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A Companion to Javier Marías by David Herzberger (review)

From: Hispania
Volume 96, Number 3, September 2013
pp. 582-583 | 10.1353/hpn.2013.0097

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David Herzberger’s A Companion to Javier Marías provides a splendid overview of the author’s writing as a newspaper columnist, short story writer, translator, and a best-selling novelist. The book is arguably the most comprehensive analysis to date on the narrative of Javier Marías while at the same is a solid contribution to scholarship on contemporary Spanish fiction. The book is informative, illuminating, and admirably clear. This survey can be accessible to those either familiar with, or not facile with, Marías and the critical approaches he employs. A Companion begins with an introduction to his life and his formation as a writer in Francoist and post-Francoist Spain. In the introduction, Herzberger highlights Marías’s rejection of the novel of postwar in Spain for its obsession with the social reality of time. Herzberger points out that María has received harsh criticism from critics and intellectuals in Spain for not being authentically Spanish, since a great number of his novels are set entirely outside of Spain with no reference to Spanish culture.

In the first chapter, Herzberger provides a perspective of Marías as a journalist who has published short stories and written articles for newspapers as early as 1976. Herzberger elaborates on Marías’s rejection of “Spanishness” while a columnist; the author was very critical of Spain, frequently relating anecdotes about the poor telephone service and postal service in Madrid. Another key feature the author points out in this chapter is Marías’s passion for movies, in particular American cinema, where many of his novels are layered with memories of American films.

The following seven chapters closely examine nine novels while also touching on his short fiction and nonfiction work, published from 1971 to 2009. The second chapter offers a discussion of Marías’s first two novels, Los dominios del lobo (1971) and Travesía del horizonte (1972). In this chapter, Herzberger shows how Marías’s early writings bear little resemblance to other Spanish fiction and are vested largely with the traditions of foreign literatures wanting to distance himself again from “lo español.” He discusses Marías’s penchant for the cinema again, which had already been highlighted in the introduction. For instance, in the first two novels, Marías’s retelling the way of seeing and interpreting his “experience” of the American films is one of Herzbeger’s primary observations.

The next chapter is the analysis of El siglo (1983) and El hombre sentimental (1986). Herzberger exposes the complicated sentence structure in El siglo and underscores how this novel could resemble seventeenth-century English prose. In the analysis of El hombre sentimental, Herzberger explains Marías’s preference for not disclosing the identity of the narrators, which is an effect that the author has deliberately cultivated in many of his novels. In this novel and others analyzed in this study, Herzberger explains on more than one occasion that Marías wants the reader to wonder who is telling the stories, and perhaps, to conclude that there is a single narrator who unties the novels. In the subsequent chapter, Herzbeger asserts that repetition becomes a fundamental feature in Todas las almas (1989) and Negra espalda del tiempo (1998). The novels highlight the idea of interconnectedness, while reproducing characters and narrative fragments from earlier novels. The next chapter titled “Two Shakespearean Novels”—that is, Corazón tan blanco (1992) and Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí (1994)—is the most substantial section of the study. Each of the novels begins with a sudden and unexpected death, and thus, contains elements of a mystery novel that invite the reader to expect intrigue and danger as the narrative progresses. In Corazón tan blanco, once again, Herzberger addresses the ambiguity of meaning, one of the recurrent traits of Marías’s fiction as a whole. In this novel, as well in as other novels, the author does not set out to provide concrete answers, since he frequently avoids certainty in favor of ambiguity. The chapter regarding Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí (1994) highlights that this is the first novel set entirely in Spain, suggesting that Mar...

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