The New York Times Book Review

Javier Marías

Javier Marías (1951-2022) was born in Madrid, the second youngest son of the philosopher Julián Marías. Marías began writing at an early age; “The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga,” one of the short stories within While the Women are Sleeping, was written when he was just fourteen. He studied English Literature at University in Madrid and has translated into Spanish works by Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Isak Dinesen, Shakespeare, and Seamus Heaney. In 1997 A Heart So White won the IMPAC Dublin literary award and became a bestseller in Europe.

Javier Marias has taught at Universities in Madrid, Oxford and Venice and at Wellesley College, Boston. His novel, All Souls, set in Oxford and containing a sensitive portrayal of the English writer, John Gawsworth, led to Marias inheriting the Kingdom Of Redonda, a real but barren island in the Caribbean. Marias has turned Redonda into a “literary” kingdom––winners of the annual prize are awarded in both money and an honorary duchy.

Javier Marias has been described as “one of the most original writers today” (The New York Times Book Review) and his recent work—the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy—has been hailed as “the first authentic literary masterpiece of the 21st century” (The Guardian). He published a weekly column for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. His work has been published in more than 34 languages.

Interview in the Paris Review, 2006

cover image of the book While the Women Are Sleeping

While the Women Are Sleeping

Slippery figures in anomalous situations – ghosts, spies, bodyguards, criminals – haunt these stories by Javier Marías: the characters come bearing their strange and special secrets, and never leave our minds. In one story, a man obsessed with his much younger lover endlessly videotapes her every move, and then confides his surprising plans for her; in another a ghost can’t stop resigning from his job. Masterfully, Marías manages in a small space to perplex and delight. “The short story fits Marías like a glove,” as Le Point noted. His stories have been hailed as “formidably intelligent” (The London Review of Books), “a bracing tonic” (The Chicago Tribune), and “startling” (The New York Times Book Review).

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cover image of the book Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 3: Poison, Shadow, & Farewell

Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 3: Poison, Shadow, & Farewell

A spectacular finale, Poison, Shadow and Farewell brings to a close Javier Marías’s daring, unfolding three-part novel Your Face Tomorrow. Marías’s magnum opus has already been acclaimed “exquisite” (Publishers Weekly), “gorgeous” (Kirkus), and “outstanding: another work of urgent originality” (London Independent). With its heightened tensions between meditations and noir narrative, Poison, Shadow and Farewell takes our hero, Jacques Deza––hired by a shady branch of M16 as a person of perception––back to Madrid to spy on and try to protect his own family, as he plunges into new depths of love and loss.

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cover image of the book Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico

Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico

by Javier Marías

Translated by Esther Allen

A boiled-down gem of a Marías story about how Elvis (in Acapulco to film a movie) and his hard-drinking entourage abandon their interpreter in a seedy cantina full of enraged criminals after insults start to fly. When the local kingpin demands to be told what the Americans are saying, Elvis himself delivers an even more stinging parting shot – and who has to translate that?

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cover image of the book Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2: Dance & Dream

Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 2: Dance & Dream

A book unlike any other, a daring experiential unfolding Spanish masterpiece, Your Face Tomorrow now leaps into uncharted new territory in Volume Two: Dance and Dream. Your Face Tomorrow, Javier Marías’s dazzling unfolding magnum opus, is a novel in three parts, which began with Volume One: Fever and Spear (New Directions, 2005). Described as a “brilliant dark novel” (Scotland on Sunday), the book now takes a wild swerve in its new volume. Skillfully constructed around a central perplexing and mesmerizing scene in a nightclub, Volume Two: Dance and Dream again features Jacques Deza. In Volume One he was hired by MI6 as a person of extraordinarily sophisticated powers of perception. In Volume Two Deza discovers the dark side of his new employer when Tupra, his spy-master boss, brings out a sword and uses it in a way that appalls Deza: You can’t just go around hurting and killing people like that. Why not? asks Tupra. Searching meditations on favors and jealousy, knowledge and the deep human desire not to know, violence and death play against memories of the Spanish Civil War as Deza’s world becomes increasingly murky.

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cover image of the book The Man of Feeling

The Man of Feeling

Narrated by a young opera star, The Man of Feeling opens as he recalls traveling on a train from Milan to Venice, silently absorbed for hours by the woman asleep opposite his seat. In the measured tones of memory, the novel revolves on the twin poles of anticipation and recollection. Our protagonist’s peculiar rarified life – a life of rehearsal and performance and luxury hotels and constant travel – and his resulting almost ghost-like detachment adds a deeper tone to Marías’s weave of desire and distance. As the author remarks in a brief afterword, this is a love story “in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.” Can love be recalled truly when it no longer exists? That twist will continue to revolve in the reader’s mind, conjuring up in its disembodied way James’ The Turn of the Screw. Beautifully translated by Margaret Jull Costa, this fascinating and eerie early novel by Javier Marías bears out his reputation for being “a true genius of literary subterfuge” (Village Voice) and “dazzling” (TLS). “There is nothing,” The New York Times commented about The Man of Feeling, “quite like it in fiction today.”

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cover image of the book Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 1: Fever & Spear

Your Face Tomorrow Vol. 1: Fever & Spear

Part spy novel, part romance, part Henry James, Your Face Tomorrow is a wholly remarkable display of the immense gifts of Javier Marias. With Fever and Spear, Volume One of his unfolding novel Your Face Tomorrow, he returns us to the rarified world of Oxford (the delightful setting of All Souls and Dark Back of Time), while introducing us to territory entirely new—espionage. Our hero, Jaime Deza, separated from his wife in Madrid, is a bit adrift in London until his old friend Sir Peter Wheeler–retired Oxford don and semi-retired master spy—recruits him for a new career in British Intelligence. Deza possesses a rare gift for seeing behind the masks people wear. He is soon observing interviews conducted by Her Majesty’s secret service: variously shady international businessmen one day, would-be coup leaders the next. Seductively, this metaphysical thriller explores past, present, and future in the ever-more-perilous 21st century. This compelling and enigmatic tour de force from one of Europe’s greatest writers continues with Volume Two: Dance and Dream.

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cover image of the book Written Lives

Written Lives

In addition to his own busy career as “one of Europe’s most intriguing contemporary writers” (TLS), Javier Marías is also the translator into Spanish of works by Hardy, Stevenson, Conrad, Faulkner, Nabokov, and Laurence Sterne. His love for these authors is the touchstone of Written Lives. Collected here are twenty pieces recounting great writers’ lives, “or, more precisely, snippets of writers’ lives.” Thomas Mann, Rilke, Arthur Conan Doyle, Turgenev, Djuna Barnes, Emily Brontë, Malcolm Lowry, and Kipling appear (“all fairly disastrous individuals”), and “almost nothing” in his stories is invented. Like Isak Dinesen (who “claimed to have poor sight, yet could spot a four-leaf clover in a field from a remarkable distance away”), Marías has a sharp eye. Nabokov is here, making “the highly improbable assertion that he is ’as American as April in Arizona,’” as is Oscar Wilde, who, in debt on his deathbed, ordered up champagne, “remarking cheerfully, ’I am dying beyond my means.’” Faulkner, we find, when fired from his post office job, explained that he was not prepared “to be beholden to any son-of-a-bitch who had two cents to buy a stamp.” Affection glows in the pages of Written Lives, evidence, as Marías remarks, that “although I have enjoyed writing all my books, this was the one with which I had the most fun.”

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cover image of the book Dark Back of Time

Dark Back of Time

by Javier Marías

Translated by Esther Allen

Called by its author a “false novel,” Dark Back of Time begins with the tale of the odd effects of publishing All Souls, his witty and sardonic 1989 Oxford novel. All Souls is a book Marias swears to be fiction, but which its “characters”––the real-life dons and professors and bookshop owners who have “recognized themselves––fiercely maintain to be a roman á clef. With the sleepy world of Oxford set into fretful motion by a world that never “existed,” Marías further stirs things up by weaving together autobiography (the brother who died as a child; the loss of his mother), a legendary kingdom, strange ghostly literary figures, maps and photographs, halls of mirrors, a one-eyed pilot, a bullet lost in Mexico, and a curse in Havana. Dark Back of Time has been acclaimed here as “superb” (Review of Contemporary Fiction), “fantastically original” (Talk), “brilliant” (Virginia Quarterly Review), and “a rare gift” (The New York Times Book Review). “In the best manner of Borges,” The Hudson Review commented, this hybrid is “lush and mysterious.” Javier Marias, translated into thirty-four languages, has sold over four million copies of his books worldwide, and won a dazzling array of awards.

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cover image of the book When I Was Mortal

When I Was Mortal

Eavesdroppers, failed bodyguards, night doctors, forgers, liars, suicides, assassins, and ghosts populate the dozen stories of When I Was Mortal. “In the space of ten or twenty pages,” as the Nouvel Observateur remarked, “Marías contrives to write a novel.” “The short story fits Marías like a glove,” as Le Point noted, and these stories have been acclaimed as “formidably intelligent” (The London Review of Books); and “startling” (The New York Times Book Review); “a refreshing discovery… [they] should be welcomed here like a bracing tonic” (The Chicago Tribune).

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cover image of the book A Heart So White

A Heart So White

With unnerving insistence A Heart So White chronicles the relentless power of the past. Juan knows little of the interior life of his father Ranz; but when Juan marries, he considers the past anew, and begins to ponder what he doesn’t really want to know. Secrecy, its possible convenience, its price, and even its civility permeates the novel. A Heart So White becomes a sort of anti-detective story of human nature. Intrigue; the sins of the father; the fraudulent and the genuine; marriage and strange repetitions of violence: Marías elegantly sends shafts of inquisitory light into shadows––and reckons the costs of ambivalence. (“My hands are of your colour; but I shame/To wear a heart so white” – Macbeth.) Called “dazzling” by The London Times Literary Supplement and “a landmark by a genuine artist” by Le Monde, A Heart So White won the Dublin IMPAC Prize and was rated by El País as “his best and most ambitious novel.”

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cover image of the book Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me

Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me

Marta has just met Victor when she invites him to dinner at her Madrid apartment while her husband is away on business. When her two-year-old son finally falls asleep, Marta and Victor move to the bedroom. Undressing, she feels suddenly ill; and in his arms, inexplicably, she dies. What should Victor do? Remove the compromising tape from the phone machine? Leave food for the child, for breakfast? How soon will someone discover her death? Unable to bear not knowing, Victor steps into the shadows cast by secrets, death, and the workings of time. And Javier Marías, master of secrets, explores what lies reveal and the truth may conceal in this “seductive story, a metaphysical thriller, tracking endless lines of infidelities across Europe” (The Observer).

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cover image of the book All Souls

All Souls

With high black humor, a visiting Spanish lecturer bends his gaze over that most British of institutions, Oxford University. In All Souls, our narrator views Oxford through a prismatic detachment, alternately amused, puzzled, delighted, and disgusted by its vagaries of human vanity. A bit lonely, not always able to see his charming but very married mistress, he casts about for activity; he barely has to teach. His stay of two years, he recalls, involved duties which “were practically nil” – “Oxford is a city in syrup, where simply being is far more important than doing or even acting.” Yet so much goes into that simply being: friendship, opinion-mongering, one-upmanship, finicky exchanges of favors, gossip, adultery, book-collecting, back-patting, back-stabbing. Marías has a sweet tooth for eccentricity, and his novel “crackles with deliciously sly observations of Oxford mores,” as James Woodall noted in the Independent. And yet further, All Souls is a love story within a “mysterious narrative,” as The New Statesman noted, “within a turmoil of choreographed stories.”

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The New York Times Book Review

Formidably intelligent.

London Review of Books

The work of a supreme stylist…The two protagonists’ civilized but complex marriages recall the compelling intricacies of Henry James…It is brilliantly done.

James Woodall, The Times

It is a rare gift, to be offered a writer who lives in our own time but speaks with the intensity of the past, who comes with the extra richness lent by a foreign history and nonetheless knows our own culture inside out.

Wendy Lesser, New York Times Book Review

Stylish, cerebral… Marías is a startling talent.

New York Times

The most subtle and gifted writer in contemporary Spanish literature.

Boston Globe

[Marías is] a master of clandestine greatness.

Wyatt Mason, The New Yorker

Sexy, contemplative, elusive, and addictive.

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Marías’s most extravagant showcase for ’literary thinking’ so far. It also serves as a compelling introduction to his writing.

Wyatt Mason, The New Yorker

Your Face Tomorrow is already being compared to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, and rightly so. It is a novel of extraordinary subtlety and pathos.

The Observer

These stories provide a fascinating insight into the development of a great writer; particularly his experimentation with voice and subject matter.

The Independent
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