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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Infatuations

Javier Marías

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Title: The Infatuations
Author: Javier Marías
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 338 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Infatuations - US
Los enamoramientos - US
The Infatuations - UK
The Infatuations - Canada
The Infatuations - India
Comme les amours - France
Die sterblich Verliebten - Deutschland
Gli innamoramenti - Italia
Los enamoramientos - España
  • Spanish title: Los enamoramientos
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa

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Our Assessment:

A- : nicely spun-out reflective tale of love and murder

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist B+ 19/3/2013 .
Financial Times . 22/3/2013 Isabel Berwick
The Guardian A 1/3/2013 Alberto Manguel
The Independent B+ 15/3/2013 Michael Eaude
The LA Times . 16/8/2013 Reed Johnson
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/8/2013 Edward St. Aubyn
The Observer A+ 9/3/2013 Robert McCrum
The Spectator . 9/3/2013 Lee Langley
Sunday Times . 17/3/2013 Adam Lively
The Telegraph . 14/3/2013 David Annand
TLS . 6/3/2013 Adam Thirlwell

  Review Consensus:

  Generally impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "For all the drama, Mr Marías is not much interested in plot. The book's power lies in its long sentences, translated with great agility by Margaret Jull Costa. Mr Marias can take a word or gesture and turn it like a diamond in the light, letting every facet shine. (...) But for all that’s dazzling in the book, its foundations are too flimsy." - The Economist

  • "María’s narrative is by turns dreamlike and prosaic, confirming the author’s status as a brilliant modern incarnation of the ancient storyteller, bringing together the living and the dead, the real and the imagined." - Isabel Berwick, Financial Times

  • "The classical themes of love, death and fate are explored with elegant intelligence by Marías in what is perhaps his best novel so far." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian

  • "The Infatuations is not Marías's greatest novel: the tale is slighter than in others and the set-piece tours de force not so exciting. There is less humour, too, despite several fine scenes. The novel is pleasurable in its rhythm and in the voice, with its insights and doubts. Few writers catch so well the inner rhythms of a -- neurotic -- person's mind." - Michael Eaude, The Independent

  • "Masquerading as melodrama, The Infatuations gradually unmasks itself as a philosophical crime-scene investigation, in which Marías' scalpel-like prose and microscopic observations lay bare the fragmented, indeterminate nature not only of our most intimate relationships but of everything we think we know about why we behave as we do. All is contingency in Marías' cool, clear-eyed worldview." - Reed Johnson, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Such a high level of reflection and digression (let’s not even get into the amount of literary allusion) might easily become too cerebral, but Marías’s powerful awareness of indecisiveness and delusion is born not only of a speculative frame of mind but of a penetrating empathy. (...) For established fans, The Infatuations will be another welcome shipment of Marías; for new readers it is as good a place to start as any." - Edward St. Aubyn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) murder story of archetypal simplicity whose slow unravelling becomes a vehicle for all the big questions about life, love and death. There are passages on almost every page that cry out for quotation. This may be a literary and metaphysical fiction, but it's never boring. Marías plays with perception, memory and guilt like a toreador. With every flourish of his literary cape, the enthralled reader is never allowed to forget that, in the end, the author will make a killing. (...) (A) haunting masterpiece of chilling exposition." - Robert McCrum, The Observer

  • "The Infatuations is a metaphysical exploration masquerading as a murder mystery. (...) Head-clutching stuff, but quietly addictive." - Lee Langley, The Spectator

  • "Marías’s novel is also a riposte to the relentless pacing of genre fiction. For as well as paring down the form he has extended it, telescoping time in such a way that he can articulate the moral and ethical assumptions that inform our seemingly intuitive decisions." - David Annand, The Telegraph

  • "It looks like both a love story and a murder mystery, but the surface plot is never the true plot. A plot is just a toy for thinking, and all of Marías’s narrators -- so often experts in other people’s words, whether as ghost writer, translator, spy, singer or, like María, a publisher -- are mavens of conjecture." - Adam Thirlwell, Times Literary Supplement

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 Infatuations is a tale of love and murder. There is a violent death that appears straightforward -- an unhinged man's brutal, senseless attack -- but ... maybe there's more to it. The narrator, María Dolz, doesn't even really know the victim, but she has long hovered in his outer orbit -- she takes her breakfast at the same café that he and his wife did, and she often observed them together -- and she is drawn a bit further in after his death. Love and attraction, in some of their variations, come to play significant roles, too. But, as one of the characters maintains:

     What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events do and to which we pay far more attention.
       That seems to be Javier Marías' credo, his ambition in his fictions (several of which, it should be remembered, are grounded in actual experience -- as here, too, it is surely no coïncidence that the narrator is named 'María' -- or that the man she takes up with, a close friend of the deceased and his widow, is named 'Javier'.) Nevertheless, plot does matter -- if only to hold the reader's attention for the duration -- and Marías has fashioned a fine and simple one here, a murder mystery of sorts, and a story of passions. Yes, Marías does have -- as his narrator says about her Javier --: "a marked tendency to discourse and expound and digress" -- but Marías has mastered that art (or made that his art), and it makes for a very agreeable digressive read, with just enough frisson.
       The man who gets killed is "Miguel Desvern or Deverne"; shoved from the scene right at the outset, it isn't even necessary to firmly fix his identity. María often observed him and his wife Luisa at breakfast, seduced by the ease and comfort of their devotion to one another (and amazed that they apparently still have so much to say to each other -- while she always sits over her coffee in solitary, stony silence). Miguel gets tragically murdered, but at least his assailant is captured at the scene. Eventually, María does approach Luisa, to express her condolences; she doesn't really get to know Luisa, but the meeting leads to her being introduced to close family friend Javier, with whom she begins an affair.
       The Infatuations is also a story about love(s) -- the (now severed) connection between Miguel and Luisa, as well the longings of several of the others characters, and specifically the idea of (as the Spanish title has it):
el enamoramiento -- the state of falling or being in love, or perhaps infatuation. I'm referring to the noun, the concept; the adjective, the condition, are admittedly more familiar, at least in French, though not in English, but there are words that approximate that meaning ...
       The novel is, to a certain extent, a murder-mystery, but that's far from Marías' main focus or concern: "I have a pretty good idea where you're going with this" the reader can echo María's words (and from far earlier on than she voices them). Even so, it's nicely done -- with just enough of the uncertainty and doubts that an authentic murder-mystery likely would raise. (In a typical touch to further muddle fact and fiction, Marías also employs the central figure from his earlier novella, Bad Nature, in a significant role.)
       An important supporting text is Balzac's Colonel Chabert, which Javier recounts and expounds on at considerable length. The story of a man who comes back from the dead, as it were, Chabert is a very different kind of presence than Miguel, but many of the issues raised in Balzac's tale apply here as well, and it's a nice layering of fiction Marías employs here -- suggesting, again, the lingering and pervasive influence a text can have, even long after we've read it, Marías' theory of fiction doubly-affirmed.
       The Infatuations is appealingly rambling, a story that may seem in summary flimsy but is, in fact, anything but, because it deals with the fundamentals of life and love -- in simple but still profound fashion. This isn't an overly ambitious book, but Marías' absolutely sure hand (and wonderful command of expression, as conveyed even in Margaret Jull Costa's translation), makes it a work of fiction that easily towers over most of what is currently being written and published.
       A very fine read, certainly recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 August 2013

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The Infatuations: Reviews: Javier Marías: Other books by Javier Marías under review: Books about Javier Marías under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Javier Marías lived 1951 to 2022.

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© 2013-2023 the complete review

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