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Please read all the reviews....
on 30 June 2013
Normally I begin writing a review knowing how many stars I'm going to give the book. With this book, Javier Marias' "The Infatuations", I'm beginning by writing the review and then determining the number of stars. This is a book that has already received reviews on both Amazon/US and Amazon/UK ranging from one to five stars, and in general, all the reviewers have thoroughly justified their star ranking. I hope to do the same.
I think "The Infatuations" might be another book like Dutch writer Herman Koch's "The Dinner", published earlier this year. Like "The Dinner", a great deal of Marias' novel takes place in restaurants and cafes. There's a lot of talking, a lot of emotional speculation, and a somewhat unreliable narrator. OR, is the unreliable narrator simply receiving unbelievable information and passing it along to the reader? Certainly parts of the plot are either silly or unbelievable, and sometimes, both. But, you as a reader have to separate what the narrator - a Madrid book editor named Maria Dolz - is hearing and what she's passing on to you, This is often difficult as much of the book is written in long, windy, stream-of-thought style.
The Jewish sage Hillel was once asked to describe the meaning of the Torah, while standing on one foot. He said, "Do not do unto others what you would not like done to you. And the rest is commentary". So it is with Javier Marias book. His entire book could have been written in 50 pages, but the rest is commentary. Along with frequent references to Honore Balzak, and Macbeth, Javier Marias (and his translator, Margaret Jull Costa) drill into the reader's mind about the permanence of death, while also treating a murder plot as casual and planned as "if it works, fine, if it doesn't, fine..."
The main characters in the book are presented - or present themselves - in an almost casual way. Maria Dolz sees a married couple - Miguel and Luisa - sharing breakfast before their work days begin in the same cafe she eats in. They're a seemingly adoring couple and Maria seems to almost fall in love with them as a couple. She later finds out the husband was killed in a murderous rage by a "street person". Maria befriends the grieving widow - and she IS grieving - and spends an evening at the widow, Luisa's, home. There she meets some friends of Luisa and falls in love/lust with Miquel's best friend, who is comforting the widow.
But what is the truth of the seemingly at-random street attack on Miguel? And what leads up to it and what is the result of the murder on the survivors' lives? This is where Maria as a somewhat unreliable narrator comes into play. This is where the novel fails; where plots and excuses and lies and rationale for the murder are convoluted and not believable, and MARIA'S REACTIONS ARE NOT BELIEVABLE.
After rereading what I wrote above, I'm going to chicken-out and give "The Infatuations" a three. Three star reviews from me are neither negative or positive (I wish Amazon felt the same, but they'll put this review in as a negative). I can neither recommend or not-recommend this book to readers, but can only urge potential readers to read ALL the reviews and make a decision. This is one book that will garner a lot of attention in the press and, it should.