Books of the Year:

Javier Márias, A Heart So White
Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant

Two novels whose central theme is the unknowability of marriage: one's own, anyone else's. It seems fair to say, as My Dinner With Andre would also tell you, that coming to know someone better is also a process of finding them increasingly mysterious, a fair and charming trade-off that makes things comfortable and intimate and also forever new. A Heart So White focuses on the strangeness of marriage as an entrance to a certain kind of adult life, the need of making things new when moving in together, the odd light it throws on one's understanding of other peoples' relationships. It is a familiar mode of reflection for Márias, but it is also the peak of his execution. 

Casanova is defined more by its most intense structural choices. It begins with a post-war visit to the site of the titular restaurant, now a bombed-out shell in London, that sets an appropriate tone of melancholy; it announces right away its belief that marriage is an institution it is impossible to adequately explain, and then observes the manner in which several couples attempt to manage it; the narrator follows through on this belief by almost never talking about his own wife. I find this restraint, especially given the pseudo-autobiographical nature of the series, admirable: Nick the narrator gives almost nothing to Isobel, his wife, to do or say, and it's made clear that this is an act of fidelity of Nick towards Isobel, and of Powell to his wife: one can hardly imagine a new, current novel (or movie, or tv show) that could resist the urge to spill all the details, good, bad, and mundane, and think that divulgement constituted a noble commitment to reality--I take this to be the entire appeal of Knausgaard and My Struggle--whereas the reality is that these details are hard to explain and to give an accurate picture of.

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