What’s it all about? In short: the finality of death.
Beginning with the type of verbal ambiguity I’ve come to expect and love from his work, Javier Marías begins his new novel, The Infatuations, with this line: “The last time I saw Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time his wife, Luisa, saw him...” And so, we already have some confusion over who this Miguel is, and within the same sentence we have the stock woman’s name - “Luisa” - that readers of Marías will come to recognize at once. Uncertainty and ambiguity are sure to ensue, and in fact they do in myriad ways. Digressive paths lead to thoughts about what a murdered man (Miguel) might have thought as he was being stabbed, what people think when they have lost someone dear, or even lost an acquaintance or even someone unimportant in their life. There’s even a digression on the tedious nature of writers to their publishing houses, including a complaint against a writer who still turns in his work off of a typewriter and a writer who is constantly in contention for the Nobel prize, or at least is said to be by his publicists (both self-deprecating nods to Marías himself). Above all, there is the uncertainty of knowledge of any kind. Even though there are explorations of thoughts on grief, love, and life, and even though the characters are surprisingly able to fathom the thoughts and motivations of others (as most Marías characters tend to do), everything is covered in uncertainty.
Except death. Not only is death a finality, it is explored and defined in the first few pages of this novel in a manor that illustrates the terrible and unalterable state of death in the world of the living. Our dead dear ones are gone and “we can no longer count on them, not even for the most petty thing.” Again and again, this idea comes back. It is a striking certainty in the uncertain world of Javier Marias. It is so certain that I doubt it will be all that certain by the end of the novel. Marías loves the idea of the ghost, and beyond the surface of murder mystery this is billed to be, I sense a ghost story of the most honest kind: one where people are haunted by the memories of the dead, which are far more powerful than the actual presences of the dead. As to certainty, our narrator says it best: “being certain of anything goes against our nature.”