imageTranslated from Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa

During 2016 I am not allowed to read an author’s new release if the previous one lies unread in the TBR. As Thus Bad Begins is calling me from the box of new releases awaiting my attention once the TBR Double Dog Dare ends on the 31st, The Infatuations demanded my immediate attention.

I’m new to the Marías fan club, having discovered him – thanks to the blogosphere – only last year. How would the crucial second date go? Very well, indeed. It wasn’t even hampered by the fact that we were communicating via Kindle – though this review might be. Flicking through an e-book is not the same as perusing a sticky-noted hardcopy.

The premise of The Infatuations is intriguing. A young woman breakfasts each day at the same café as a good looking married couple. She observes their happiness and begins to imagine their life together. This daily encounter becomes an anchor in her life. Then the couple disappears. She discovers that the man has been brutally murdered. When the widow reappears, she offers her condolences. This leads to her meeting the murdered man’s best friend, Díaz-Varela, with whom she also becomes infatuated. This is a relationship she will live to regret.

Nicknamed “The Prudent Young Woman” by Luisa Desvern (the widow, who observed her observing them), Maria displays the quality during her relationship with Díaz-Varela, for whom she falls, hook, line and sinker. Recognising that she is the one who loves, she lets Díaz-Varela set the pace, content to wait weeks between contacts. Gradually she realises that Díaz-Varela is as infatuated with the widow as she is with him, and she begins to fantasise about reuniting Luisa with her dead husband. Then she overhears a conversation at Díaz-Varela’s appartment that suggests that the murder of Luisa’s husband may not have been as it appeared …..

….. and in the one imprudent act of her life, she lets Díaz-Varela know that she has overheard the conversation.

But enough of the plot. While there is a mystery and concern for Maria’s safety, which drive the narrative and the reader forward, these are not the prime concerns of the piece. Written mostly in Maria’s voice, the text reflects repeatedly, nay obsesses, on the often unequal nature of human relationships and the ploys and games played in them. And the things we do or otherwise for love. Also about the timing of our demise. As MacBeth said of his lady:

“She should have died hereafter,” … meaning: “She should have died at some point in the future, later on.” Or he could have meant, less ambiguously and more plainly: “She should have waited a little longer, she should have held on”; what he means is “not at this precise moment, but at the chosen moment”. And what would be the chosen moment?

Balzac’s Colonel Chabert is another reference point. To those unfamiliar with the story, it is one of a man who, assumed to have died on the battlefield, returns home a decade later, long after his wife has remarried.

With these two intertextual references, Marías is being philosophical and playful in equal measure, sending out mixed messages. Did Miguel Desvern die before his time or is he about to reappear to thwart his friend’s ambition of winning Luisa for himself?

All is revealed, but only after Maria has chewed, digested, and ruminated at what could be considered a very leisurely rate. If all the repetitions were to be deleted, the novel would be less than half its length. And yet, I remained spellbound because I became infatuated with Maria, or rather the dichotomy between “the prudent young woman” that the world sees and her passionate interior monologue; the confident publisher with an élan for handing egotistical authors who have yet to win the Nobel prize (more playfulness) and the passive inamorata; that second contradiction cleverly mirrored, if gender-flipped, in Díaz-Varela’s relationship with Luisa.

The Infatuations took a while to grow on me, but layer by layer it did. As a result, I’ve added Marías to my completist reading list.