The Infatuations

( 3 )

Overview

From the award-winning Spanish writer Javier Marías comes an extraordinary new book that has been a literary sensation around the world: an immersive, provocative novel propelled by a seemingly random murder that we come to understand—or do we?—through one woman’s ever-unfurling imagination and infatuations.

At the Madrid café where she stops for breakfast each day before work, María Dolz finds herself drawn to a couple who is also there every morning. Though she can hardly ...

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Overview

From the award-winning Spanish writer Javier Marías comes an extraordinary new book that has been a literary sensation around the world: an immersive, provocative novel propelled by a seemingly random murder that we come to understand—or do we?—through one woman’s ever-unfurling imagination and infatuations.

At the Madrid café where she stops for breakfast each day before work, María Dolz finds herself drawn to a couple who is also there every morning. Though she can hardly explain it, observing what she imagines to be their “unblemished” life lifts her out of the doldrums of her own existence. But what begins as mere observation turns into an increasingly complicated entanglement when the man is fatally stabbed in the street. María approaches the widow to offer her condolences, and at the couple’s home she meets—and falls in love with—another man who sheds disturbing new light on the crime. As María recounts this story, we are given a murder mystery brilliantly reimagined as metaphysical enquiry, a novel that grapples with questions of love and death, guilt and obsession, chance and coincidence, how we are haunted by our losses, and above all, the slippery essence of the truth and how it is told.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

As one of her daily workday rituals, Maria Dolz stops for breakfast at a small Madrid café. Among the other morning regulars are a man and woman who, to her at least, seems an idyllic couple leading an enchanted life that she herself can only imagine. When Maria hears that the man has been savagely murdered, she impulsively decides to reach out with condolences to a woman she has never formally met. At the couple's home, she encounters a man with whom she becomes entangled in contradictory way. One British reviewer called this novel by the Spanish author "a labyrinthine exploration, at once thrilling and melancholy, of the meanings of one man's death—and a vivid testimony to the power of stories, for good or ill, to weave the world into our thoughts and our thoughts into the world."

The New York Times Book Review - Edward St. Aubyn
For established fans, The Infatuations will be another welcome shipment of Marías; for new readers it is as good a place to start as any. Whatever else we may think is going on when we read, we are choosing to spend time in an author's company. In Javier Marías's case this is a good decision; his mind is insightful, witty, sometimes startling, sometimes hilarious, and always intelligent.
Publishers Weekly
Marías (While the Women Are Sleeping) shows that death is hardest on those left living. Each morning María Dolz has breakfast at a cafe watching perfect couple Miguel and Luisa. One morning Miguel is stabbed to death on his birthday by a knife-wielding panhandler, a seemingly random act of madness. This rupture in María’s idyllic voyeurism causes her to intersect her life with Luisa’s, enmeshing herself in the murder’s aftermath. Yet, as the story unfolds it becomes clear that nothing is certain but death. With philosophical rigor, Marías uses the page-turning twists of crime fiction to interrogate the weighty concepts of grief, culpability, and mortality. Indeed, scattered throughout are metafictional reflections on the limits and power of literature’s hypotheticals, while María’s job at a publishing company provides comic relief in its caricatures of the vanities of writers. The novel’s power lies in its melding of readable momentum and existential depth. Through Costa’s lucid translation, the prose exhibits Marías’s trademark clarity and digressive uncertainty; a novel that further secures Marías’s position as one of contemporary fiction’s most relevant voices. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“Whatever else we may think is going on when we read, we are choosing to spend time in an author’s company. In Javier Marías’s case this is a good decision; his mind is insightful, witty, sometimes startling, sometimes hilarious, and always intelligent . . . The masterly Spanish novelist [has] a penetrating empathy.” —Edward St. Aubyn, on the cover of The New York Times Book Review
 
The Infatuations is mysterious and seductive; it’s got deception, it’s got love affairs, it’s got murder—the book is the most sheerly addictive thing Marías has ever written . . . Marías is a star writer in Europe, where his best-sellers collect prizes the way Kardashians collect paparazzi. He’s been hailed in America, too, yet he’s never broken through like Haruki Murakami or Roberto Bolaño. This should change with his new novel, The Infatuations, which is the ideal introduction to his work.” Fresh Air/NPR

“The work of a master in his prime, this is a murder story that becomes an enthralling vehicle for all the big questions about life, love, fate, and death.” The Guardian (Summer Reading Issue)

“Blindingly intelligent, engagingly accessible—it seems there’s nothing Marías can’t make fiction do . . . Marías’s rare gift is his ability to make intellectual jousting as suspenseful as the chase scenes in a commercial thriller.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A haunting masterpiece . . . The lasting challenge to literature is to achieve a satisfying marriage between high art and the low drives of a simple plot. The Infatuations is just such a novel . . . Just as Macbeth is a thriller that’s also a great tragedy, The Infatuations is a murder story that’s also a profound story of fatal obsession . . . Don Quixote was first published as long ago as 1620. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Infatuations soon acquired an equally devoted following.” The Observer
 
“Extraordinary . . . Marías has defined the ethos of our time.” —Alberto Manguel, The Guardian 
 

“Marías [is] a consummate stylist . . . Magic, stupendous.” Booklist (starred)

“Absorbing and unnerving . . . A labyrinthine exploration, at once thrilling and melancholy, of the meanings of one man’s death—and a vivid testimony to the power of stories, for good or ill, to weave the world into our thoughts and our thoughts into the world.” The Sunday Times (London)
 
“A novel that further secures Marías’s position as one of contemporary fiction’s most relevant voices.” Publishers Weekly

“Hypnotic . . . The Infatuations plays off Marías’s enchantingly sinuous sentences. They suck you in and lull you along with their rhythm, which gives the unusual and palpable awareness of how masterfully Marías has made time itself his peculiar object of investigation . . . Powerful.” Bookforum

“A masterpiece . . . Here, great literature once again shows its true face.”  ABC Cultural (Spain)
 
“Keeps us guessing until almost the last page. Yet what lingers in the reader’s mind is not the murder mystery, compelling though it is. Rather, it is the author’s examination of the ebb and flow of flawed relationships; the chances that bring us together and the fates (in this case, murderous intent) that pull us apart.” Financial Times
 
“I ended up getting angry with myself for not having rationed the reading so it would last longer.” El País

“Uniquely luminous . . . Like Beethoven, Marías is a brilliant escape artist . . . But Marías is original; he cannot help it.” Times Literary Supplement (London)
 
The Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration masquerading as a murder mystery . . . Quietly addictive.” Spectator
 
“Smart, thoughtful, morally challenging, and consistently surprising in its tense twists.” Scotland on Sunday

Library Journal
The blockbuster "Your Face Tomorrow" trilogy is a tough act to follow, and this latest novel by Spanish novelist Marías, whose prizes range from the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award to the Prix Femina Étranger, is very much in a minor key. Similar to Marías's previous works, this novel is devoid of plot, which is propelled by a half dozen or so conversations and meetings. The focus of the action is the murder of distinguished film distributor Miguel Desvern, whom the female protagonist María Dolz has been observing with his wife, Luisa Alday, with whom she now strikes up a friendship. Shortly thereafter, Javier Díaz Varela (Desvern's best friend) becomes romantically involved with both María and Luisa. Marías turns a narrative about an apparently random homicide into a metaphysical inquiry fraught with ambiguity as accounts of the incident vary in their degree of accuracy and detail, a plot twist presents a questionable motive, and even the victim's name isn't certain. The story is focused more on death than falling in love, contrary to the title. VERDICT From this novel, it is easy to see why Marías is among Spain's most celebrated writers living today, but his fluid yet digressive style may not be to everyone's liking. When it comes to a novel exquisitely questioning the nature of fact and truth, however, this is a highly rewarding literary experience. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/13.]—Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH
Kirkus Reviews
An apparently random street murder sparks musings on shades of guilt and the mutability of truth in the distinguished Spanish writer's latest (Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, 2007, etc.). For years, María Dolz has idealized Miguel Desvern and his wife, Luisa, as the perfect couple, basing this image on the loving interactions she observes at the Madrid cafe, where she has breakfast before heading to her job at a publishing house. (Marías pokes fun throughout at authors' vanities and quirks.) After Miguel is stabbed to death by a deranged homeless man, María introduces herself to Luisa and through her meets Javier Díaz-Varela, a family friend devoted to helping the shattered widow rebuild her life. María and Javier embark on an affair, but when an overheard conversation reveals that Miguel's death was not what it seems, the lovers engage in a long conversational fencing match. Did Miguel ask Javier to arrange his death because he had a horrible fatal disease? Or did Javier incite his best friend's murder because he coveted his wife? As always with Marías, there are no definitive answers, only the exploration of provocative ideas in his trademark style: long, looping sentences (superbly translated by Costa) that mimic the stuttering starts and stops of a restless mind. It's no accident that María's and Javier's first names combine to form their creator's full name; they voice his consciousness. Marías' rare gift is his ability to make this intellectual jousting as suspenseful as the chase scenes in a commercial thriller. He's tremendously stimulating to read; arresting turns of phrase enfold piercing insights, such as an overbearing character's "charming Nazi-green jacket" or the dark vision of "continuous, indivisible time…eternally snapping at our heels." Though eschewing overt political commentary, the novel makes crystal clear the bitter contemporary relevance of someone who believes guilt can be evaded through "murder-by-delegation." Blindingly intelligent, engagingly accessible--it seems there's nothing Marías can't make fiction do. No wonder he's perennially mentioned as a potential Nobel laureate.
The Barnes & Noble Review

At the heart of Javier Marías's hypnotic novel The Infatuations is a death and a mystery. The death is sudden and violent — a Madrid businessman is fatally stabbed in a crazed attack — but the mystery, by contrast, emerges slowly and elliptically.

As with any crime, the question is why. The answer, however, in the case of Miguel Desvern, lies not in the mind of Desvern's killer but in the lives of those he leaves behind. And the motive for murder resides in the consciousness of the murdered man, a man we never really know. For Marías, a cunningly seductive writer often compared to Henry James, allows us to comprehend only gradually and partially as he slows us down, forcing us to pay closer attention. "We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries," his narrator observes of our sound-bite world. "We don't want to go too deeply into anything, or linger too long over any event or story?." Another character laments that "ours is not a solemn age." But this is a solemn narrative. Marías's pace is unhurried, almost languid, yet each page is charged with exquisite tension and barely contained emotion.

"The certainty that someone will never come back," the narrator muses of the dead, "never speak again, never take another step—will never look at us or look away. I don't know how we bear it, or how we recover." María Dolz considers this in an idle way, as she describes her habit of observing a man and woman and their two young children eating breakfast in the café where she, too, eats every morning. To her eyes, this is the Perfect Couple: "it was the sight of them together that calmed and contented me before my working day began," this silent watcher confesses early on, causing the first shiver of unease. Is this young woman, who works in a publishing house, a meek admirer or a lurking voyeur?

The sense of unease grows when Miguel Desvern (one half, of course, of the Perfect Couple) is killed; but Marías, in his serpentine way, avoids the obvious route that might connect one person's life to another's death. Instead, he reveals María incrementally (never fully) as she is drawn toward Desvern's widow, Luisa, and, more perilously, towards Desvern's closest friend, Javier Díaz-Valera, who immediately becomes the widow's devoted consoler.

"[S]ooner or later the grieving person is left alone?.," María observes when she first visits Luisa, "because other people find that world of grief unbearable, repellent." Not Javier, though, who remains fixated on Luisa even as his relationship with María intensifies. Halfway through the novel, Marías stages a chilling revelation, adding palpable dread to the ominous atmosphere that he has so elegantly created. Shadows deepen and echoes reverberate — María contemplates Macbeth, Javier discourses on Dumas — as uncertainty grows. "It's very risky imagining yourself into someone else's mind," María realizes, long before real danger arrives. "It's sometimes hard to leave." The same might be said of the novel that she inhabits.

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307950734
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/22/2014
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 88,081
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Javier Marías was born in Madrid in 1951. The recipient of numerous prizes, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Femina Étranger, he has written thirteen novels, three story collections, and nineteen works of collected articles and essays. His books have been translated into forty-three languages, in fifty-two countries, and have sold more than seven million copies throughout the world. 

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Read an Excerpt

The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him, which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word. I didn’t even know his name, or only when it was too late, only when I saw a photo in the newspaper, showing him after he had been stabbed several times, with his shirt half off, and about to become a dead man, if he wasn’t dead already in his own absent consciousness, a consciousness that never returned: his last thought must have been that the person stabbing him was doing so by mistake and for no reason, that is, senselessly, and what’s more, not just once, but over and over, unremittingly, with the intention of erasing him from the world and expelling him from the earth without further delay, right there and then. But why do I say “too late,” I wonder, too late for what? I have no idea, to be honest. It’s just that when someone dies, we always think it’s too late for anything, or indeed everything—certainly too late to go on waiting for him—and we write him off as another casualty. It’s the same with those closest to us, although we find their deaths much harder to accept and we mourn them, and their image accompanies us in our mind both when we’re out and about and when we’re at home, even though for a long time we believe that we will never get accustomed to their absence. From the start, though, we know— from the moment they die—that we can no longer count on them, not even for the most petty thing, for a trivial phone call or a banal question (“Did I leave my car keys there?” “What time did the kids get out of school today?”), that we can count on them for nothing. And nothing means nothing. It’s incomprehensible really, because it assumes a certainty, and being certain of anything goes against our nature: the certainty that someone will never come back, never speak again, never take another step—whether to come closer or to move further off—will never look at us or look away. I don’t know how we bear it, or how we recover. I don’t know how it is that we do gradually begin to forget, when time has passed and distanced us from them, for they, of course, have remained quite still.
 
But I had often seen him and heard him talk and laugh, almost every morning, in fact, over a period of a few years, and quite early in the morning too, although not so very early; indeed, I used to delay slightly getting into work just so as to be able to spend a little time with that couple, and not just with him, you understand, but with them both, it was the sight of them together that calmed and contented me before my working day began. They became almost obligatory. No, that’s the wrong word for something that gives one pleasure and a sense of peace. Perhaps they became a superstition; but, no, that’s not it either: it wasn’t that I believed the day would go badly if I didn’t share breakfast with them, at a distance, that is; it was just that, without my daily sighting of them, I began work feeling rather lower in spirits or less optimistic, as if they provided me with a vision of an orderly or, if you prefer, harmonious world, or perhaps a tiny fragment of the world visible only to a very few, as is the case with any fragment or any life, however public or exposed that life might be. I didn’t like to shut myself away for hours in the office without first having seen and observed them, not on the sly, but discreetly, the last thing I would have wanted was to make them feel uncomfortable or to bother them in any way. And it would have been unforgivable and to my own detriment to frighten them off. It comforted me to breathe the same air and to be a part—albeit unnoticed—of their morning landscape, before they went their separate ways, probably until the next meal, which, on many days, would have been supper. The last day on which his wife and I saw him, they could not dine together. Or even have lunch. She waited twenty minutes for him at a restaurant table, puzzled but not overly concerned, until the phone rang and her world ended, and she never waited for him again.
 
 
 
 
It was clear to me from the very first day that they were married, he being nearly fifty and she slightly younger, not yet forty. The nicest thing about them was seeing how much they enjoyed each other’s company. At an hour when almost no one is in the mood for anything, still less for fun and games, they talked non-stop, laughing and joking, as if they had only just met or met for the very first time, and not as if they had left the house together, dropped the kids off at school, having first got washed and dressed at the same time—perhaps in the same bathroom—and woken up in the same bed, nor as if the first thing they’d seen had been the inevitable face of their spouse, and so on and on, day after day, for a fair number of years, because they had children, a boy and a girl, who came with them on a couple of occasions, the girl must have been about eight and the boy about four, and the boy looked incredibly like his father.
 
The husband dressed with a slightly old-fashioned elegance, although he never seemed in any way ridiculous or anachronistic. I mean that he was always smartly dressed and well coordinated, with made-to-measure shirts, expensive, sober ties, a handkerchief in his top jacket pocket, cufflinks, polished black lace-up shoes—or else suede, although he only wore suede towards the end of spring, when he started wearing lighter-coloured suits—and his hands were carefully manicured. Despite all this, he didn’t give the impression of being some vain executive or a dyed-in-the-wool rich kid. He seemed more like a man whose upbringing would not allow him to go out in the street dressed in any other way, not at least on a working day; such clothes seemed natural to him, as though his father had taught him that, after a certain age, this was the appropriate way to dress, regardless of any foolish and instantly outmoded fashions, and regardless, too, of the raggedy times in which we live, and that he need not be affected by these in the least. He dressed so traditionally that I never once detected a single eccentric detail; he wasn’t interested in trying to look different, although he did stand out a little in the context of the café where I always saw him and even perhaps in the context of our rather scruffy city. This naturalness was matched by his undoubtedly cordial, cheery nature, almost hail-fellow-wellmet, you might say (although he addressed the waiters formally as usted and treated them with a kindness that never toppled over into cloying familiarity): his frequent outbursts of laughter were somewhat loud, it’s true, but never irritatingly so. He laughed easily and with gusto, but he always did so sincerely and sympathetically, never in a flattering, sycophantic manner, but responding to things that genuinely amused him, as many things did, for he was a generous man, ready to see the funny side of the situation and to applaud other people ’s jokes, at least the verbal variety. Perhaps it was his wife who mainly made him laugh, for there are people who can make us laugh even when they don’t intend to, largely because their very presence pleases us, and so it’s easy enough to set us off, simply seeing them and being in their company and hearing them is all it takes, even if they’re not saying anything very extraordinary or are even deliberately spouting nonsense, which we nevertheless find funny. They seemed to fulfil that role for each other; and although they were clearly married, I never caught one of them putting on an artificial or studiedly soppy expression, like some couples who have lived together for years and make a point of showing how much in love they still are, as if that somehow increased their value or embellished them. No, it was more as if they were determined to get on together and make a good impression on each other with a view to possible courtship; or as if they had been so drawn to each other before they were married or lived together that, in any circumstance, they would have spontaneously chosen each other—not out of conjugal duty or convenience or habit or even loyalty—as companion or partner, friend, conversationalist or accomplice, in the knowledge that, whatever happened, whatever transpired, whatever there was to tell or to hear, it would always be less interesting or amusing with someone else. Without her in his case, without him in her case. There was a camaraderie between them and, above all, a certainty.

 

There was something very pleasant about Miguel Desvern or Deverne’s face, it exuded a kind of manly warmth, which made him seem very attractive from a distance and led me to imagine that he would be irresistible in person. I doubtless noticed him before I did Luisa, or else it was because of him that I also noticed her, since although I often saw the wife without the husband—he would leave the café first and she nearly always stayed on for a few minutes longer, sometimes alone, smoking a cigarette, sometimes with a few work colleagues or mothers from school or friends, who on some mornings joined them there at the last moment, when he was already just about to leave—I never saw the husband without his wife beside him. I have no image of him alone, he only existed with her (that was one of the reasons why I didn’t at first recognize him in the newspaper, because Luisa wasn’t there). But I soon became interested in them both, if “interested” is the right word.
 
Desvern had short, thick, very dark hair, with, at his temples, just a few grey hairs, which seemed curlier than the rest (if he had let his sideburns grow, they might have sprouted incongruously into kiss-curls). The expression in his eyes was bright, calm and cheerful, and there was a glimmer of ingenuousness or childishness in them whenever he was listening to someone else, the expression of a man who is, generally speaking, amused by life, or who is simply not prepared to go through life without enjoying its million and one funny sides, even in the midst of difficulties and misfortunes. True, he had probably known very few of these compared with what is most men’s common lot, and that would have helped him to preserve those trusting, smiling eyes. They were grey and seemed to look at everything as if everything were a novelty, even the insignificant things they saw repeated every day, that café at the top of
Príncipe de Vergara and its waiters, my silent face. He had a cleft chin, which reminded me of a fi lm starring Robert Mitchum or Cary Grant or Kirk Douglas, I can’t remember who it was now, and in which an actress places one finger on the actor’s dimpled chin and asks how he manages to shave in there. Every morning, it made me feel like getting up from my table, going over to Deverne and asking him the same question and, in turn, gently prodding his chin with my thumb or forefinger. He was always very well shaven, dimple included.
 
They took far less notice of me, infinitely less, than I did of them. They would order their breakfast at the bar and, once served, take it over to a table by the large window that gave on to the street, while I took a seat at a table towards the back. In spring and summer, we would all sit outside, and the waiters would pass our orders through a window that opened out next to the bar, and this gave rise to various comings and goings and, therefore, to more visual contact, because there was no other form of contact. Both Desvern and Luisa occasionally glanced at me, merely out of curiosity, but never for very long or for any reason other than curiosity. He never looked at me in an insinuating, castigating or arrogant manner, that would have been a disappointment, and she never showed any sign of suspicion, superiority or disdain, which I would have found most upsetting. Because I liked both of them, you see, the two of them together. I didn’t regard them with envy, not at all, but with a feeling of relief that in the real world there could exist what I believed to be a perfect couple. Indeed, they seemed even more perfect in that Luisa’s sartorial appearance was in complete contrast to that of Deverne, as regards style and choice of clothes. At the side of such a smartly turned-out man, one would have expected to see a woman who shared the same characteristics: classically elegant, although not perhaps predictably so, but wearing a skirt and high heels most of the time, with clothes by Céline, for example, and earrings and bracelets that were striking, but always in good taste. In fact, she alternated between a rather sporty look and one that I’m not sure whether to describe as casual or indifferent, certainly nothing elaborate anyway. She was as tall as him, olive-skinned, with shoulder-length, dark, almost black hair, and very little make-up. When she wore trousers—usually jeans—she accompanied them with a conventional jacket and boots or flat shoes; when she wore a skirt, her shoes were low-heeled and plain, very like the shoes many women wore in the 1950s, and in summer, she put on skimpy sandals that revealed delicate feet, small for a woman of her height. I never saw her wearing any jewellery and, as for handbags, she only ever used the sort you sling over your shoulder. She was clearly as pleasant and cheerful as he was, although her laugh wasn’t quite as loud; but she laughed just as easily and possibly even more warmly than he did, revealing splendid teeth that gave her a somewhat childlike look, or perhaps it was simply the way her cheeks grew rounder when she smiled—she had doubtless laughed in exactly the same unguarded way ever since she was four years old. It was as if they had got into the habit of taking a break together before going off to their respective jobs, once the morning bustle was over—inevitable in families with small children—a moment to themselves, so as not to have to part in the middle of all that rush without sharing a little animated conversation. I used to wonder what they talked about or told each other—how could they possibly have so much to say, given that they went to bed and got up together and would presumably keep each other informed of their thoughts and activities—I only ever caught fragments of their conversation, or just the odd word or two. On one occasion, I heard him call her “princess.”
 
You could say that I wished them all the best in the world, as if they were characters in a novel or a fi lm 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 fi lm. In real life, though, there was no reason why that should be the case, and I expected to continue seeing them every morning exactly as they were, without ever sensing between them a unilateral or mutual coolness, or that they had nothing to say and were impatient to be rid of each other, a look of reciprocal irritation or indifference on their faces. 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. If Luisa and Desvern did not appear for a few days, I would miss them and face my day’s work with a heavier heart. In a way, without realizing it or intending to, I felt indebted to them, they helped me get through the day and allowed me to fantasize about their life, which I imagined to be unblemished, so much so that I was glad not to be able to confirm this view or find out more, and thus risk breaking the temporary spell (my own life was full of blemishes, and the truth is that I didn’t give the couple another thought until the following morning, while I sat on the bus cursing because I’d had to get up so early, which is something I loathe). I would have liked to give them something similar in exchange, but how could I? They didn’t need me or, perhaps, anyone: I was almost invisible, erased by their contentment. A couple of times when he left, having first, as usual, kissed Luisa on the lips—she never remained seated for that kiss, but stood up to reciprocate it—he would give me a slight nod, almost a bow, having first looked up and half-raised one hand to say goodbye to the waiters, as if I were just another waiter, a female one. His observant wife made a similar gesture when I left—always after him and before her—on the same two occasions when her husband had been courteous enough to do so. But when I tried to return that gesture with my own even slighter nod, both he and she had looked away and didn’t even see me. They were so quick, or so prudent.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Over the period of a few years, María has spent part of every morning watching a married man and woman in a neighborhood café. She is drawn to them because of their seeming happiness, “as if they provided me with a vision of an orderly or. . . harmonious world” (4). Is this a strange thing to do? What does it reveal about María?

2. The “Perfect Couple,” as María calls Miguel and Luisa, is abruptly severed when a homeless man stabs Miguel to death in a seemingly unmotivated attack. When María learns that Miguel was killed on the same day she last saw him, she realizes that “his wife and I had said goodbye to him at the same time, she with her lips and I with my eyes only” (30). What do you think of María’s reaction to the murder? Is María in love with Miguel?

3. When María visits Luisa, both speculate on what Miguel might have been thinking as he was being stabbed and as he lay dying (50-51). María’s projection of Miguel’s state of mind proceeds in single sentence of more than two pages in length (52-54). What role does the imagination—especially imagining the thoughts or experiences of others—play in this novel? Why do you think the novel is occupied with questions about different possible paths and outcomes?

4. Luisa tells María that Miguel’s death has changed her way of thinking: “It’s as though I’ve become a different person since then . . . with an unfamiliar, alien mentality, someone given to making strange connections and being frightened by them” (49). She now hears a siren and is overcome with dread, not knowing who might be ill or wounded or dying. Has her husband’s death made Luisa think more like a novelist?

5. María imagines that in thinking of the bizarre misfortune of being attacked by a stranger, Miguel might have thought of María herself as one of a number of people “who are merely vague extras or marginal presences, who inhabit a corner or lurk in the obscure background of the painting and whom we don’t even miss if they disappear” (53). If María, as our narrator, is such a vague extra or marginal presence, do her first-person narration and her presence as a central character in the story dispel the notion of her obscurity?

6. Luisa says she would feel better if someone had plotted against her husband. She has looked up the word envidia—envy—and reads a part of the dictionary entry to María: “Unfortunately, this poison is often engendered in the breasts of those who are and who we believe to be our closest friends, in whom we trust; they are far more dangerous than our declared enemies” (61). Luisa later introduces Javier to María as “one of Miguel’s best friends” (59). Do you have suspicions of Javier at this point, or only later?

7. The second time María meets Javier they are in Madrid’s Natural History Museum, where dead animals preserved in the attitudes of life stare out of their cases. Why is this unusual setting relevant to Javier’s view that the grieving Luisa is holding on to “the image of Miguel, (106)” but that she will eventually assign him “a place in time, both him and his character frozen for ever” (107)? Do you agree with Javier that “the only people who do not fail or let us down are those who are snatched from us”?

8. María becomes sexually involved with Javier, and is drawn more deeply into the intrigue surrounding Miguel’s death. Look at the description of Javier on pages 85-86 and discuss what is appealing or provocative about him. How would you characterize María’s feelings toward Javier (117-121)? Is she obsessed? In love? Infatuated?

9. After Miguel’s death, María expresses the idea that the moment of death changes the identity of the person who dies. Javier is convinced that it’s only a matter of time until Luisa realizes that her husband is gone forever. How does Balzac’s novella Colonel Chabert demonstrate Javier’s view that something fixed and permanent divides the living and the dead—even if, as in Colonel Chabert’s case, the dead return to life (131-140)?

10. One night, some time after she and Javier have become lovers, María says, “I found myself wishing or, rather, fantasizing about the possibility that Luisa might die and thus leave the field open for me with Díaz-Varela, since she was doing nothing to occupy that field herself (147). I, for example, could launch an offensive against Luisa behind her back, one so oblique that she wouldn’t be aware of it because she wouldn’t even know that an enemy was stalking her” (151). The novel implies that all human beings are capable of fantasizing about the deaths of people who stand in their way. Do you believe this is true? Is it easy to understand or identify with these thoughts? 

11. María is the first female narrator in a Marías novel. In an interview in The Paris Review, Marías noted that his female characters were “always seen through the eyes of a male.” In a scene in which María and Ruibérriz are talking, María has to decide whether she will emerge from the bedroom wearing only her skirt (166-175). Why are her thoughts about her body and her sexuality important in this scene and elsewhere? Why is it effective that the narrator in this novel is a woman?

12. Midway through the novel, Javier’s secret emerges when María overhears him talking to Ruibérriz, who was his intermediary with the homeless man who killed Miguel. Her reaction to this new knowledge is complex. Does she now think of Javier as a murderer, or does she think that Javier set up a chain of events that might well not have resulted in Miguel’s death, so he is not a murderer (176-194)? 

13. Marías has said that literature is the “filter” through which he thinks and writes: “What I present to the reader comes from my experience and from what I have invented, but it has all been filtered by literature. That is what matters: the filter” (Paris Review interview). Discuss how the line “She should have died hereafter,” from Macbeth and the quote “Yes, a murder, nothing more” from The Three Musketeers, focus the philosophical concerns of the novel (See 107-116, 218-219, 229-230

14. What elements does The Infatuations share with mystery or detective fiction? How is it not at all like those genres? What do you make of the long discursive digressions? Are they always relevant to the larger questions and investigations of the novel? 

15. Javier tells María, when she asks “what happened” to Colonel Chabert: “What happened is the least of it. It’s a novel, and once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention” (227). Discuss this important statement in terms of your experience of this novel.

16. The entire story is transmitted through the perspective of María. Does this call into question her authority or her reliability? What is the effect of being inside a single consciousness throughout the novel? To what degree can the story be read as the projection onto a fictional world of the activity of a novelist’s mind, María standing in for Marías? 

17. Miguel knew, says Javier, “that the fact we are here at all is entirely thanks to an improbable coming-together of various chance events, and when that coming-together ceases, we cannot really complain. . . . No one can complain about not having been born or not having been in the world before or not having always been in the world, so why should anyone complain about dying or not being in the world hereafter or not remaining in it forever?” (283). How does Miguel’s philosophy about the contingent nature of human life resonate through the whole novel? Is it an appealing perspective on life and death?

18. Once Javier agreed to do Miguel the favor of arranging his death, he says, “My mind had to start working and plotting like the mind of a criminal” (292). Does his explanation of the circumstances make Javier, in the mind of María, any less a murderer? Does she even believe that Miguel was ill? Discuss her statement “Everything that has been said to us resonates and lingers” (295).

19. When María sees Javier and Luisa in a restaurant, apparently now married, the novel comes full circle (326-331). She recalls the statement of the lawyer Derville in Colonel Chabert: “Far more crimes go unpunished than punished, not to speak of those we know nothing about or that remain hidden, for there must inevitably be more hidden crimes than crimes that are known about and recorded” (334). What do you think about the resolution of the plot, and María’s sense of the story’s ending?

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 9, 2014

    Don't waste your time

    I understand you have to let the reader feel the atmosphere and surroundings but this writer is just too wordy. So much that I skip pages just to get to what the point is. I have stopped reading then pick it up a few days later hoping it will catch my interest but that hasn't happened yet. I can usually read even a bad book but honestly, I don't think I will complete this one. Sorry I wasted my money on this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted June 13, 2014

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    Posted February 21, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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