By Robert McCrum
A fine murder story is like a great love affair: an infinite catacomb of excitement, sorrow and desire. Apart from tales of love and death, what else matters to mankind’s stone-age brain? While we continue to push back the frontiers of knowledge, most recently in digital technology, our consciousness remains hard-wired with some very primitive storylines. The lasting challenge to literature is to achieve a satisfying marriage between high art and the low drives of a simple plot. The latter is usually much more demanding than the former. To find such a rapprochement in the pages of a novel is indeed a rare treat.
This is where Javier Marías, one of Spain’s greatest contemporary writers, steps into the picture. The son of a victim of Franco’s dictatorship, Marías is a characteristically European version of the literary man. He works as a distinguished translator, has a column in El País, and runs his own publishing house. He is also the author of two short story collections and 13 novels whose lyrical, conversational, and even errant, style has sponsored widespread literary admiration.
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