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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars

on 28 May 2000
The premise of this book is quite intriguing, and the talent of this writer is great enough to make me want to read the telephone directory if he compiled it. However, there were too many scenes and plot developments in this book that simply don't work. They are either out of sync with the story (e.g., the elements of political satire) or they are simply implausible. The ending is particularly bad, abrupt and melodramatic. It does not work at all. Having said all that, there are some bizarre but fascinating characters in this book and there is one scene (when Victor sees a woman who may or may not be his ex-wife) that made my hair stand on end. All in all, a disappointment. Someone as good as Marias could have done so much more with this. Read "A Heart So White" instead.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 February 2011
...it is all here, and so much more. This is one of those very rare novels that should be rated 6 or even 7-stars. It is a novel that strikes a chord, deep down, in a place that seemed totally private and secure. Javier Marias draws the reader in, from the very first sentence: "No one ever expects that they might some day find themselves with a dead woman in their arms..." It is the narrator, whose complete name we learn much later, who finds himself in this position, in, "unconsummated infidelity," with the many attendant ethical dilemmas that suddenly evolve, all because of an off-hand dinner invitation he received, that he speculates may have been offered only as a second or even third choice.

Marias is Spanish, but lived part of his youth in the United States, since his father was effectively exiled by Franco. He writes in page long sentences, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but they seem to "go down easier" than Marquez's. He'll take a thought, and hold it to the light, checking the perspectives, changing the angle, adding a caveat, and before you know it, a page is gone, but in the most meaningful of ways. Marias tells the story by evolving several themes, by adding and filling the "pixels," to render a complete picture, by adding the parts of several viewers. The title of the book is derived from a line in Shakespeare's "Richard III," and Marias uses other lines from Shakespeare to title other books. One sub-plot involves the movie, Richard III, showing in the background, shot in Madrid, but depicting a place in England, just one of the ways he ties the countries together. The main plot though deals with the actions of the narrator after the woman he barely knows dies in his arms. The ethical dilemmas abound: Should he notify the woman's husband, who happens to be in England? What should he do with the very young child in the next room? What drives the novel forward is the narrator's inner need to "come clean," and reveal to the family what happened, while at the same time learning about the fundamental relationships of a family he stumbled into.

Marias expresses the eternal themes of infidelity, death, and all, afresh. Consider: "...our intentions already far from honourable, any courtship looks pathetic when seen from outside or in retrospect, a mutually agreed manipulation, a laborious compliance with formalities, the social gift-wrapping around something that is pure instinct." Or, of death, placed on a tome stone: "None that speak of me know me, and when they do speak, they slander me; those who know me keep silent and in their silence do not defend me; thus, all speak ill of me until they meet me, but when they meet me they find rest, and they bring me salvation, for I never rest." Or on the literary establishment: "...they are rather inattentive people with entrenched views, the civil servants of literature, ancient critics, resentful professors, resting academics susceptible to flattery, and publishers who find in the endless complaints about the insensitivity of the modern reader the perfect excuse for simply loafing around and doing nothing, which they continue to do with each new wave of writers."

Marias struck those deep chords, enough to make this particular reader "nervous" or at least "uneasy," particularly in a couple of the sub-plots, in which he addresses the male-female relationship. Would it be possible for an "ex" of yours, be it of the formal or informal variety, to become a streetwalker, and not necessarily for economic motives? Would you know that it was actually her, or only a good resemblance, after a three year period? And then, way back at the beginning of time, I read Mary McCarthy's The Group and one of her characters tells her boyfriend that she is pregnant, and she is devastated by the response: "How do I know its mine"? And so a vow is made never to be such a "heel," to unquestionably accept the responsibility if laid at your door... and certainly never raise the question that there might not actually be a pregnancy.

One of my major concerns is the difference in perspectives between America and the Islamic world, but certainly a large secondary concern is the different perspectives between America and Europe. Universal health care, a topical subject is one, but consider Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2008, and lives for half a year in my hometown, but is virtually unknown here. Likewise, Marias is a brilliant writer, appreciated by only a few Americans, and that is a pity. I was in the category of the "unappreciated," but fortunately thanks to the contacts provided by the Amazon review process, R.M Peterson, "Mike", my colleague to the north in Santa Fe, introduced me to this marvelous writer. Thanks, Mike.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on October 12, 2009)
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on 20 November 2000
I bought this book just because I had to know something from Spanish literature to Spanish classes, but after reading it I was a different person. This book changes your thinking about daily situations. I thought that the best book written in the fisrt person view - through your own eyes was Oliver's story by Erich Seagal but this one is the best what I have ever read. Whole book you think about what would you do in this situation!?
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on 14 April 2000
This book is extraordinary - quite inadequately reviewed in UK press, as is typical for translations from European languages. Amazing evocations, all in very few scenes described with wonderfully ornamented descriptions. Some very tender, some bizarre and at least one scene quite hilarious. A lovely book; and thanks to my beautiful Italian friend who put me onto it. Read it!
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on 16 January 2017
Great writer
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on 22 March 2010
Reading a book by javier marias is like visiting an unknown world.
The adventure leaves you beathless and wanting more. this is what reading is about..
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