Apparently Must Have These Now

Javier Marias, The Dark Back of Time: Marias was first suggested to me by Roberto Bolaño, who mentioned him in approving tones in Between Parentheses. Bolaño's plots are all driven by movie conventions and genre, with a narrative propulsion central to what he does. Marias is the opposite of this, something like Proust with the long, winding sentences of Henry James, but driven by a mania for completion: the same character names and details are repeated from novel to novel, and much of this one is devoted to filling in the backstory of the only non-fictional characters in his previous novel All Souls. To read him, one must enjoy his authorial voice, since the book is spent almost exclusively in its company. It's a novelistic version of My Dinner with Andre: a series of monologues well-told.

And, like My Dinner with Andre, the theme emerges rather surprisingly at the end. It has looked like a series of disconnected stories, but it isn't--people claim to like reality, but interlace it with fiction even in their supposed memories: it's better to invent than not to know, better to have narrative finality that accept randomness. This explains why most autobiographies are bad. In addition to people being unable to understand the truth about themselves, the autobiography always begins with the part given (false, imposed) narrative scope over the course of many years, and ends with events that cannot be put into any narrative at all, and so must wander aimlessly. The narrative impulse in fiction is not problematic because the author controls all the terms of the universe, but the narrative impulse in life makes for real distortions, usually at the expense of people no longer around to correct the record.

No comments: