I’d been sceptical of Marias. His prose style — with its endless circling, its repetitions, its pedantic tendency to descend into lists of attributes of the commonest things — had sometimes felt ponderous, unconsciously comical. His narrators — always fastidious, usually disengaged, or attempting to be so — were men I felt I needed to argue with, to counter or check in some way. It wasn’t a tenable position. Even as I argued, my objections felt hollow. This writing was already under my skin.
I’ve just finished reading Marias’s monumental novel Your Face Tomorrow (Tu rostro mañana 2002-7). Its three parts are a trilogy only in the sense that the manuscript seems to have been wrestled away from him occasionally and printed. It flows, in a bizarre, apparently meandering fashion, from the first of its 1500-odd pages to the last. What appears at first to be a static, almost inconsequential narration about a dull party hosted by a retired Oxford don, unfolds into an extraordinary story about violence, ethical choice, political power, history, memory, guilt, and sexuality. It’s formally extraordinary too — single images or phrases, many of them apparently banal, are returned to again and again, picked away at like scabs, until they burst open to reveal unexpected significance. It is a painstaking, almost forensic process, in which there is often a surprising seam of comedy. Right now I can’t think of a British or American novel of the last ten years to touch it.
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