Thursday, 20 August 2015

Javier's maze

Amongst other presents for my birthday, Adri got me a voucher, that kind of gift card you can spend in a bookshop. It was gone in less than 24 hours.

I got a couple of books: one was a planned purchase, Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", now waiting not so patiently in the stack I got for my coming vacation.
The other one was an impulse purchase.

Few days before my birthday, unable to sleep, I thought the best thing to do at 2 o'clock in the morning was to watch the movie "Richard III".

The logical step after that was to watch "Looking for Richard". And I mean watching it straight after the previous movie ended. Needless to say the morning after I looked and felt like s**t. It was one of those rare moment where appearance and being coincide perfectly: crap, inside & out.

And then, there I was, in the bookshop few days later, feeling quite ok, with my roman history book, heading for the cashier, thinking I was still going to have about half the value of the voucher to spend on the next visit to the shop. Then my eyes fell on a book.

Its dark cover is a detail from Matthias Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece. The words forming the title stand out in bright orange on the black background: "Tomorow in the battle think on me" by Javier Marías.
It took me more than a month to finish reading it.

Aside my usual issue of forgetting books in the office or temporarily misplace them in between the pile of laundry that will eventually get sorted, this book forced me to slow down a lot in its reading.

In a way it's like reading Joyce, it follows his own stream of consciousness and you need to tag along and hope to not get lost.
And it happened a lot of times.

At the beginning everything was ok: Marta invites Victor to dinner while her husband is in London. The night takes an unexpected but definitive turn for the worse for Marta when, while undressing, she feels suddenly ill and dies. Victor leaves the house after setting some food for Marta's 2-year-old kid who's sleeping in his bedroom and then...
Then, even reaching that point in the story proved quite challenging and we're barely 40-50 pages in the story.

One moment I was "Ok, cool, got it, let's see what happen next" and 3 pages later I would just stop. "Uh? What the hell was happening. Am I still reading the same story?"
More than once I had to go back to the last sentence that still made some remote sense to me and start back from there.
Javier was taking the plot in a specific direction, moving across swiftly, linking words and moments in the past, present and future. In the meanwhile, I was trudging behind, trying to catch up with him only to wander in the wrong direction.

I was about to toss the book across the room once only to realize I was sitting on a train coach and it wouldn't look normal or nice doing so.

Eventually I found a solution. I went back to basics. As back to 1st grade basis: I applied the same tactic of when my teacher forced me to read an awful book about Davey Crockett and then summarize it. It was dreadful, but if that didn't put me off literature I doubt anything ever will.
So I took a ruler and started using it to follow the words.

Word after word. Line after line.
I read it moving my lips as if I still was a kid and the actions of my lip could make the words sound louder in my brain.

I finished the book on Saturday morning, while drinking tea in a cafe in Farnham and nursing the holy mother of all hangovers (note to self: next time stop at the 3rd gin & tonic, you dumb-ass!): I should have probably read the whole book with an hangover as everything seemed to make more sense on Saturday, yet I'm not sure I "liked" the book.

It falls in that category of book that I didn't enjoy reading per se but that, at the same time, I could not simple set down and stop reading.
Doubtless he's good at writing and has a very good Italian translator, but I got no clue what all these pages were about. Literary exercise perhaps?
I guess "annoying" is the closest I can get to a definition, but it's not exactly precise, as usually I don't try to do things I find annoying... unless they involve me receiving a salary at the end of the month, but that is called "work" and falls into another altogether different category.

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