Earlier this year I reviewed Your Face Tomorrow, Volume One: Fever and Spear, and I didn’t quite know how to go about that task. I’m afraid it’s no easier trying to review the second volume, Dance and Dream (Tu rostro mañana, 2, Baile y sueño; tr. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, 2006). Ah, but what a fascinating book to think about! And now that volume three is available in English, it’s the perfect time to find out just why these books are so difficult to speak about. (Incidentally, if you are in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, Javier Marías is around you this week — details on New Directions’ webpage).
These volumes are dense, intimidating, full of sentences that weave in and out of themselves and each other — this is a remarkable feat of writing and translation. However, don’t get me wrong: I’ve found the books to be the type that, while intimidating and complex, is still approachable and incredibly gratifying. Perhaps — and I don’t know if I can really do this — I can show a bit of the sentence level style by divulging a bit about the overall structure of this volume.
The book begins where the last one ended: it’s night-time, and some woman who has been following Deza has just call him from the street. She wants to ask a favor, giving the book it’s opening lines:
Let us hope that no one ever asks us for anything, or even enquires, no advice or favour or loan, not even the loan of our attention, let us hope that others do not ask us to listen to them, to their wretched problems and their painful predicaments so like our own, to their incomprehensible doubts and their paltry stories which are so often interchangeable and have all been written before . . .
This sentence goes on for sometime before there is an end-stop, though it flows wonderfully, all the pieces tying together in a kind of spiderweb of clauses and phrases. But that is what the plot is too. From the encounter in the night, we shift to another evening when Deza is out with his boss, Bertram Tupra, entertaining a foreigner and his wife at a nightclub. Something goes wrong, and Deza is surprised when in the bathroom Tupra wields a sword and is threatening someone else with it. That particular part with the sword goes on for something like one hundred and twenty pages. Indeed, this is an example of where the global and local structure of the book mimic each other — there is a major delay before the end-stop comes. And intermingled in this scene that really lasts only a few seconds are dozens of tangents, each taking their cue from the story while at the same time priming the reader for what is to come. In a way the tangents teach the reader a number of perspectives for the actual action.
So what’s the point? Well, this is only volume two and, like volume one, it leaves many many things unanswered. But this is a fascinating narrative because the mind of Deza is always at work, analyzing and categorizing. That is why he has this secret job for the government — or so he thinks. Turns out there are private clients as well, so the job itself is part of the disturbing but ambiguous elements of the story.
I was glad to see that in the action, while a man wields a sword against another, Deza is able to find moments to devote to his wife. They’ve been separated for some time, and my last review ended with a very touching line about Luisa and Deza’s fading role in her life, the life they’d been doing together. Here is a sentence that takes us back to the first lines in the book while still moving the narrative along, taking us into their relationship and into some of the deeper themes in the novel:
Luisa did not get caught or entangled, but she did, once, become involved because of a request and a gift of alms and she involved me a little in both of these things too, this was before we separated and before I left for England, when we had not yet foreseen the deepening rift or our backs so firmly turned on each other, at least I had not, for it is only later on that you realise you have lost the trust you had in someone or that others have lost the trust they had in you — if, that is, you ever do realise, which I don’t really think you do; I mean, that only afterwards, when the present is already the past and is thus so changeable and uncertain that it can easily be told (and can be retold a thousand times more, with no two versions agreeing), do we realise that we also knew it when the present was still present and had not yet been rejected or become muddied or shadowy, how else would we be able to put a date to it, because the fact is we can, oh yes, we can date it afterwards with alarming precision: ‘It was the day when . . .’ we say or remember, as people do in novels (which are always heading toward a specific moment: the plot points to it, dictates it; except that not all novels know how they’re going to end), sometimes when we are alone or in company, two people summing things up out loud: ‘It was those words you came out with so casually on your birthday that first put me on my guard or began to distance me.’
And because, like I said, it is so very difficult to review this book intelligibly (you’ll just have to trust me and read them), I will end this review with another sad line as Deza mourns his loss. I think we’ll get quite a bit more of Luisa in the next volume.
They would last only until the disappearance once more of my renewed realisation that Luisa was not going to say to me: ‘Come, come back, I was so wrong about you before. Sit down here beside me, here’s your pillow which now bears not a trace, somehow I just couldn’t see you clearly before. Come here. Come with me. There’s no one else here, come back, my ghost has gone, you can take his place and dismiss his flesh. He has been changed into nothing and his time no longer advances. What was never happened. You can, I suppose, stay here for ever.’ Yes, that night would pass too, and she would still not have said these words.