Javier Marías Says Almost Everyone Likes To Think Well Of Himself

Javier Marías Says Almost Everyone Likes To Think Well Of Himself

avier Marías published his first novel, Los dominios del lobo, in the spring of 1971. Now, half a century later, Tomás Nevinson appears , accompanying Berta Islawithout being its sequel, but conforming the same fascinating universe: a universe of spies, of secrets, of terrible moral decisions that reflect arduous political conflicts.

At the beginning of this transatlantic conversation —Marías replied in writing in Madrid to the questions I asked from Bogotá—, I wanted to inquire about how the place of fiction in her world had changed in these years. “Today there is little imagination and little fiction, and consequently they are discredited for convenience,” he told me.

“As far as I’m concerned, what started out as fun in my extreme youth essentially continues to be fun. If I didn’t have fun (at times) writing, I would stop doing it ”. After so long publishing books, on the other hand, Marías, at 69 years old, has decided to say “no more” to a specific aspect of the trade, or so he explained it to me.

“The worst thing in these 50 years is that I have spent them talking in hundreds of interviews about what I have done or myself, topics that bore me infinitely,” he told me. “This may be the last interview I do, or one of the last.”

I know you wrote about 400 pages of Tomás Nevinson in this new world that the pandemic brought us . Did the novel help you make sense of these days when everything from our work habits to our relationship with loneliness has been transformed?

Yes, without a doubt. If reading a novel can help to abstract, even more so writing it, although it is an infinitely slower and arduous task. During strict confinement, and later, Thomas Nevinson It was a haven for a few hours a day. I have sensed that, so to speak, when writing a novel a second brain starts up in me.

The first is the one who is with me all the time, the one who writes articles, nags and sometimes torments me, and talks and signs books with my name. The second just puts my name on the cover. Once the novel begins and the curtain rises (I don’t know if there are curtains anymore), a narrator speaks who is as much a character as the others, not Javier Marías.

Now I miss that second, which strangely overcomes almost all setbacks, personal and of the time. The problem is that, once deactivated, I find it almost impossible to reactivate it. Of course, for a novel to be able to abstract the reader, it has to be extremely interesting. The writer is almost always interested in what he is up to. If that is not the case,

The novel takes place in 1997 and 1998, in a setting marked by terrorist violence by ETA and the IRA. That is the axis from which Nevinson hangs his reflection: do we have the right to kill who perhaps will kill later? As often happens in your novels, the narrator builds the meaning of his story by going to other stories.

One of them is that of Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, who in 1936 remembers his encounter with a lonely Hitler in a random tavern. Had he had “the slightest glimpse” of what Hitler would do, he would have shot him dead on the spot.

There is also a scene from an old Fritz Lang movie, fictional, of course. Reck-Malleczewen’s case is striking, because he was neither a leftist nor a Jew. He was conservative, Prussian, Catholic, and yet he wrote what you quote.

What degree of despair and hatred led him to this clairvoyance, that he would have killed Hitler without batting an eye (who had not done much yet) “had he had a glimpse” of his major atrocities? It is an interesting question. Almost everyone likes to think highly of himself, and that he would be unable to kill in cold blood under any circumstances.

But many of those people are unfazed when, for example, the police kill a terrorist who has just killed peaceful bystanders or is still killing them. Rather feel relief. There is great hypocrisy. We do not want to be assassinated, but neither do we want to personally prevent it. Tupra and Nevinson are dedicated to what they do, and it is normal for them to say and think what — just for plausibility — they have to say and think.

They consider that their task is to “avoid misfortunes” and that they are misunderstood. They speak of themselves as the “unpleasant angels” who watch over the sleep of others, but they must remain hidden, and of course without any recognition. It is not my point of view (it is very difficult to pronounce on it), but it is yours.

They belong to the Secret Services, in which secrecy is essential, as well as treason and deception. Something that, moreover, to a very minor degree almost all of us practice. They speak of themselves as the “unpleasant angels” who watch over the sleep of others, but they must remain hidden, and of course without any recognition. It is not my point of view (it is very difficult to pronounce on it), but it is yours.

They belong to the Secret Services, in which secrecy is essential, as well as treason and deception. Something that, moreover, to a very minor degree almost all of us practice. They speak of themselves as the “unpleasant angels” who watch over the sleep of others, but they must remain hidden, and of course without any recognition. It is not my point of view (it is very difficult to pronounce on it), but it is yours.

They belong to the Secret Services, in which secrecy is essential, as well as treason and deception. Something that, moreover, to a very minor degree almost all of us practice.

During the reading, my memory frequently returned to Your face tomorrow. Like Jacobo Deza in that novel, Nevinson has a special talent that makes him interesting for the Secret Services and ends up facing him in difficult situations; Like Your Face Tomorrow, Tomás Nevinson speaks of the violence we exercise, of justice and injustice, of punishment and revenge. Are the two novels part of the same exploration?

Not only these two novels. I think the majority, at least since the very forgetful The Century, of 1983. But both in Tomás Nevinson and in Berta Isla as in Your face tomorrowThe character of Bertram Tupra (who was born in the latter) is present, someone who puts others before unsolvable dilemmas, who forces them to delve into things and people and to take risky positions and decisions, related not only to issues you mention, but also with life and death, who should preserve the first and who deserves the second.

He is a sympathetic and drastic man and very skeptical, as befits his profession, not only as a spy, but as a talent recruiter. But, as he says in the new novel, “hatred is unknown to us.” That is to say, he is someone who is rational and who is not guided by passions or emotions. Only for what is convenient for his task, which in principle is fair, or so he feels it.

Let me continue with this family resemblance. Like Your Face Tomorrow, Tomás Nevinson goes to the world of popular literature – the spy novel, from the very simple Ian Fleming to the more complex John le Carré – and presents it to us with a very high degree of formal demand. What is there in that universe that piques your interest?

I believe that life is largely composed, and although many people do not realize, what is hidden and hidden from us, that is always enough, even in simple souls, to use Flaubert’s expression. Of the difficulty – if not impossibility – of deciphering the others, both the politicians on whom we depend excessively and the people closest to us. As they say in the novel, “we all have our secret sorrows.”

Not only dry secrets, but also sadness, joy, secret regrets, and even intentions (most of which we do not fulfill). The world of espionage tells all that with incredible clarity. In a certain sense it is the maximum expression of the human, or in it it is manifested with less chiaroscuro than in any other. Many, many years ago I also wrote an article in which I pointed out the similarities between the spy and the novelist.

I don’t know what I said in it anymore, but I think the similarity is undeniable. If only because the novelist also finds out, unravels the story he writes as he does it. So it is at least in my case, the only one I can speak of with knowledge.

The novel is concerned with our inability to “read” others. “Here we study people,” Tupra tells the narrator, “we decipher them, we interpret them.” That idea of ​​the human being as a mysterious creature is important to you. One would say that the novel is the only place where we see others clearly.

We do not see them clearly in the novels either. Not at least in the good ones, in the ambiguous ones, in the non-edifying or moralistic or instructive ones. Today we are full of novels of this type, simplistic and therefore bad. In which the reader is told from the first to the last page who to condemn, whom to take pity on, who to censor.

Novels of doubtful victims and of doubtful executioners, with underlines and exaggerations, with a built-in instruction manual so that the reader is indignant with some and pity others. None of that overwhelming current will survive, in my opinion. Because life is complex and ambiguous, it constantly presents us with moral dilemmas, and most of them give us a lot to think about, to say the least.

Today too many people do not think, do not attend, they do not perceive the contradictions and inconsistencies of their positions taken. They never alight from these, no matter how difficult and thorny the case that is presented to them may be. But many others are shrouded in shadows, with their pros and cons. They are twilight. And that is what many contemporaries flatly reject.

They hate doubt, they hate the cracks in their monoliths. Even in novels and movies, which are increasingly intended to carry, as I have said, their moral instruction manual embedded in their pages and images and, what is worse, in their prose, in their planning, in their style. They hate doubt, they hate the cracks in their monoliths.

Even in novels and movies, which are increasingly intended to carry, as I have said, their moral instruction manual embedded in their pages and images and, what is worse, in their prose, in their planning, in their style. They hate doubt, they hate the cracks in their monoliths.

Even in novels and movies, which are increasingly intended to carry, as I have said, their moral instruction manual embedded in their pages and images and, what is worse, in their prose, in their planning, in their style.

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