The Infatuations by Javier Marias: The Best Book Dostoevsky Didn't Write

on Saturday, April 6, 2013
I'm just going to go ahead and put it out there. Javier Marias is the greatest novelist of our time. If that wasn't enough I'm going to go one step further. He is the only true heir to the great writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His books to date have carried echoes of the classics but this one puts one of my favourites front and centre. So here you go. The Infatuations is our generation's Crime And Punishment (with strong undertones of Macbeth). Its depth, complexity and intense profundity has not seen an equal in one hundred and fifty years.

The story is, at first, engagingly simple. Maria Dolz goes to a cafe each morning and becomes, well, infatuated with a seemingly perfect couple who are also regulars. She is, therefore, shocked when she learns that the man has been brutally stabbed to death in the street in what seems to be the random act of a madman. After a while she befriends the man's widow, and soon thereafter, her late husband's best friend. A strange love triangle forms, with ever shifting, increasingly more disturbing contours. It slowly dawns on Maria that, far from a random act of violence, this was a well-planned, well-executed murder and, in a round about way, she has become part of the plot.

Although it starts off with an act of terrible brutality, the majority of the novel is spent pondering important philosophical questions relating to the moment of death, the legacy of mourning, the nature and elasticity of love, and the shifting fidelities of friendship. It is also a meditation on the purpose of literature from someone who understands it better than most. With deftness that borders on perfection, Marias forces his reader to continue answering the same questions over and over again, each time with one minor difference in the premise. This is manipulation of the highest order; just when you think you have a handle on what's really going on, he throws a jaw-dropping curveball.

The Infatuations is an endlessly rewarding novel. I could drone on for hours about its superb intricacies but I don't want to spoil it. I also don't want to take any more of the time you should be spending with your face buried in this true modern masterpiece. Seriously, stop wasting your life. Step away from your computer now and get this book.

5 Out Of 5 Damn Spots


Unknown said...

I'm finishing it now, and I agree wholeheartedly.

The Bookworm said...

I'm still in awe and finding it difficult to see the value in other books I've been reading since. I've been blinded by the sun!!!!

Evan said...

A good place to start with Marias, I take it?

The Bookworm said...

Pretty much any of his books are a good place to start, but yes, as good a place as any.

Anonymous said...

Nice to find another blogger who loves MarĂ­as' books as much as I do! I wrote a review of The Infatuations which you might be interested to read:

Are you a Saramago fan too by any chance? I think it's interesting that they share a translator in the brilliant Margaret Jull Costa.

Best wishes,

The Bookworm said...

Hi Andrew,

Great review (much more literary than mine!).

I am indeed a big Saramago fan. From what I gather he was a shit of a person, and his work is a little inconsistent, but when he's at the top of his game (The Stone Raft, Blindness, All The Names, Death At Intervals, Ricardo Reis, Cain) he is sublime.

Translation fascinates me - Ismail Kadare is the perfect example. He is undoubtedly brilliant, but some of his books read like they've gone through Google Translate. Some, it turns out, are translations of translations. At least Costa spares Marias and Saramago a similar fate. I put her up there with Edith Grossman, Hillel Halkin and Breon Mitchell as one of the truly great translators.

Anyway, off my soapbox...

All the best!

Anonymous said...

"I'm still in awe and finding it difficult to see the value in other books I've been reading since. I've been blinded by the sun!!!"

I like this observation regarding how Marias makes other authors pale in comparison. I've been having similar problems, since reading his work everything else seems a little threadbare.

The Bookworm said...

Unfortunately, it remains the case. I can't work out whether having read this was a blessing or a curse.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for not replying to your reply sooner! I'm glad you enjoyed my review, I certainly enjoyed writing it.

Glad you mentioned Death at Intervals. It was the first book of Saramago's that I read, and as I wrote in my first few blog posts, it has had a profound impact on my life. Without it I probably wouldn't be writing this comment here, for example.

I agree with you regarding Margaret Jull Costa. She is fantastic, and a deserved repeat winner of translation prizes. If we counted her as an author, then I've read more of her books than anybody else's!


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