A Love That Kills

Book: The Infatuations

Author: Javier Marías

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Price: Rs 550

Pages: 346

Velazquez's Las Meninas gives the impression that the nine people in the frame, barring the sleepy dog, are staring at us, the viewers. Till we see the mirror in the background, and the reflection of Philip IV and Queen Mariana in it. The royal couple is the subject of their attention, and Philip and Mariana are posing for the artist (Velazquez himself), also seen inside the frame. By giving the bodies of the minor characters an illusion of depth and spatially locating them, while reducing the real subject to a shadow, Velazquez was perhaps challenging our everyday idea of reality. Apart from the reality that is visible and tangible — the nine characters — there is a reality that cannot be touched but only seen. Or imagined.  

Javier Marias's latest novel,

The Infatuations, is more interested in the process of peeling the layers of reality than in the realities themselves. In a sense, therefore, this is vintage Marias, arguably the foremost among living Spanish novelists, ably served here by Margaret Jull Costa's translation that captures the paradox of Marias's prose style — at once flamboyant and terse, understated and effusive. The title, however, presents an unbridgeable gap — the Spanish Los enamoramientos does not translate as the English "infatuations". The verb "enamorar" means "to inspire love" while the reflexive "enamorarse" is "to fall in love". "Enamoramiento" is thus the act or state of falling in love, which is not the same as being infatuated. "Enamoramiento" cannot be rendered by a single English word, and Marias himself has noted the problem. "Infatuations" is the closest we can get.

Maria Dolz, Marias's 30-something narrator, works at a publishing house. We know little about her past, but what appears at first to be chance, puts her centrestage. Maria is obsessed with a couple she sees almost every day while having breakfast at a cafe. Their perceived happiness and mannerisms make her name them the "Perfect Couple", as she, in a way, falls in love with them, or rather with their image of conjugal bliss. Then one day, the couple disappear and months pass before the wife returns to the cafe, without her husband. Later, Maria discovers a news photo depicting the husband lying in the street, dead, or nearly dead, from stab wounds inflicted by a mad vagabond who had taken over a parking lot. Miguel Desvern (or Deverne, the Catalan "Desvern" modified for the Castilian speaker), the husband, ran a big family business in the film distribution industry, and his widow Luisa Alday is a professor at the University of Madrid. Maria befriends her while offering her condolences and soon finds herself in a sexual entanglement with Deverne's best friend, Javier Diaz Varela, a refined and womanising intellectual besotted with Luisa, the only focal point of whose existence is winning Luisa once her grief has subsided.

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