Jacques Deza is working and living in London when Sir Peter Wheeler invites him to a buffet supper.
“A few friends and acquaintances are coming here for a buffet supper two weeks from Saturday; why don’t you come too, I know how alone you are in London.” (p. 23)
He is alone in London because he is separated from his wife, Luisa, which seems to be a source of sorrow for him even though they could not continue life as a couple. Deza imagines her not answering the phone when he calls because she has a male companion with her, and when she does call him back he cannot be sure that her explanation of being on the phone with her sister is wholly accurate. (Marias does a remarkable job of examining everyday life from every angle, as if he is revealing my own thoughts in the process.)
While at this buffet supper, Deza is introduced to Bertram Tupra who eventually hires him away from his post with BBC Radio to work exclusively for Tupra.
The work got off to a gradual start, by which I mean that once the contract had been agreed, they began giving me or asking me to undertake various tasks, which then increased in number, at a brisk but steady rate, and, after only a month, possibly less, I was a full-time employee, or so it seemed to me. These tasks took various forms, although their essence varied little or not at all, since this consisted in listening and noticing and interpreting and reporting back, in deciphering behaviors, attitudes, characters and scruples, indifferences and beliefs, egotisms, ambitions, loyalties, weaknesses, strengths, truths and contradictions; indecisiveness. What I interpreted were – in just three words – stories, people, lives.” (p. 212)
Is this not, I ask myself, exactly what Marias does as a writer? He interprets stories, people, and lives, exquisitely. He gives me much to think about as I progress through each of his novels. Within Fever and Spear, he touches on youth:
”When you’re young, as you know, you’re in a hurry and always afraid that you’re not living enough, you feel impatient and try to accelerate events, if you can, and so you load yourself up with them, I you stockpile them, the urgency of the young to accumulate scars and to forge a past, it’s so odd that sense of urgency. No one should be troubled by that ear, the old should teach them that, although I don’t know how, no one listens to the old any more.” (p. 99)
“We never know when we have entirely won someone’s trust, still less when we have lost it. I mean the trust of someone who would never speak of such things or make protestations of friendship or offer reproaches, or ever use those words – distrust, friendship, enmity, trust – or only as a mocking element in their normal representations and dialogues, as echoes or quotations of speeches and scenes from times past which always seem so ingenuous to us, just as today will seem tomorrow for whoever comes after, and only those who know this can save themselves the quickening pulse and the sharp intake of breath, and so not submit their veins to any unpleasant shocks.” (p. 183)
”…we forget what we say much more than what we hear, what we write much more than what we read, what we send much more than what we receive, that is why we barely count the insults we hand out to others, unlike those dealt out to us, which is why almost everyone harbors some grudge against someone.” (p. 199)
”It’s a very rare gift indeed nowadays, and becoming rarer, the gift of being able to see straight through people, clearly and without qualms, with neither good intentions nor bad, without effort, that is, without any fuss or squeamishness.” (p. 254)
Wheeler tells Deza that they are similar; they can both see people like that, clearly and without qualms, such that seeing was their gift to be placed in the service of others.
Near the end of the novel, a series of cartoons and pictures appear, which warn against speaking too much as your words may by heard by enemy spies. Wheeler tells Deza,
“But I don’t think there was ever a campaign like this one against ‘careless talk’, in which they not only put civilians on guard against possible spies, but recommended silence as the norm: people were prevailed upon not to speak, they were ordered, indeed exhorted, to keep silent. Suddenly people were made to see their own language as an invisible enemy, uncontrollable, unexpected and unpredictable, as the worst, most fearsome of enemies, like a terrible weapon which you, or anyone, could activate, and set off without ever knowing when it might unleash a bullet…” (p. 332)
It is ironic, then, that Wheeler suddenly becomes unable to speak himself as his papers fly away in the wind of a helicoptor which has suddenly appeared, hovering over their conversation. It all seems to reflect the times in Spain when Franco’s dictatorship required people to get around the censorship laws.
As I close the final pages, I am curious as to the identity of the woman who has rung his doorbell in the rain, saying, “Jaime, it’s me.” Who says, “It’s me” without being certain of being let in with no further identification? Deza’s story continues, and I will need to see what it contains in Volume 2 of Your Face Tomorrow. Javier Marias has left me hanging, but not without much to ponder.
(Thanks to Richard and Stu who have sponsored Spanish/Portuguese Lit Month and extended it into August.)