There’s so much political correctness flying around these days I’m not sure how or if I should lump a novel by a writer from Spain together with one by a Colombian. So I won’t. Suffice it to say both books I’m recommending this time were originally written in Spanish.
Javier Marías (A Heart So White, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me) is one of Spain’s best known contemporary novelists and I’ve been a longtime fan. His books are ambitious, cerebral, witty and philosophical. The plot is often interrupted by digressive monologues, a device I usually don’t like, but Marías is just so damn smart his digressions are revelatory and fascinating.
His latest, Thus Bad Begins, set in post-Franco Spain, is the story of a young man who becomes assistant to a once-famous film director. It’s his usual dense stew of politics (in particular, the long shadow Franco cast over Spain for so many years), families, secrets, and sex, with a dose of Shakespeare thrown in for good measure. Marías combines a sort of coming of age story with the suspense of a thriller. You’ll want to stop and underline frequently as you read this novel.
Here are a couple of of my favorites:
… she had forgotten what many young men are like. She must have forgotten that for most of us any sexual relationship is still a miracle, a gift….
We never grow used to not speaking to the dead we once knew, to not telling them what we imagine would have amused or interested them. to not introducing them to the important people in our lives or any possible posthumous grandchildren, to not giving them the good or bad news that affects us and that perhaps would have affected them were they still in the world and able to know these things.
Colombian Juan Gabriel Vásquez is the author of The Sound of Things Falling, which uses the aftermath of the reign of another historical villain, Pablo Escobar, to tell the story of a country emotionally traumatized by the drug trade and encompasses larger themes of fate and death.
His new novel, Reputations, also set in Bogota, this time among the educated middle class whose lives are farther removed from the oppression of terrorism, is about an influential political cartoonist who comes to question his life’s work. In a book shorter than The Sound of Things Falling, Vásquez employs spare prose to describe how a traumatic past event demands that the protagonist reconsider his values. Corrupt politicians, the corrosive effect of fame, the unbridled power of the media—they’re all here. While ultimately not as successful as The Sound of Things Falling, this novel is a good read that makes us think about what goes on behind the headlines.