The novel begins with, "I did not want to know but I have since come to know...," permitting the reader a glimpse at the jumps in time they will travel in this thinly but beautifully plotted faux mystery. The suicide of a young woman just back from her honeymoon follows this opening phrase, a conundrum that Juan thinks more and more about as he marries and fumbles through his first year of connubial confusion. The young woman was his father's second wife, Juan's aunt and a subject that his father refuses to engage. Juan knows equally little about his father's first wife. But as the opening line suggests, Juan has not pursued answers about these topics and many other things because he simply does not want to know. Acquiring those answers might risk him having to engage in that shared knowledge or in an unwelcome dialogue or having his hand forced in how he writes his own story. Evasion is the rule of the day.
"Sometimes I have the feeling that nothing that happens happens, because nothing happens without interruption, nothing lasts or endures or is ceaselessly remembered, and even the most monotonous or routine of existences, by its apparent repetitiveness, gradually cancels itself out, negates itself, until nothing is anything and no one is anyone they were before, and the weak wheel of the world is pushed along by forgetful beings who hear and see and know what is not said, never happens, is unknowable and unverifiable. What takes place is identical to what doesn't take place, what we dismiss or allow to slip by us is identical to what we accept and seize, what we experience identical to what we never try, and yet we spend our lives in the process of choosing and rejecting and selecting, in drawing a line to separate these identical things and make of our story a unique story that we can remember and that can be told."
So in choosing and rejecting and crafting that story, Juan listens and observes, often apart from that which commands his attention. He listens in his capacity as a professional translator, he listens to a story unfolding in a room next door while he is on his honeymoon, he listens to those that may inform the family story he tries to construct, and he listens finally to his father's truths in a dramatic closing section of the book.
But Juan is no longer alone, and his marriage forces his hand in determining what is shared and what remains in the shadows. He and his wife fell in love over a shared secret of how he translated a conversation between two heads of state, of how he reshaped their dialogue to suit his own whim, creating in part the conversation he wishes them to have. But he and his wife do not share their thoughts on the conversation they hear in the next room on their honeymoon with her pretending to sleep and Juan pretending not to know that she is awake. Or the small details of how their lives together are unfolding. They draw back together only at the conclusion when she arranges an opportunity for Juan to listen to the secrets he wishes to have answers for without having to engage the confessor. And thus husband and wife strengthen their bond through shared knowledge.
When that revelatory conversation occurs near the novel's end, Juan reflects on it by employing almost the same observations and language that exist in the long quote above from the beginning of the text. That use of repetition impresses me mightily because it says so much about the constructs of this or any novel, the writing process, the sheer number of times we might think through something again and again before we arrive at a satisfactory though perhaps not accurate conclusion. Marías does this boldly and purposefully, and the ride through Juan's thoughts is worth so much more to me than the mystery here. I know that some have said this is not their favorite Marías, but I wonder if there can be a bad read from him. I've yet to find one. I'm besotted as usual.