I’ll be upfront. I struggled with this one. Read on and I’ll describe the plot of The Infatuations by Javier Marías and you’ll think to yourself, ‘That sounds really, really good!’ and yes, you’d be correct because the plot is really, really good. It’s just getting there that was tough. There’s a lot of monologues. A lot of deep thinking. A lot of navel-gazing.
The plot is simple – Maria Dolz goes to a cafe each morning and becomes infatuated with a couple that are also regulars. In Maria’s eyes, the couple are perfect.
“You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a film for whom one is rooting right from the start, knowing that something bad is going to happen to them, that at some point, things will go horribly wrong, otherwise there would be no novel or film. … They were the brief, modest spectacle that lifted my mood before I went to work at the publishing house to wrestle with my megalomaniac boss and his horrible authors.”
Of course, Maria is shocked when she learns that the man has been brutally stabbed to death in what seems to be a random crime. After a while she befriends the man’s widow, and then begins an affair with the man’s best friend. A strange and disturbing love triangle forms, and Maria soon realises that the murder may not have been as ‘random’ as it first appeared.
From the outset, Marias treats the reader to long, rambling passages. Some go for pages – thoughts on death, grief and love. It’s a clever technique because the sinuous passages heighten the ‘obsessive’ (bunny-boiler) feel of Maria’s character and allow you to wallow in the wife’s grief.
“We remember those closest to us every day and still feel sad to think that we will not see them again or hear them or laugh with them or kiss those we used to kiss. But there is no death that is not also, in some way, a relief, that does not offer some advantage. Once it has occurred, of course; we do not desire anyone’s death in advance, possibly not even that of our enemies. We mourn our father, for example, but we are left with a legacy, his house, his money, his wordly goods, which we would have to give back tohim were he to return, which would put us in a very awkward position.”
One aspect of the book that I did enjoy was Marias’s use of existing literature – a Balzac novella, Colonel Chabert, and some Keats, Shakespeare and Dumas – to discuss the dead returning to ruin the lives of the living. This was so well executed I’m keen to read the Balzac.
2/5 I accept that I probably missed the whole point of this book and that I was supposed to become completely absorbed by the writing but just give me a chapter break… Or even a paragraph break… All too dense, all too suffocating.
I received my copy of The Infatuations from the publisher, Penguin Books Australia via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. I read The Infatuations as part of the Clean Sweep ARC and Translation reading challenges.
There are few, if any, references to particular foods in this book so instead I’m picking out the breakfast theme. I think breakfast, done right, is the best meal of the day – check out this simple but perfect dish of asparagus with eggs on toast.
For those who were listening to pop music in the eighties, the cover image on The Infatuations may look naggingly familiar. The same picture was used on Fairground Attraction’s album The First of a Million Kisses, featuring the song that they are best remembered for, Perfect. Perfect has a ‘special’ place in my heart – the words resonated so much with my 16-year-old self that I dumped the boy I was going out with at the time. Because he wasn’t ‘perfect’. And naturally I was. Huh… our fickle, teenage days…
Of course, you probably wish I hadn’t mentioned that song because once you start singing it, it’s really hard to get rid of. Oh well…