The InfatuationsThe Infatuations by Javier Marías

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

this review refers to the audiobook version.

what a weird book! what a tightrope walk! a high-wire act! i don’t even know what to call it, it so does not resemble anything i’ve read before. which was thoroughly awesome in itself.

so, the setup: young-ish woman breakfasts at the same cafe every morning, and often sees The Perfect Couple there. she doesn’t know them, doesn’t talk to them, just sort of admires and gets a lift from their Perfect Couple-ness. then one day the husband is murdered.

so there’s a bit of a mystery here, although only a bit: why did the murderer off this perfectly nice guy? i bring up the mystery because it’s there, but it is not by any means the core of the book. it very gently propels the book along, sort of like a weak current pushes a boat. no, the real action in this book is all in the “digressions.”

the narrator–our young-ish woman–is quite possibly the most digressive narrator in the history of narrators. she can begin with some observation on the husband or the widow, and twenty minutes later (audiobook time) you find yourself in Napoleonic France or pondering how much the dead weigh upon a loved one. it’s downright weird, how these endless looping digressions are not extraneous to the story of the murdered man or his widow, but in fact are the story.

our narrator will go on and on, as if disassembling a house with only a sharpened spoon for a tool; nothing is too small to make smaller, nothing to minute not to warrant closer examination. after a while one almost begins to laugh in disbelief that the author would digress at such length, the sort of laugh that is really an expression of astonishment at such skill. as the digressions spin further and further out, it’s really very much like watching a high-wire act: you keep expecting the thing to fall, but it doesn’t.

i think if a writer wanted to take master classes on close analysis of emotion, reading this book would be a good way to do it. the author isn’t at all afraid to look under the rocks and tell us what is sliming or squirming around there, nor is he oblivious to all the brighter, happier, better sides of our rampaging emotional selves.

this book is surely not for someone who wants a take-me-away-from-it-all read, but damn… if you’re in the mood for an incredibly skillful dissection of how the emotional homunculous in your brain propels you to do stuff you know is not in your best interest, this is it.