Berta Isla

Javier Marías

Book - 2019

"Berta Isla thought she knew what to expect from life. When she was a young girl she decided she had found her match in Tomás Nevinson--the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her class with an extraordinary gift for languages--so she was even able to endure their time apart while Tomás studied at Oxford. But after his graduation, he returns to Madrid a changed man. Distracted, sullen, and anxious, Berta's new husband has become a stranger to her, and she begins to suspect that... his mysterious job at the Foreign Office is responsible. But it's more than just that: Tomás has unwittingly set in motion events that will derail forever the life they had planned. With unerring insight into the most shadowed corners of the human soul, Marías plunges the reader into the growing chasm between Berta and Tomás and the decisions that irreversibly change the course of the couple's fate. Berta Isla is a novel of love and truth, fear and secrecy, and the destinies we bring upon ourselves"--

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Subjects
Genres
Domestic fiction
Spy fiction
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2019.
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Spanish
Physical Description
479 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN
9780525521365
0525521364
Main Author
Javier Marías (author)
Other Authors
Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Acclaimed author Marías has been described as a novelist posing as a philosopher—but one who surprises readers by providing a plot, after all. And so it is in this novel about a marriage imbued with secrecy. Berta Isla and Tomás Nevinson meet as teens in school in Madrid in the 1960s and soon are a declared couple. Yet both lose their virginity to others when college separates them, she after a chance encounter in Madrid, he in Oxford in an emotionless, utilitarian sexual relationship that becomes key to determining a future not of his choice. Berta and Tomás finally marry in 1974, and he establishes a pattern of travelling between Oxford, where his work is based, and Madrid, where they live. His absences from his family become longer, and, when he leaves in April 1982, just as the Falklands War breaks out, he doesn't return, leaving Berta with their young son and daughter. What the future holds is revealed gradually in Marías' signature prose, with large chunks of exposition that may initially be off-putting, but through which the narrative flows smoothly, engulfing the reader. Marías has been touted as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature; this novel illustrates why. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Acclaimed author Marías has been described as a novelist posing as a philosopher—but one who surprises readers by providing a plot, after all. And so it is in this novel about a marriage imbued with secrecy. Berta Isla and Tomás Nevinson meet as teens in school in Madrid in the 1960s and soon are a declared couple. Yet both lose their virginity to others when college separates them, she after a chance encounter in Madrid, he in Oxford in an emotionless, utilitarian sexual relationship that becomes key to determining a future not of his choice. Berta and Tomás finally marry in 1974, and he establishes a pattern of travelling between Oxford, where his work is based, and Madrid, where they live. His absences from his family become longer, and, when he leaves in April 1982, just as the Falklands War breaks out, he doesn't return, leaving Berta with their young son and daughter. What the future holds is revealed gradually in Marías' signature prose, with large chunks of exposition that may initially be off-putting, but through which the narrative flows smoothly, engulfing the reader. Marías has been touted as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature; this novel illustrates why. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Schoolgirl Berta Isla sets her sights on Tomás Nevinson, the half-Spanish, half-English charmer who thrills everyone with his gift for languages. But he's a different man when he returns to Madrid from his Oxford studies, having been approached (though not to her knowledge) by British intelligence. From International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award winner Javier. Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

In a tale set between 1969 and 1995 and moving between Madrid and Oxford/London, the polyglot half-Spanish, half-English Tom Nevinson marries his longtime schoolmate Berta Isla but is blackmailed into working for the British intelligence service, where his linguistic expertise is critically needed. Tom is typically absent from his Madrid home for long periods of time, but one day he inexplicably disappears entirely. Like the legendary Penelope, Berta awaits the return of her husband, whose whereabouts are unknown. Though the narrative has a spy-novel premise, very little espionage-inspired intrigue occurs, as we never ascertain the specifics of Tom's job. Here, Marías reverts to his earlier works: Oxford professor Peter Wheeler and the unctuous MI6 officer Bertram Tupra from the "Your Face Tomorrow" trilogy play major roles, and, as in The Infatuations, there's a female narrator, with Berta relating the events in five of the nine chapters. Likewise, the plot revolves around Marías's thematic hallmarks of deception and pretense and characters assuming different personas. VERDICT With his typical serpentine, digressive phraseology; reflexive posing; and intertextual incorporation of English authors (T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, and, of course, William Shakespeare), Marías succeeds in creating his own fictional world, though an unexpected recognition scene is somewhat far-fetched. In all, he continues to validate his well-deserved global reputation. [See Prepub Alert, 22/18/19.]—Lawrence Olszewski, North Central State Coll., Mansfield, OH Copyright 2019 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Marías (Thus Bad Begins) transforms a spy thriller into an eloquent depiction of those left behind at home in this rich novel. Popular, beautiful Berta Isla decides she will marry Tomás Nevinson, a half-Spanish, half-British classmate with a preternatural ability to learn languages, while they are students together in mid-1960s Madrid. During his studies at Oxford, Tomás is recruited by a professor to use his abilities with languages and accents to serve as an infiltrator for the British Secret Intelligence Service . He demurs, until he is accused of murdering his British lover and needs help evading the charge. Marías toggles to Berta as a narrator for Tomás's return to Spain, their marriage in 1974, and his cover job for the British Embassy. Berta struggles to cope with her husband's long, mysterious absences and forces a confession about his real job after a terrifying threat on their young son's life. Tomás offers scant details of his work, which only partially satisfies Berta, who spars with him. When he leaves on assignment just before the start of the Falklands War in 1982, Berta's worries compound as his time away stretches into months and then years. Marías switches back to a third-person narrator for the gut-punching conclusion that explains what happened to Tomás. The espionage premise is initially enticing, but the real draw is the depth of Marías's characterization. This weighty novel rewards readers with the patience for its deliberate dissection of a marriage. (Aug.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"Berta Isla thought she knew what to expect from life. When she was a young girl she decided she had found her match in Tomás Nevinson--the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her class with an extraordinary gift for languages--so she was even able to endure their time apart while Tomás studied at Oxford. But after his graduation, he returns to Madrid a changed man. Distracted, sullen, and anxious, Berta's new husband has become a stranger to her, and she begins to suspect that his mysterious jobat the Foreign Office is responsible. But it's more than just that: Tomás has unwittingly set in motion events that will derail forever the life they had planned. With unerring insight into the most shadowed corners of the human soul, Marías plunges the reader into the growing chasm between Berta and Tomás and the decisions that irreversibly change the course of the couple's fate. Berta Isla is a novel of love and truth, fear and secrecy, and the destinies we bring upon ourselves"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Berta Isla navigates a growing estrangement with her Oxford-educated husband, whose secret encounter with a British intelligence services agent has derailed the life they planned together.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A woman unknowingly navigates a growing estrangement with her Oxford-educated fiancé, whose secret encounter with a British-intelligence-services agent has derailed the life they planned together. By the author of The Infatuations.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

From the award-winning, internationally best-selling Spanish writer, author of The Infatuations, comes a gripping new novel of intrigue and missed chances--at once a spy story and a profound examination of a marriage founded on secrets and lies.When Berta Isla was a schoolgirl, she decided she would marry Tomás Nevinson--the dashing half-Spanish, half-English boy in her class with an extraordinary gift for languages. But when Tomás returns to Madrid from his studies at Oxford, he is a changed man. Unbeknownst to her, he has been approached by an agent from the British intelligence services, and he has unwittingly set in motion events that will derail forever the life they had planned. With peerless insight into the most shadowed corners of the human soul, Marías plunges the reader into the growing chasm between Berta and Tomás and the decisions that irreversibly change the course of the couple's fate. Berta Isla is a novel of love and truth, fear and secrecy, buried identities, and the destinies we bring upon ourselves.