“The Infatuations” by Javier Marías

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Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

At page 302 of the 338-page The Infatuations author Javier Marías begins a new section this way: “In the end, everything tends toward attenuation …” As characters try to navigate the thorny issues arising when life and love intersect with self-interest and betrayal, they attenuate their guilt and downplay their responsibilities as a way of going on with their lives. With the help of an endlessly speculating and imaginative first person narrator, the author delivers a tour de force on the very unusual agenda he set for himself. It’s amazingly well done.

This narrator becomes aware that someone she knew by sight is murdered in the street. Committed by an addled and aggressive homeless man, it seems a random, senseless crime. Almost by chance she meets and gets involved with a friend of the murdered man’s family, but overhears a highly incriminating conversation between this man and an apparent co-conspirator. Explanations (and attenuations) aside, she must weigh what she thinks she knows (but has no proof of) against her conscience. Her line of reasoning features doubt, a sense of powerlessness, and a tinge of fear. This story manages a measure of suspense for our protagonist, because this man she came to love is involved in a grisly crime and she may know too much.

Sr Marías cites some high-end literary antecedents in his discussion of death. MacBeth complains about the timing of his wife’s death; Balzac’s Colonel Chabert returns home an apparent Lazarus to consternation and rejection; Athos summarily executes his new bride in The Three Musketeers, only to have her return from the dead. In each case the timing of the death remains arbitrary and independent, outside
the control of the living.  The death in The Infatuations, although set in motion by a conspiracy, won’t result in a return for the corpse, and the crime’s chief instigator will not face justice for it. It’s a chilling proposition, one that hits close to home.

The author treads extremely carefully with his plot. He makes rather obvious that a murder conspiracy has succeeded, but that everyone’s involvement in it, including the narrator’s, has been extenuated, temporized, and attenuated, until at last no one suffers any consequences. It’s an exact, careful job of setting up and executing this narrative: it’s powerful because of the skill displayed. As a statement on modern public morals, it’s chillingly to the point, and devastating.

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