Books

8 Cerebral, Visceral Novels by Spanish Writer Javier Marías

Over the years, the books of Javier Marías have earned literary awards, captured an international readership, and created their own legion of devotees. His novel A Heart So White won the prestigious International Dublin Literary Award in 1997, and Marías’s name is periodically on the list of acclaimed authors who are considered likely to win the Nobel Prize in any given year.

In a 2001 review of several of his books in the New York Times Book Review, Wendy Lesser noted that “The experience of reading him is cumulative. When you take up a Marías novel or even a Marías short story, you are at once enclosed in a strange world that becomes increasingly and addictively familiar. ” Some of the strands that connect these books are historical or thematic; others are more literal. Occasionally a supporting character from one of Marías’s novels will make an unexpected appearance in another narrative. For longtime readers of his work, it’s an unexpected delight.

Here’s a look at a number of highlights from Marías’s storied literary career.

  • The cover of the book All Souls

    All Souls

    One of the best introductions to Marías’s writings can be found in his novel All Souls, the story of a Spanish lecturer teaching at Oxford. Don’t expect a prolonged riff on Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, however; instead, Marías utilizes the setting to delve into the nature of knowledge and intimacy, and to probe the divide that emerges between nations and languages.

     
  • The cover of the book Between Eternities

    Between Eternities

    And Other Writings

    Though Marías is best known for his fiction, he’s also been a consistent author of nonfiction on subjects ranging from tourism to Don Quixote. While much of his nonfiction, including the earlier collection Written Lives, explores literary subjects, the works contained in Between Eternities cover a wide range of his interests, from soccer to beloved cityscapes to the aesthetics of film.

     
  • The cover of the book Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 1

    Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 1

    Fever & Spear

    In this, the first volume of a much larger work, Marías returns to the world of All Souls and ventures into a decidedly highbrow take on the spy novel. It follows the life of a Spanish academic recruited to work in British espionage, allowing Marías plenty of space to explore questions of betrayal, perception, language, and the hidden dynamics of power.

     
  • The cover of the book A Heart So White

    A Heart So White

    Javier Marías is a writer who utilizes the breadth of his novels: his plotting and pacing is incredibly deliberate, and frequently leads to emotional crescendos in the closing moments. Perhaps the best illustration of this can be found in his novel A Heart So White, about a newly married man learning unpleasant secrets about his father’s life.

     
  • The cover of the book Dark Back of Time

    Dark Back of Time

    When writing All Souls, Marías drew on his own time at Oxford — and when the novel became an international hit, he returned there only to discover that numerous residents believed it to be far less fictional than it actually was. In this “false novel,” Marías takes a very different approach to exploring questions of truth and deceit; it’s one of the most singular works in his bibliography.

     
  • The cover of the book Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico

    Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico

    One of the best distillations of Mariás’s work as a writer can be found in this novella, about a screenwriter hired to work on an Elvis Presley vehicle being made in Mexico. It’s a different window into history than those that normally show up in Mariás’s work; it’s also a concise illustration of his strengths as a writer, and his ability to balance the cerebral and the visceral.

     
  • The cover of the book The Infatuations

    The Infatuations

    Many of Marías’s novels focus on fixations, obsessions, and unexpected tricks of fate. That’s very much the case here: The protagonist of The Infatuations becomes fond of a couple whom she sees on her morning routine. When an act of violence disrupts this bond, the novel shifts into a very different register, and Marías’s penchant for questions of truth and deceit come to the forefront.

     
  • The cover of the book Thus Bad Begins

    Thus Bad Begins

    Other artistic disciplines regularly factor into Marías’s work, including literature and cinema. The latter is prominent here, as Marías tells the story of a man hired to assist an aging filmmaker. The novel’s temporal setting — shortly after the death of Francisco Franco — brings to mind another preferred theme in Marías’s work: the legacy of totalitarianism.