Thus bad begins

Javier Marías

Book - 2016

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FICTION/Marias Javier
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Love stories
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2016.
First American edition
Physical Description
443 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Main Author
Javier Marías (-)
Other Authors
Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

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. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Spanish novelist Marias established himself as a big name in America with 2013's The Infatuations, getting front-page coverage in the New York Times, national best-selling status, best-book nods, and a nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Here, young Juan de Vere becomes personal assistant to once glittering film director Eduardo Muriel. Soon he's investigating rumors about a family friend and his relationship with Muriel's glamorous but scorned wife, as well as secrets from the early days of Franco's regime. Says the Guardian, "a demonstration of what fiction at its best can achieve." [Page 69]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

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 [Page 85]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. Alvaro Enrigue's most recent novel, Sudden Death, was published in the U.S. by Riverhead. Enrigue was born in Mexico and lives in New York City. [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Taking a job under an eccentric film director while completing his university degree in 1980 Madrid, Juan de Vere is asked to investigate unsavory rumors surrounding a family friend and uncovers complications in his employer's marriage and wartime activities.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

**Named a Best Book of the Year by the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times**From the internationally acclaimed author of The Infatuations comes the mesmerizing story of a couple living in the shadow of a mysterious, unhappy history--a novel about the cruel, tender punishments we exact on those we love. Madrid, 1980. Juan de Vere, nearly finished with his university degree, takes a job as personal assistant to Eduardo Muriel, an eccentric, once-successful film director. Urbane, discreet, irreproachable, Muriel is an irresistible idol to the young man. But Muriel's voluptuous wife, Beatriz, inhabits their home like an unwanted ghost; and on the periphery of their lives is Dr. Jorge Van Vechten, a family friend implicated in unsavory rumors that Muriel now asks Juan to investigate. As Juan draws closer to the truth, he uncovers only more questions. What is at the root of Muriel's hostility toward his wife? How did Beatriz meet Van Vechten? What happened during the war? Marías leads us deep into the intrigues of these characters, through a daring exploration of rancor, suspicion, loyalty, trust, and the infinitely permeable boundaries between the deceptions perpetrated on us by others and those we inflict upon ourselves.