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Bright start, disappointment follows
on 19 October 2006
I first heard about the second book in this three part series through a friend whose opinion I trusted. I thought that I should start with the first in the series, Your Face Tomorrow series, Fear and Spear.
It's centred around Jacques Deza, an ex-teacher, broadcaster, and academic who is on the run from a failed marriage and family in Madrid. Jacques is talent spotted by a retired Oxford Don for his unusual talent, for he has the ability to see certain traits in people. From their appearance, mannerisms, from their subtle actions he can see people and understand them; understand them better than they can understand themselves. He is introduced to the mysterious Tupra who puts him to work in interpreting certain individuals - spies, revolutionaries, bad debtors - and in finding out what they will become in the future.
There's no denying it's a useful tool, for what is the novelist doing but interpreting the actions of others? Analysing their feelings and emotions: trying to get to their very core. And this book is well written, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa.
After reading my lukewarm praise the attentive reader is undoubtedly waiting for some sort of qualifier, a but or however. And it's difficult to know where to start because from a very promising opening, full of insight and wit and intrigue, I began to feel the book fall apart in my hands. What started off as sharp observation and shrewd interpretation slowly descended into a tone of over intellectualisation and didacticism. In one particular extract Deza is reading of the Spanish civil war after a dinner party in the Don's house. On a trip to an upstairs library he stumbles across a bloodstain. There then follows a multi-page analysis of the stain, "what is the hardest to get rid of with bloodstains is the rim, the circle, the circumference..." He labours to marry this notion to the idea that we all strive to leave our mark on the world, "to cling on". It is easy to imagine the pitfalls that might befall the intrepid Jacques as he goes to post a letter: `the brackish taste from the stamp on my tongue fading as the letter is transported across the country, the clarity of both fading from my memory and consciousness...'
I would love to tell you more of the book's plot; Jacques goes to work for Tupra and interprets a few characters including a showboating musician and debates whether, and under what circumstances, the man would be capable of murder. And then the book finishes with a weak cliff-hanger, not leaving the reader wanting more, just with the short lasting residue of indifference.
Perhaps the second book in the three part series, which my friend recommended, is worth reading. Perhaps it's sustained by a narrative which holds the attention throughout. I however won't be finding out and nor will I be reading any more of a certain friend's recommendations.