The Infatuations is absorbing, unnerving, compulsive and curious. Javier Marías has created a deeply interior, psychological mystery that frustrates as much as it mesmerises, drawing us into a voyeuristic, morally ambiguous landscape.
María Dolz breakfasts every morning at the same cafe, to watch The Perfect Couple. Deeply in love, delighting in each others’ company, they become the antidote to her dull working day. One day the couple isn’t there, and she discovers that the husband, Miguel, has been killed in a brutal, random attack in the street. Offended by the horror of this, and curious about the shock of searing Miguel away from Luisa, his wife, María takes a chance to talk to Luisa, and is rapidly absorbed not into the world of The Perfect Couple, but what comes afterward.
Marías is acclaimed as the greatest living author in Europe today, and The Infatuations his writing at its most masterful. And there are classic, epic themes at play here: love, death, fate. Marías has intricately plotted this mystery, meditating on the ramifications of love and the repercussions of horror. Such subjects are suitably weighty and substantial for a master to revel in, however by selecting the confined voyeur María as his main character and narrator, Marías has forced these subjects into an interior, psychological telling that is almost unbearable at times.
María both shows and tells, frequently diverting off to ruminate on a possibility, spending more time on what could or did happen than the happening itself. And with this are her relentlessly long, intimate sentences: they are like an extreme close-up, claustrophobic and leaving you feeling breathless. Whole chapters are dedicated to her ruminations, her reflections. Behind this story, a lot has happened, but so little of it happens through María’s retelling. She is almost a blockage to spite the story.
Further, María projects her voice to the other characters, imagining conversations and making up their thoughts. It is an odd mix of made-up memories, lost experiences, real-life fantasies, all in the same relentless sentence structure, streaming one thought on from the next. The consistency in tone across every other character with María’s made me think at one point that perhaps she was making it all up; that this all was a fantasy based on seeing one macabre death in the newspaper.
María’s relationships are established through her conversational and sexual pliancy. She becomes involved with Miguel’s best friend, Javier, through her availability and malleability. Despite the fact that her way of telling is very distinct, the role she plays in her life seems so beige and unassuming: she discovers after Miguel’s death that to The Perfect Couple she had been the Prudent Young Woman. So little of what happens seems to have been affected by María, however we know through her seemingly endless entertaining of possibilities and ideas, what she wants. Her moral ambiguousness gets and keeps her close to the end of The Perfect Couple, but little agency is exercised.
On paper, this book is something I would enjoy, but María’s sheer relentlessness of style and thought wears throughout the book. There are the classic themes of love, death and fate but through this intense, psychological prism. It is a timeless story, but in a very intimate, airless telling. This may be the master Marías at the top of his game, but it is not a game I enjoy.