Your Face This Spring: Here We Go!

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.

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Here we go! Ive already read Vol 1, and its going to take a bit of restraint to stop myself from diving into Vol 2 immediately. I read Vol 1 in October and Ive got a Marias craving. Ill probably use the Vol 1 reading period to go back and re-read some passages to brush up a bit, and also so I can better contribute to the conversation.

Do we need to know anything about “All Souls” before starting the trilogy?

Neil: That’s a good question. Most sources I’ve consulted on YFT say that though the narrator is a carryover from All Souls, no knowledge of that book is necessary (though it will probably add detail to your reading).

Can anyone in our group who has read All Souls give us a quick fill-in?

In an interview with the Bookworm, Javier Marias said the third volume could be called “My Face Tomorrow” because many of the narrator’s preoccupations in volumes I and II are finally directed at himself. Just something to look forward to. Especially because in Volume I a report says of Deza: “He doesn’t pay much attention to himself because he’s given up understanding himself.” And: “Things happen and he makes a mental note, not for any particular reason.”

With regards to All Souls and Dark Back Of Time, you can sense where these novels come into play in the persent text (e.g. the affair with the colleague is mentioned a couple of times, as is Gawsworth), but Marias (at this early stage), gives them a breath or two and then drops them.

The problem, I think, with needing to read these first is that there are already a lot of pages to cover in Your Face, adding All Souls and Dark onto it, you are looking at, what, an excess of 1600 pages? If you are interested in those lines of plot I mentioned above, then go read them, otherwise, keep paddling, keep paddling.

Do you need to start with Faulkner’s earliest works to get a sense of what the writer was about?

I’m on board! Read through page 96 at a very leisurely pace on airplanes over the weekend – the pace at which the book eases into telling a story is really involving; by the time I got to the party, I felt like I’d been gradually immersed. I also revisited the opening chapter a number of times & rooted around in it in relation to the later, slightly lighter scenes.

I agree with Drew. Although I havent read All Souls or The Dark Back Of Time, I honestly dont think they are prerequisites to the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy, and Im quite sure they werent intended as such. Other than perhaps giving a little more information about the narrator they are separate entities, and should be thought of in that manner.

I was going to comment on the Proust/Marias thread: I will confess that I went straight from the last 50 pages of Proust’s “The Captive” directly into the first pages of “Spear and Fever,” and my very first reaction to the first chapter of “Your Face Tomorrow” was to do a double take and make sure I’d actually swapped books.

The section I had just finished in Proust was one where Marcel (the narrator) ruminates for many pages about the impossibility of ever completely knowing someone (Albertine), and it contained a lengthy dissection about what it means to tell a lie versus the truth, why people lie or tell the truth, and the idea that telling a portion of the truth will probably not lead to a truth but instead uncover more lies. And then to go right into Maria’s first chapter on why you would offer up a piece of information and dissection of what confidences mean…

But aside from that coincidence, I am finding Proust and Marias to be very similar on many levels. In the style of writing in general — there’s the stream of consciousness narrative that is primarily an interior monologue that snaps only briefly to vivid portraits of individuals and what is going on plot-wise. There are similarities in the bigger themes — of memory, an ability to correctly read and judge an individual but also the impossibility of knowing someone completely, jealousy and one’s place in the world. There were also similarities in plot and situation – Proust spends countless time in “In Search of Lost Time” imagining the unfaithful acts Albertine is engaging in when they are not together, which Jaime engages in almost immediately in this novel when he thinks of his wife back home. The majority of the “action” in Proust also happens at social gatherings where the “plot” becomes evident through the customs of normal interaction at salons — how participants either observe or ignore these customs, where everyone fits in according to their status in society and their connections to others. Marias starts this novel with a modern day “salon” of privileged and educated people, and we learn about Jamie by seeing him in the center of a party where he is forced him to uncover Tupra’s personality by watching how Tupra interacts with Wheeler, Beryl, de la Garza and other guests.

I am experiencing the connections between the two writers pretty clearly so far. Google searching from Scott’s link, I uncovered another article online that explored some of the connections between the two:

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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