Friday, April 22, 2011

All Souls

While reading Javier Marías' three-part Your Face Tomorrow, I didn't realize that the main character/narrator had appeared in some of the author's earlier works. When I came across that piece of information, reading some of the YFT discussions at Conversational Reading, I went out, bought and read All Souls, where (as far as I know) Marías originated his Oxonian Madrileño character, Jacques/Jaime/Jacobo Deza. Even though the action of All Souls takes place some years before the plot of Your Face Tomorrow begins, reading the first novel second enhanced my appreciation of both books and my understanding of Marías' style and thematic preoccupations. There are many parallels and resonances between the books - both have key scenes involving the main character following/observing someone in a museum, and both build up to the story of a suicide. Besides these parallel features, there are also many "callbacks" from All Souls in YFT - characters, stories, quotations, ideas - a theory of horror illustrated by a gypsy flower seller and a three-legged dog, to name one of the most memorable.

It doesn't seem as if Marías planned for All Souls to be the first in any kind of series of books featuring the character Deza (in fact, he isn't even named in All Souls, perhaps deliberately tempting the reader - despite a warning at the front of the book - to identify him with the author). In YFT, it seems that Marías had to find a way of bringing a character that he killed off in All Souls back to life because he wanted to write more about him. The solution, inventing a surviving brother with very similar life experiences, may seem contrived but it's hard to imagine how YFT could have existed without Marías solving this problem in some way, so central is this character (Rylands/Wheeler, revealed at the end of YFT to have been based on a real Oxford mentor figure of the author's) to the story. Apparently, there are other Marías novels with shared characters, including the follow-up/sequel to All Souls, Dark Back of Time, which I plan to read soon. Brief, brilliant, and surely one of the greatest "campus novels" (though it transcends that genre) outside of Lucky Jim, I can recommend All Souls without reservation to be read as an introduction to Marías or as a warm-up for or follow-up to Your Face Tomorrow.

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