This is a collection of 10 short stories written by Javier Marias; all but one were written before 1991. I have previously read, and even been enthralled with two other Marias' works, Dark Back Of Time and Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me A couple of Marias' themes that would appear in these major works, which were published in the mid-90's, are previewed in these stories, namely, the "King of Redonda," John Gawsworth, and the "beggar's curse" upon three generations of eldest sons dying far from home.
In the first story, which lends its title to this collection, Marias poses a moral dilemma that many of us have no doubt faced, and is best summed up by the following line: "You can't report intentions." Who amongst us has not talked with a stranger who is apparently quite mad, discussing his plans for mayhem or more, and do we just shrug, and say: "Yeah, but he'll never really do it," or, do we have an obligation to report those intentions, knowing that effective action by the authorities is highly unlikely. It is the sort of dilemma that Marias thrives in exploring.
In "Gualta," in just seven pages, Marias explores the ramifications of dealing with one's "double," and again this theme is touched on in "Lord Rendall's Song" when a World War II soldier comes home to his wife. In "One Night of Love" Marias topic is married love life, and how it could be "spiced up" by a seeming most unlikely source: love letters from the mistress of one's father. It is this "edgy" quality to Marias's writing, and never really knowing which direction that he will take; the turns and twists in the plot, that make reading him so enjoyable. "An Epigram of Fealty" is the story of a rare book seller, and the "bums" who peer into his store window. Could the signature of one of them make part of his inventory much more valuable? Two stories involve ghosts, one in Vera Cruz, in Mexico; the other a persistent one in Madrid. And in his concluding story on the butler, Marias mixes eroticism and haughtiness, all told to a stranger who is trapped in an elevator.
Marias is a brilliant writer, whom I would compare to Paul Auster. If great writers have that ability to make the reader a bit uncomfortable, describing aspects of the human condition that the reader thought they had only experienced, then Marias is certainly in that category. These stories, being written before his more major works, would serve as a wonderful introduction to him. If you've already read one or more of his novels, they may be less satisfying. Still, it IS Marias, and is definitely worth 5-stars.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on April 04, 2011)