The Infatuations

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The Infatuations

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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.)
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.
From the Publisher
"Sometimes startling, sometimes hilarious, and always intelligent . . . Marías [has] a penetrating empathy."—New York Times Book Review

The Infatuations is mysterious and seductive; it’s got deception, it’s got love affairs, it’s got murder. . . sheerly addictive.”—Fresh Air/NPR

“Haunting. . . . Evokes verbal puzzle-makers like Borges, and Marías’s ingenious chessboard plots bring to mind the 20th century’s grand-master strategist, Vladimir Nabokov.”—Los Angeles Times

“An arresting story of love and crime.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“The unspoken romance at the heart of Marías’s work is the recuperation of old-fashioned adventure within perfectly serious, cerebral contemporary fiction.”—The Daily Beast
 
“Great art often emerges from breaking, or at least tweaking, rules. A work that transcends its conventions can produce special results. Here’s such a book . . . The Infatuations takes you where very few novels do.”—Paste magazine
 
“A masterly novel . . . The classical themes of love, death, and fate are explored with elegant intelligence by Marías in what is perhaps his best novel so far . . . Extraordinary . . . Marías has defined the ethos of our time.”—The Guardian, UK
 
“Marías has created a splendid tour de force of narrative voice. . . . A luminous performance.”—Wichita Eagle
 
“Javier Marías is a master of first lines. He’s a master of other things as well . . . All Marías books feel like chapters in one much longer book. And it’s one you should start reading, if you haven’t already.”—Slate
 
“Beyond the interesting ideas his work draws on, Marías’s novels are simply a pleasure to read . . . The Infatuations, containing the qualities of Marías’s best work, is an important addition to his oeuvre.”—The Millions
 
“Marías’s novel operates on so many levels simultaneously, it becomes a piece of evidence itself, an artifact that proves its own argument.”—The Onion, A. V. Club
 
“Marías’s novel weaves an intricate web, but its triumph is in the power of its narrator. Marías has found the ideal voice—detached, inquisitive, and vigilant—for one of his finest novels.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
 
“A haunting masterpiece.”—The Observer, UK
 

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
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: 9780307960726
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/13/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 186,734
  • Product dimensions: 6.78 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.25 (d)

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...

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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 on 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

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