Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias

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I may have shared with you how I often feel a stranger in this world. When a writer is able to tap into that emotion, to make me reread a sentence because he has just described a way I’ve felt, it is a somewhat rare occurrence. But Javier Marias is one of the few writers who is able to do just that, touch a piece of my heart and make it feel a little less alone.

Take for example, this early description of Beatriz’ troubled marriage, which faintly mirrors my experience with my first husband:

“Perhaps that was her curse, her main problem,  and one of the reasons why she still loved him so much: he made her laugh and he always had. It’s very hard not to stay in love with or be captivated by someone who makes us laugh and does so even though he often mistreats us; the hardest thing to give up is that companionable laughter, once you’ve met someone and decided to stay with them. (When you have a clear memory of that shared laughter and it occasionally recurs, even if only very infrequently and even though the intervals between are long and bitter.)” p. 66

Film director Eduardo Muriel’s story is told by the twenty-three year old young man, Juan De Vere, and perhaps it is his naive perspective that lends this novel a coming of age feel. He knows very little of marriage, of adult manipulations or despair, and as the lives of Eduardo and his wife, Beatriz Noguera, unfold before our eyes we see through young de Vere’s perspective how bad begins.

This line comes from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, “Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.” It is in part, of course, the title, but it is also a major theme of the novel. “What is ‘the bad’?” we ask ourselves, “and how did it begin?”

Could it be the loss of a child? A lie told by one spouse to another in the beginning of their marriage? Infidelity? We read to discover what it is that makes Eduardo treat Beatriz so scornfully, in private, and what makes her leave the house for trysts with Dr. Jorge Van Vechten, or an even more private appointment in a room at the Hotel Wellington.

This is a novel which has bound me to it all week, alternating between highlighting passages and stopping to ponder them. It is just the kind of breathtaking work which Javier Marias writes, a writer who has become one of my favorite Spanish authors. I leave you with a few quotes which struck me as I read:

“It’s true, however, that we always arrive late in people’s lives, indeed, we generally arrive late for everything.” p. 327

“…a nostalgia for the life you discarded always lingers on in the inner depths of your being, and, during bad times, you seek refuge in it as you might in a daydream or a fantasy.” p. 414

“It reminds me of that expression that so perfectly defines us Spaniards: Quedarse uno tuerto por dejar al otra ciego-‘To put out your own eye while trying to make another man blind.'” p. 419

“As I said, you can’t just put a line through the past to erase it. Even once you’ve decided that you no longer want that past.” p. 420

 

 

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13 comments

    1. It’s a hefty one, Suko, in page length and more particularly content. At least for me, as I pondered what he had to say so thoroughly. But, he is a writer you should certainly try if you haven’t yet.

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  1. This really caught me: “(When you have a clear memory of that shared laughter and it occasionally recurs, even if only very infrequently and even though the intervals between are long and bitter.)”

    Anyone who’s read the literature on operant conditioning knows that intermittent reinforcement is far stronger than repetitive reinforcement. I can’t remember exactly why the researchers say that is, but I remember the lesson, and I’ve seen it in my own life. It’s easier to break away from a daily behavior than one that occurs randomly — as so many abused women have made clear.

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    1. You bring up partial reinforcement, Linda, a concept I learned in my psychology classses while an undergrad, but I usually connect the concept to behavior rather than emotions. The idea is that when a person is reinforced at unpredictable times, the behavior is learned slowly but takes longer to get rid of. As for laughter in a relationship, hmmmm. My husband made me laugh often, but unpredictably, and those times we shared certainly made me cling to him all the more (as Marias implies for his heroine). It’s an interesting connection you make. As always.

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  2. Have you read a lot of Marías? He’s one of my favourite writers, but I must admit that I didn’t really rate this one as highly as many of his others…

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    1. I read The Infatuations first, A Heart So White next, and then this. I liked this as much as The Infatuations, certainly. Which Spanish writers do you admire most? I haven’t read as many of them as I have, say, Japanese.

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      1. ‘The Infatuations’ was a book which, while good, didn’t really grab me as much as some others. ‘Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me’ is wonderful, but of course it’s the ‘Your Face Tomorrow’ trilogy that is his masterpiece 🙂

        Apart from Marías, I haven’t read that much Spanish fiction (much more Latin-American stuff in recent years), but Enrique Vila-Matas is another whose work I’ve enjoyed (he won our Shadow Prize for ‘Dublinesque’ in one of the years before you joined us…).

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        1. Thanks for reminding me about Your Face Tomorrow, a trilogy I have not read. I remember Dublinesque, as I believe that you and Gary both enjoyed it very much. I’m glad I’m on the Shadow Jury now!

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  3. I’ve yet to read this one. I loved the quotes you included. And I love how you connect so much with his writing. Definitely sounds like an author I need to start reading.

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  4. This is something I would enjoy reading, maybe in the summer because right now I have the craziest schedule ever…

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