'When I Was Mortal" collects short stories published mainly in periodicals in the 1990s. They range in length from barely four pages to almost fifty, but for the most part are short and written in response to commission briefs. They share certain characteristics: the first person narrator - different in each case - drawn into a situation of unforeseen complexity and ambiguity; a preoccupation with time and its effects; and plot devices drawn from from pulp literature - particularly the supernatural and noir, with their ghosts and gangsters, affairs and betrayals. Francoist Spain lingers on in the background.
Marias' stories are conventionally well-crafted and entertaining but - except perhaps for the title story - give little reason to suspect that this is the work of a world-class writer. The informative and modest introduction makes clear the circumstances of composition, and it seems likely that Marias was rather constrained by the imposed limits. A gentle and undemanding introduction to the writer, then, but the meat of his achievement is in the novels.