to ensure that if one fails, something will still be gained. (James Bond is very different; if James Bond fails, everything fails, buttons are pushed, continents die.) In the game of espionage, everyone is being watched twice or thrice over, not just by opposing sides, but twice or thrice by the same side. Wheels within wheels—this is what Marías’s writing does. It says things “just in case” you missed or didn’t quite grasp what was said before, much as, in the anecdote Deza tells about the U.S. customs officials asking the question “have you any intention of making an attempt on the life of the President” to any traveler (187-188), bureaucracy (and particularly intelligence bureaus) do many things “just in case.”
This “just in case-ness” also, I think, makes the prose frequently more pedestrian-sounding; the aim is not condensation but actual tautology. Marías says something twice not to pull the sentence in tighter to itself but to say something twice. (Marías discusses tautologies on page 176-177.) For instance, the sentence “Sleep with one eye open when you slumber” (158) which may be an actual proverb, I don’t know, is absurdly repetitive, a pleonasm, more words than necessary. Sleep and slumber are not both needed, but Marías says it this way, and I’m not sure that Bernhard, or Beckett even, or Proust or Sebald, would.