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May 13, 2013 | by  | in Arts Books |
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My Infatuation with The Infatuations

Though he remains a relatively obscure presence in New Zealand, Spanish author Javier Marías is one of the titans of contemporary literature: perhaps the most important author you’d never heard of. He’s been “widely tipped to win the Nobel Prize for Literature”. His stature in Spain and other parts of Europe is something akin to hero worship.

In a piece of trivia that I find endlessly delightful, he once wrote a book set in a fictional version of the small island of Redonda. The King of Redonda, having read this novel, was so moved by his impression that he ceded his crown to Marías: he became the royalty of an island by virtue of his fictional prowess. His latest novel, The Infatuations (Los Enamorados in Spanish, but unfortunately ‘enamorations’ isn’t an accepted conjugation in English and so ‘infatuations’ had to do) has The Guardian gushing, wagering that it will “acquire an equally devoted following” to Don Quixote.

While that is perhaps hyperbolic, Marías’ latest is a delight and a revelation, concurrently tugging at your heartstrings and engaging your grey matter. Those familiar with his works: rest assured that the distinct flourishes that render him such a unique force have been carried forward. The prose is masterfully stylised. His digressions, enquiries both metaphysical and psychological, and frequent ruminations upon life, death, cruelty, lust, mortality and perception remain firmly intact. His use of run-on sentences, usually a clumsy and off-putting feature, works because of Marías’ knack for eloquent lyricism and almost symmetrical sentence constructions. Despite, or because of, this, the writing is taut and suspenseful.

As for the tale itself: Maria Dolz, our protagonist, is an editor for a publishing house who becomes enchanted from a distance by a married couple she always sees at her local café. When the husband is found brutally murdered, she strikes up a connection with his widow, becoming entangled in an inextricable web of coincidence, entropy, subterfuge and guilt.

And, lest I make it seem like The Infatuations is serious to the point of dour, I must mention the humour that pervades the novel. Marías’ gleeful mocking of self-serious, pretentious writers (in the course of her job, Maria ends up having to tell one writer what socks he should wear, before dissuading another who wants to try cocaine because it’s ‘hip’) is funny in its own right, but also refreshing in the context of a work of literature—which usually opts for the circlejerk, self-aggrandising “omg literature is SO IMPORTANT GUYS” route (Slaughterhouse Five I’m looking at you).

I strongly advise you to buy a copy: this is one royalty who deserves his royalties.

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