The Perils of Dancing – Javier Marias’ Trilogy

On F’s recommendation (always pleasant to pick up new reads on the recommendation of my readers), I have picked up Javier Marias’ trilogy – Your Face Tomorrow, beginning with the rather intrusive sounding Fever and Spear…which CR calls his version of a ‘Spanish Alice in Wonderland’. Puzzling and promising, I would say…

“The mechanisms of reflection and digression, broken down into their tiniest constituent parts, are always the focus of attention in Spanish novelist Marías’s sophisticated novels (A Heart So White; Dark Back of Time; etc.). In his leisurely, incisive latest, these preoccupations fuel a plot with a spy-novel gloss. Jaime Deza, separated from his wife in Madrid, is at loose ends in London when his old friend Sir Peter Wheeler, a retired Oxford don, introduces him to the head of a secret government bureau of elite analysts with the ability to see past people’s facades and predict their future behavior. A cocktail party test proves Deza to be one of the elect, and he goes to work clandestinely observing all sorts of people, from South American generals to pop stars. Deza also brings his finely tuned mind to bear on Wheeler’s mysterious past and on his own family history, both of which are shadowed by the Spanish Civil War. Marías’s long-drawn-out dance of withholding and revelation comes to a halt mid-step—the book is the first half of a single larger work, not a stand-alone volume—but readers with an appreciation for the author’s deliberate, exquisite prose won’t mind waiting for the second volume. (June 24) “Publisher’s Weekly

Work has been so fast-paced with the pending meeting coming up, and a scramble to get my report approved (with dividing opinions from the uppers’). Each time it is lunch, I feel a sense of guilt not being able to settle down properly and devote myself to exam preparation, but I can’t seem to translate seamlessly into another state of mind to properly memorize formulas. I feel like walking off the end of this world and hiding myself in a book and a glass of rose (which I’ve been craving for for a month, why is it so hard to find rose in Singapore?) or orange ices like the recent one I had in Orchard) and even if there is reading I need it to be frightfully absurd. I wonder if you might understand what I mean.

But for the moment here is a lovely quote from Javier Marias to revel in (from the beginning of Fever and Spear, with the various repetitions and variations as to the meaning of ‘telling’):

“Everything that happens to us, everything that we say or hear, everything we see with our own eyes or we articulate with our tongue, everything that enters through our ears, everything we are witness to (and for which we are therefore partly responsible) must find a recipient outside ourselves and we choose that recipient according to what happens or what we are told or even according to what we ourselves say. Each thing must be told to someone—though not necessarily always to the same person—and each thing will undergo a selection process, the way someone out shopping one afternoon might scrutinise, set aside and assess presents for the season to come. Everything must be told at least once although, as Rylands had determined, with all the weight of literary authority behind him, it must be told when the time is right or, which comes to the same thing, at the right moment, and sometimes, if you fail to recognize that right moment or deliberately let it pass, there will never again be another. That moment presents itself sometimes (usually) in an immediately unequivocal and urgent manner, but equally often, as is the case with the greatest secrets, it presents itself only dimly and only after decades have passed. But no secret can or should be kept from everybody for ever; once in life, once in the lifetime of that secret, it is obliged to find at least one recipient.
That’s why some people reappear in our lives.
That’s why we always condemn ourselves by what we say. Not by what we do.”

Salsa Dance

In the next scene, Marias traces the mental logic of the scene – the protagonist Deza is able to perceive his neighbor dancing, as he is used to watching for days on end, he cannot hear the music that they dance to.  So instead he begins playing the music he imagines they’re dancing to, in effect taking creative control of his–and their–environment.  And then Deza begins ‘dancing a dance that is his simulacrum of theirs’ – words of CR.

On the perils of dancing:

“I had started dancing, it was incredible, there I was alone in the house, as if I were no longer me, but my agile, athletic neighbor with the bony features and neat moustache, a clear case of visual and auditory contagion, of mimesis, encouraged, in fact, by my own musings. . . . [A]nd in my hands an open newspaper which, of course, I wasn’t reading, I had picked it up, I suppose, to provide an element of balance required by the dance.

And then I felt embarrassed, because when I turned to look properly at the original dancers, when I looked again–really looked this time, rather than while absorbed in my own thoughts–I had to assume that they, in turn, had heard my music during a brief pause in theirs–my window was open as where two of theirs–and they would have located me without difficulty, by tracing where the music was coming from; and, of course, they were amused to see me (the watchman watched, the hunter hinted, the spy spied upon, the dancer caught dancing), because now not only were the four of us dancing absurdly and wildly according to their choreography, there had been another contagion too, from me to them: they must have found my idea ingenious or imaginative, and so each of them was now holding an open newspaper, as if they were dancing with the pages, with the newspaper as partner.

I will be the rim of a stain that vainly resists removal when someone scrubs and rubs at the wood and cleans it all up; or like the trail of blood that is so hard to erase, but which does, in the end, disappear and is lost, so that there never was any trail of any blood spilled. I am snow on someone’s shoulders, slippery and docile, and the snow always stops falling. Nothing more. Or rather this: “Let it be changed into nothing, and let it be as if what was had never been.” That is what I will be, what was and has never been. That is, I will be time, which has never been seen, and which no one ever can see”.

The contrast between the snow and blood is evocative and acute, and the protagonist is unable to decide which he is or will be – and in that swaying moment in the middle of the rapturous dance, there is so much which surfaces in the midst of the last passage  in the persistence of memory. The protagonist realizes all at once that he will be as the ‘rim of a stain’, he cannot be properly effaced from the world, he is meant to be hidden behind the falsifying effects of an absurd surgery, he is influencing the world he lives in as Watcher.

How was the blood stain created? It remains a delicious, unresolved mystery…


Javier Marias is like JRV’s Dante, so hard to read though. JRV was by my side that day, penning through pages of Dante, observing the images and taking notes on the translations, it was beautiful to see his concentration.

Meanwhile Beansprouts, I shall stick to my sensational literature.

I found out this week, that a language called Old Persian exists. But each time I think of Old Persian, I think of a white persian cat, delicate and poised on a royal blue pillow. With an Aladdin like environment in the background…


2 responses to “The Perils of Dancing – Javier Marias’ Trilogy

  • wee zakal

    May I suggest Iain Banks (both M and M-less)? I assume you’ve already read Borges.

    • unefilleelegante

      Yes I will definitely get to reading them! Thanks 🙂 And do you mean…J Luis Borges? I have not tried that either, but I remember reading a lovely review about it…

      Thanks for the recommendations! 🙂

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