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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Man of Feeling

Javier Marías

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To purchase The Man of Feeling

Title: The Man of Feeling
Author: Javier Marías
Genre: Novel
Written: 1986 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Man of Feeling - US
El hombre sentimental - US
The Man of Feeling - UK
The Man of Feeling - Canada
The Man of Feeling - India
L'homme sentimental - France
Der Gefühlsmensch - Deutschland
L'uomo sentimentale - Italia
El hombre sentimental - España
  • Spanish title: El hombre sentimental
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
  • With an Epilogue (1987) by the Javier Marias

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Our Assessment:

A- : beguilingly recounted

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age . 24/4/2004 Penny Hueston
The Guardian A 28/2/2004 Josh Lacey
London Rev. of Books . 2/6/2005 Lorna Scott Fox
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 5/4/2003 Genoveva Dieterich
The NY Times Book Rev. A 29/6/2003 Lawrence Venuti
The Observer . 15/2/2004 Zoe Green
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2003 Steven G. Kellman
TLS . 5/3/2004 Stephen Henighan
The Village Voice . 30/5/2003 Joy Press

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "Occasionally the author's blistering intelligence gets the better of him and a stylistic mannerism (...) appears a bit smart-alecky. His elaborate style is one of intense observation, endlessly parenthetical sentences that pin emotions to the ground until they surrender every subtle nuance." - Penny Hueston, The Age

  • "Marķas uses a dense prose that continually peers back at itself, examining its traces. His sentences sprout clauses within clauses, weighing down any statement or recollection with a succession of qualifications. In his longer books, this elongated style can grow ponderous and tiresome. Here, restricted by length and a neat narrative structure, the effect is always tense and mesmerising." - Josh Lacey, The Guardian

  • "(H)auntingly effective within the bounds of its more conventional ambitions." - Lorna Scott Fox, London Review of Books

  • "In der distanzierten Geschichte eines Sängers ohne besondere künstlerische Ambitionen, der im internationalen Opernbetrieb wie ein Handlungsreisender hier und dort auftritt, schuf Marías eine erste Fassung seiner Urthemen: die Einsamkeit des Einzelnen in seiner eingekapselten Problematik, um die das Leben irgendwie unerreichbar wirbelt; die Schwierigkeit des Dialogs auch mit dem Liebespartner; die scheinbare Zusammenhanglosigkeit der Geschehnisse; die Passivität der Helden vor den unabwendbaren Katastrophen; die zugleich lähmende und klärende Reflexion." - Genoveva Dieterich, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Everything depends, however, on how the plot unfolds. Marías avoids a straightforward delivery in favor of a digressive narrative that moves back and forth in time." - Lawrence Venuti, The New York Times Book Review

  • "For a story told from the point of view of an opera singer, it is a determinedly visual piece of work but its most bruising quality is its ability to create and sustain atmosphere, one that permeates the book with a ponderous sense of hopelessness and despair. This makes it sound like hard work but the dynamics between the characters and the characters themselves are so authoritatively drawn and the narrator's story so generous in its confidences that it is impossible not to be drawn into the tangle of misled motives and confusing emotions even as the narrator is." - Zoe Green, The Observer

  • "This absorbing tale, reminiscent of a Henry James novella, is open to multiple interpretations. Margaret Jull Costa's English rendering is superb. While there are small slips with cognates (...) the predominant impression is of consistent inventiveness." - Stephen Henighan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Marías evokes a vibe of perpetual dislocation and exile in The Man of Feeling that makes it feel like the literary equivalent of Chantal Akerman's Les Rendez-vous d'Anna. Like the filmmaker in Akerman's movie, the singer coasts through the cities of the world, forever on tour. (...) The acrobatic workings of the imagination excite Marķas far more than daily reality." - Joy Press, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Man of Feeling is narrated by an opera singer, still fairly young but already of considerable renown. He writes from the present, but most of what he relates occurred four years earlier: events that changed his life, just as the present bodes a similar change.
       Marias' novel is peopled by characters who are islands, or at least adrift and generally solitary, and among the successes of the novel is how clearly Marias captures these existences. The narrator compares his own peripatetic existence to that of travelling salesmen -- a breed he's familiar with from the hotels where he stays (and whose desperate acts he describes). Some of the best examples are in the peripheral characters: a woman he used to live with recently died and her husband contacts him repeatedly, warning that he will destroy all her belongings and asking him whether he wants to claim any -- a typical act of letting go and yet hoping for an embrace and comfort from elsewhere. Or: four years ago the narrator shares the stage with the great Hörbiger, but by the present Hörbiger's demands have undone him (in one of the book's best bizarre fantasies); like almost everyone in this tale, he flounders and is lost in his own limiting world by the end.
       Three people came into the narrator's life four years earlier: the banker Manur, his wife Natalia, and Dato, whose "main function and use, is to keep my employers company." The narrator first encounters them on the train to Madrid, but only gets to know them when it turns out they are staying at the same luxury hotel. The husband keeps busy, while his wife is kept company (and kept tabs on) by Dato -- an arrangement that all have grown accustomed to. Natalia and Dato latch onto the narrator, likely because they recognise in him a kindred spirit. (A Spaniard, he has no close to ties to his family and is, in some senses, a stranger in his own homeland: it's just like everywhere else for him, and so he might as well stay in the same type of luxury hotel he would anywhere else).
       Eventually the point comes when Natalia and the narrator are on the cusp of a more intimate involvement -- at which point Manur intervenes and explains to the narrator the nature of his and his wife's relationship. Decisions must be made -- though even here almost all the characters seem to drift into them (and even when the one who had appeared the most decisive then commits an act of desperation it is -- though nominally (eventually) a success -- more like yet another ineffectual gesture).
       The story is a fairly simple one -- of tortured, confused love and passion (and what one will do for it). The feelings of the entire quartet are well conveyed, with each being, in a different way a tragic, romantic hero.
       The wonder of the novel is in the telling. Marías circles about in his story, going off tangentially -- describing his childhood, his opera-career, stories about others -- but returning always to the main story, in the past and then the present. There's a bit much of a dreamy aspect to all of this: "I don't know whether I should tell you my dreams", is the novel's opening sentence, and in his epilogue Marías claims the entire book has its origins in only two images, of which this line was one. But despite (and, occasionally, because of) that it effectively conjures up these characters and the situation they found themselves in, inevitability and airy hopes and desires mixing, mingling, and grabbing hold.
       An impressive little work.

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The Man of Feeling: Reviews: Javier Marías: Other books by Javier Marías under review: Books about Javier Marías under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Spanish literature under review

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Javier Marías lived 1951 to 2022.

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© 2003-2023 the complete review

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