Thus bad begins

Javier Marías

Book - 2016

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Romance fiction
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2016.
Main Author
Javier Marías (-)
Other Authors
Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
First American edition
Physical Description
443 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

THE KINGDOM OF SPEECH, by Tom Wolfe. (Back Bay/ Little, Brown, $15.99.) With his signature wit, Wolfe takes aim at evolution - or, as he sees it, a messy guess - baggy, boggy, soggy and leaking all over the place." Language, in his view, is not a logical byproduct of evolution but a tool that humans invented. The book also serves as a searing dismissal of academia, and of the linguistics professor Noam Chomsky.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 29, 2018]
Review by Booklist Review

The Spanish Civil War was a dark and complicated clash of cultural and political factions in the mid-1930s, resulting in the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. In highly respected Spanish novelist Marías' new work, his fourteenth, the setting is Madrid in 1980, and we quickly see that political tensions have continued to reverberate as demonstrated by the story of Juan De Vere, the young personal assistant to a prominent Spanish movie director, Eduardo Muriel. The first thing Juan observes is the distance between Muriel and his wife, Beatriz. What is the source of their animosity? And what is the role played in their lives by Muriel's friend, Dr. Jorge Van Vechten? As Juan pieces together Muriel's life story, he also wonders why Muriel has confided in him as much as he has. Years pass and Juan learns that the bonds of deceit and unhappiness are the strongest of all, as are those of error; they may bind even more closely than those of openness, contentment, and sincerity. Marías reveals how insidiously oppression skews personal lives and relationships year after year.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Reviewed by Alvaro Enrigue. Javier Marias has entered that rarefied space in which a writer becomes essential to society. He is a critical conscience who can express what philosophers and political scientists can't. The subtle perfection with which he exposes trivial acts, in turn revealing silent, shady agreements that add grease to the political machinery of society, has injected new vigor into the otherwise antiquated Spanish realism. His work is a call for political responsibility in everyday civil life. Marias sets Thus Bad Begins in an aberrant moment in recent Spanish history: the years between the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the moment in 1981 when the country overcame the shadow of Catholic totalitarianism by finally ratifying a law that allowed divorce in 1981. Thanks to family connections, a recent graduate from college gets a position as the personal assistant of a mid-ranking film director. The job description includes script correction, entertaining guests, and keeping company with the director's mentally abused wife. The novel takes off when the director asks the assistant to embark on a murky investigation to find out whether some ugly rumors about one of his friends are true. The research takes the young man through the last phases of his coming-of-age as he discovers that the liberties his generation enjoys are based on an agreement of silence between the winners and losers of the Spanish Civil War. This agreement translated into a humiliator/humiliated relationship during the unbearable 36 years of Franco's fundamentalist regime. The director's household-his miserable marriage, which can't be dissolved, and the court of literati and celebrities who make up his regular entourage-becomes a metaphor of the bigger house of Spain and the decisions taken by the political and cultural elites to rush into an open society, skipping all effort to bring any closure to past wounds. If historical periods were lives, Thus Bad Begins would be situated in the infancy of the democratic pro-European Spain of our time and its little dramas and glories, its actual deficiencies and virtues. It's not that Marias pretends to analyze Spain on the Freudian couch-Spanish society is famously impervious to psychoanalysis and its by-products; it's that by placing his story during that moment in history, the author can propose a theory about the reckless exchange of values in a society that went from ultraconservative to ultraliberal in record time. Marias acquired recognition as a master storyteller thanks to his natural hand at developing complex plot lines and a style that redefined the notion of precision in Spanish writing. As years go by, his writing-rendered into English with grace by Margaret Jull Costa so that I never felt as though I was reading a translation-is still that of a virtuoso. His storytelling has evolved into a more reflexive, denser, meditative voice. Thus Bad Begins is a novel, of course, but it could be perfectly read, too, as a beautiful, savage essay on hypocrisy. © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

After veteran film director Eduardo -Muriel hires 23-year-old Juan de Vere as his secretary, Juan begins spying on Eduardo's wife, Beatriz, and her alleged lover, a doctor friend of the family. Soon, Juan is enmeshed in an ever more complicated web of adultery, suicide, deception, and blackmail. The novel, set in 1980 Madrid and populated with real-life cinema personalities, references Shakespeare (a favorite Marías device), with the title taken from Hamlet and the protagonist's name recalling -Edward de Vere, whom some consider the author of Shakespeare's work. Typical of Marías (The Infatuations), the minimal plot starts slowly as Juan exhausts his thoughts, holding readers in suspense with hinted secrets, especially the reason for Muriel's abusive behavior toward Beatriz. Then the pace quickens as progressively more unexpected revelations are divulged. Though none of the characters is likable, flashes of humor offset the somewhat grim tone, as when Juan eavesdrops on a tryst from a tree and is caught by a nun. VERDICT Marías's latest resumes his trademark themes of the quest for truth and the haunting presence of Spain's civil war. Though still digressive, aphoristic, and drawn out, it pays off at the end as it wallops audiences with some startling twists. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/16.]--Lawrence Olszewski, North Central State Coll., Mansfield, OH © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The eternally fraught question of whether it is better to punish or forgive takes both personal and political forms in the celebrated Spanish novelists latest (The Infatuations, 2013, etc.). Just finishing up his degree in English, [p43,60] 23-year-old [p15] Juan de Vere [p5] goes to work for Eduardo Muriel, [p5]a past-his-prime film director who needs Juans help pitching projects to low-rent English-speaking producers like Harry Alan Towers [p60] (a historical figure whose real-life antics are deftly employed to underscore Marass central argument). Moving into a spare room in Muriels Madrid apartment, [p60] Juan witnesses the directors brutally disdainful treatment of his wife, Beatriz, [p5] including a late-night confrontation during which he bitterly blames her for a youthful deception disclosed many years later. Excavating the past is not a popular activity in Spain in 1980. [p127] Franco has been dead for nearly five years, and the country has its first elected government in four decades. [p33] With the promise of legalized divorce and other liberating measures in the air, denouncing someone for what they had done during the dictatorship or during the [Civil] War was unthinkable Juan says; exculpatory silence is the price we have to pay for a return to normality. [p35] Even though it is Muriel who asks Juan to investigate an ugly rumor about his longtime friend Jorge Van Vechten, [p42] a prominent doctor generally considered to have mitigated his loyalty to the fascist regime by treating persecuted Loyalist families free of charge, [p351] the director soon decides he doesnt want to know. His explanation, It doesnt matter if what I was told is true, [p271] could stand as a motto for post-Franco Spain. Maras neither condemns nor excuses this deliberate amnesia, preferring to focus on the mutability of truth and the mysteries of human behaviorthemes as familiar to his readers as the marvelously idiosyncratic sentences in which he winds through subordinate clauses and piles one idea on top of another to achieve a dazzling textual equivalent of lifes endless complexity. Another challenging, boundary-stretching work from Maras, complete with a jaw-dropping last-chapter revelation. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Eduardo Muriel had a thin moustache, as if he had first grown it when the actor Errol Flynn was still around and had then forgotten to change it or allow it to grow more thickly, one of those men of fixed habits as regards his appearance, the kind who doesn't notice that time passes and fashions change nor that he himself is growing older-- it's as if time did not concern him and so could be discounted, rendering him immune to its passing--and up to a point he was right not to worry about it or to pay it any attention: by attaching no importance to his age, he kept it at bay; by not giving in to it in external matters, he rejected it, and so the timid passing years--which make bold with almost everyone else--prowled and stalked, but didn't dare to claim him, did not take root in his mind or affect his appearance, merely casting upon it a very slow shower of sleet or shadow. He was tall, well above average height for a man of his generation, the generation just after my father's or possibly the same one. At first glance, his height made him seem strong and slim, although he didn't exactly conform to the manly stereotype: he had rather narrow shoulders, which made his belly seem larger, even though he carried no excess fat there or on his hips, from which emerged a pair of very long legs that he didn't know quite what to do with when he sat down: if he crossed them (and that, generally speaking, was his preferred position), the foot of the upper leg easily touched the floor, a pose also achieved--albeit by artificial means and with the aid of foreshortening and high heels--by certain women who are particularly proud of their calves and who prefer not to leave one leg dangling free or to become pushed out of shape by the supporting knee. Because of his narrow shoulders, Muriel used to wear jackets with carefully disguised shoulder pads, I think, or perhaps his tailor cut them in the form of an inverted trapezium (in the 1970s and 1980s, he still went to see his tailor or his tailor came to him, which was unusual even then). He had a very straight nose, with not a trace of a curve despite its good size, and his thick, predominantly dark brown hair (parted with a wet comb as doubtless his mother had done ever since he was a child--a tradition he had seen no reason to break with) had a sprinkling of grey. His thin moustache did little to diminish his bright, spontaneous, youthful smile. He tried to restrain that smile or repress it, but often failed, because there was in him an underlying spirit of joviality, or a past self that emerged easily and without the need to send a sounding line down very deep. Nor, on the other hand, was it to be found in very shallow waters, for in those there floated a certain bitterness, either habitual or unconscious, of which he felt he was not the cause, but possibly the victim. The most striking thing about him, though, when one saw him for the first time or came across a rare full-face photo in the newspaper, was the patch he wore over his right eye, a classic, theatrical or even filmic eyepatch, black and bulky and held in place by a thin black piece of elastic. I have always wondered why such eyepatches have a rough surface, I don't mean the cloth ones intended only as temporary protection, but the permanent, fitted ones made of some stiff, compact material. (It looked like Bakelite, and I often felt tempted to drum on it with my fingernails to find out how it felt, not that I ever tried this with my employer; I did, however, find out what it sounded like, because sometimes, when he was upset or irritated, but also whenever he paused to think before uttering a sentence or embarking on a speech, with his thumb tucked under one armpit as if it were the tiny riding whip of a soldier or a cavalryman reviewing his troops or his mounts, Muriel did exactly that, drumming on his eyepatch with the fingernails of his free hand, as if summoning the aid of his non-existent or useless eye; he must have liked the sound it made and it was rather pleasing, toc, toc, toc; although until one got used to the gesture it did make one cringe slightly, to see him invoking his absent eye.) Perhaps the somewhat bulky shape of the patch is intended to give the impression that there is an actual eye underneath, when there might only be an empty socket, a hollow, a dent, a depression. Perhaps those patches are convex precisely in order to contradict the awful concavity that, in some cases, they conceal; who knows, perhaps the cavity is filled by a polished sphere of white glass or marble, with the pupil and the iris painted on with pointless, perfect realism, an eye that will never be seen, always covered in black, or seen only by its owner at the end of the day, when, standing before the mirror, he wearily uncovers or perhaps removes it. And while the patch inevitably drew one's attention, his useful, visible eye, the left one, was no less striking, being of an intense dark blue, like the sea at evening or perhaps at night, and which, because it was alone, seemed to notice and register absolutely everything, as if it possessed both its own faculties and those of the other invisible, blind eye, or as though nature had wanted to compensate for the loss of its pair by making it more than usually penetrating. Such was the energy and speed of the left eye that I would, gradually and furtively, try to place myself out of its reach so as not to be wounded by its piercing gaze, until Muriel would tell me off: "Move a little to the right, I can barely see you there unless I lean sideways. Don't forget, my field of vision is more limited than yours." And at first, when I didn't know where to look--torn between that living, maritime eye and the dead, magnetic patch--he would have no hesitation in calling me to order: "Juan, I'm talking to you with the seeing eye, not the dead one, so please listen and don't get distracted by the eye that isn't saying a word." Muriel would openly refer to his halved vision, unlike those who draw an awkward veil of silence over any personal defect or disability, however conspicuous and dramatic: people who have had one arm amputated at the shoulder, but who never acknowledge the difficulties they face and do just about everything short of taking up juggling; one-legged people who scale Annapurna on crutches; blind people who go to the cinema and then make a fuss during the scenes with no dialogue, complaining that the image is out of focus; disabled people who pretend they're not wheelchair-bound and insist on trying to climb stairs rather than using the ramps that are available everywhere nowadays; men with heads like billiard balls, who, whenever there's a gust of wind, are constantly smoothing their non-existent hair and getting frustrated with their imaginary unruly mop. (Not that I'm criticizing them in the least, of course, they're free to do exactly as they like.) But the first time I asked him what had happened to his eye, how his silent eye had been struck dumb, he replied as brusquely as he did sometimes to people who annoyed him, although he rarely did so with me, for he usually treated me with great kindness and affection: "Let's get one thing straight: I don't employ you to ask me questions about matters that are none of your business." Excerpted from Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.