And we’re off! I’m very happy to say that after my call for all the participants to send me a little email last week, I heard from about 20 of you, which is a great number for a discussion of these books. (And you Marias-discussion lurkers out there, don’t be shy.)
This week this is what we’re reading: * Week 1, March 21-27: pp. 3 – 95 (Section ends at: “But before getting back to the Tupras . . .”)
As always, you can find the full schedule right here.
Since most of us are just starting (although a few of us have previously read part or all of Vol 1), I thought I’d do an initial post about some of the literary contexts to read these books in. One name that comes up in conjunction with Marias quite a bit is Proust. Although I’m not seeing it on a line-by-line level so far (Marias, to me, is much more caught up in the worlds of genre and politics than Proust ever was), I do think there’s something to the ways both authors approach memory, as explored in this essay.
Another name that I’ve seen in conjunction with Marias is W.G. Sebald. Here are some correspondences that Sarah Emily Miano listed in an interview with the author in The Guardian:
After his second book, Marías didn’t write a novel for six years, but translated instead. His early influences were replaced by writers whom he was translating from English: Conrad, Faulkner, James, Kipling, Sterne, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Lawrence Durrell and Sir Thomas Browne. ‘I was still looking for my own way, and I probably didn’t find it until much later, if I have.’
With these influences in common, no wonder WG Sebald recommended his work and spoke of him as a ‘twin writer': their narrators are commonly in states of malaise or fever; their narratives are interested in those same patterns of association that exhaust all possibilities; their prose exerts an almost opium effect over the reader as time slows down, expands or is still.
I’m not quite persuaded, though I think there’s a lot here to build on, and I’ll be keeping this in mind as we read. My biggest problem with the Sebald comparison, at least as goes Your Face Tomorrow, is the length of Marias’s book: Sebald never wrote anything remotely approaching this length. As to that, Steve Mitchelmore found All Souls, one of Marias’s shorter works, a much more Sebaldian novel than Your Face Tomorrow.
The Sebald comparison was also taken up by Mark Ford in The New York Review of Books (who also noted Marias’s stylistic debt to authors he had translated, “such as Faulkner and Browne and James, as well as the impact of reading that master of the monologue, the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard). He writes:
Like W.G. Sebald, Marìas enjoys intermingling the fictional and the documentary; the love story of All Souls between the lecturer and Clare Bayes, a married woman, is wound around the life of John Gawsworth, a real writer who was born Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong in 1912: Gawsworth, who also occasionally wrote under the pen name “Orpheus Scrannel” (an allusion to Milton’s “Lycidas”), forged a small reputation with a series of defiantly antimodernist volumes of verse published in the 1930s, but is perhaps best known now for his biography of another of Marìas’s enthusiasms, the Welsh writer of supernatural fiction Arthur Machen. For reasons he can’t quite fathom, the narrator of All Souls finds himself obsessed with Gawsworth’s not very distinguished writings, and the sad tale of his gradual decline into vagrancy in his later years. The book includes a photo of him in his RAF uniform, probably taken in Cairo, with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, and also one of his death mask, made by a certain Hugh Oloff de Wet, another of Marìas’s galère of eccentrics whose life story is given in full in Dark Back of Time.
In both these books Marìas seems to be attempting to create perspectives on people and events that make the factual and the imaginary hard to prise apart; as a result we are insistently forced to acknowledge that there is no solid ground of unimpeachable truth on which to rest.
Lastly, The New Yorker offers a useful overview of Marias’s career, noting his 28 books (though I think by now the number is over 30), the many poets he has translated (“John Ashbery, W. H. Auden, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, Frank O’Hara, and Wallace Stevens”), and that he is a weekly newspaper columnist. (His massive output should put to rest anyone’s fears that writing for both books and newspapers, blogs, or similar media are incompatible.)
Then there is this
“Your Face Tomorrow: Volume I, Fever and Spear,” is Marías’s most extravagant showcase for “literary thinking” so far. It also serves as a compelling introduction to his writing, and is the start of what promises to be a multivolume work. A second volume, “Baile y Sueño—Dance and Dream”—is already available in Spain, and Marías is now writing Volume III. While he has claimed that this will mark the work’s end, it is worth keeping in mind that he made the same claim for Volume II when Volume I appeared. Proust announced, in 1912, that he had finished his multivolume novel, but he continued adding to it for another decade, and died before the final revisions had been completed. Even if Marías’s current project does not reach these extremes, the portion of it that has already appeared intensifies a growing suspicion that his novels are all, in a sense, puzzle pieces of a larger whole.
One thing I haven’t yet been able to find is a good essay covering Marias as regards genre, especially film noir and detective fiction, which it is already quite clear will play significant roles in the trilogy. If anyone is aware of something, call it out for all of us, and, of course, add your own thoughts on this or any of the foregoing in the comments.