The Infatuations
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The Infatuations

Javier Marias, Margaret Jull Costa

Every day, Maria Dolz stops for breakfast at the same café. And every day she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft.

It is only later, when she comes across a newspaper photograph of the man, lying stabbed in the street, his shirt half off, that she discovers who the couple are. Some time afterwards, when the woman returns to the café with her children, who are then collected by a different man, and Maria approaches her to offer her condolences, an entanglement begins which sheds new light on this apparently random, pointless death.

With The Infatuations, Javier Marias brilliantly reimagines the murder novel as a metaphysical enquiry, addressing existential questions of life, death, love and morality:

What is truth, when there are always different versions of events and it is impossible to know even our own ever-vacillating thoughts, feelings and passions? What is love if not a justification for almost anything, from the most noble and selfless of actions to the worst outrages and most despicable of acts? And why is it so threatening when the dead to return to us, however greatly mourned?

The Infatuations is an extraordinary, immersive book about the terrible force of events and their consequences.

Review

Even if your idea of a good time isn’t reading an emotionally complex and intellectually subtle novel that takes the tragic powers of love as its subject, and that nearly hums with latent erotic energy and mystery (and if that isn’t your idea of a good time, then you’re a miserable so-and-so), I would still recommend reading Javier Marias’s latest book, The Infatuations.

Before I try to back that up, a question: what is a romantic writer? Is it someone whose prose favours feeling over thought? Is it a writer unconcerned with theoretical questions, whose greatest ambition is to move the reader? I’m not sure. Probably the question requires hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of meticulous argumentation from a team of only the most prestigious and erudite of scholars to be answered. All the same, I’m going to go ahead and say that Marias is amongst the most romantic of contemporary novelists. Love and death, those evergreen sources of sublime literary material, are his bread and butter.

The Infatuations runs deep. The story – of a woman who falls in love with a man after an improbable and gruesome murder – is the sort of thing a more conventional writer might deal with in a novella. There are only a handful of characters, connected via a web of relationships that forms following the death of Miguel Desvern, a handsome and charming Madrileño. Marias probes leisurely and delicately at the thoughts and feelings of each. Never rushing, he teases out allusions and possibilities. Secrets abound. Marias knows how to cater for doubt and curiosity, and to engage the intelligence as well as the emotions of his readers.

The Infatuations is a holistic and atomic examination of the behaviour of those citizens that Marias takes to be the most dangerous members of society: people in love.


Will Heyward is a bookseller who works for Readings in Carlton and St Kilda. He is a contributing editor of Higher Arc.

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