Author: Javier Marias
Translated from Spanish by: Margaret Jull Costa
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, 2013
This is a novel that revolves round a murder mystery, but there is not a single police officer or detective in it. There is no investigation of the murder because the murderer is an insane person with a motive. The narrator of the novel, Maria, knows more. There is a cunning person behind the murderer, and Maria learns soon that “the most powerful and most cunning of people never dirty their own hands or their own tongue.” They know how to do the dirty deeds by using other people as instruments.
The novel is about such people. The novel is about the prevalence of evil in human life. Right from the beginning of the human civilisation we find the same kind of crimes repeated endlessly, ad nauseam. “The worst thing is that so many disparate individuals in every age and every country – each on his own account and at his own risk, should all choose the same methods of robbery, deception, murder or betrayal against the friends, colleagues, brothers, sisters, parents, children, husbands, wives, or lovers of whom they now wish to dispose, and who were doubtless the very people whom they once loved most, for whom, at another time, they would have given their life or killed anyone who threatened them...” The same character, the protagonist of the novel, goes on to say, “We see the same wicked feelings repeated over and over, and nothing can correct them...”
The Infatuations is a metaphysical novel about evil. There is very little by way of plot. In fact the first one-third of the novel does not read like a novel; there’s no story really. Even when the plot begins, there’s very little progress. Yet the novel is a masterpiece. And that precisely is the author’s success. He keeps you enchanted. His words dig into your imagination like penetrating needles. He shocks you out of complacence. He forces you to think, think differently from what you’ve been doing so far.
The title of the novel refers to the relationship that most human beings establish with life and other people. “We live quite happily with a thousand unresolved mysteries that occupy our minds for ten minutes in the morning and are then forgotten... We don’t want to go too deeply into anything or linger too long over any event or story, we need to have our attention shifted from one thing to another, to be given a constantly renewed supply of other people’s misfortunes...” Infatuation is a superficial relationship.
The novel touches upon such specific evils as envy and hate. There are at least two places in the novel where envy is shown as a poison that is often “engendered in the breasts of those who are and who we believe to be our closest friends, in whom we trust; they are far more dangerous than our declared enemies.”
Evil is coeval with mankind. There’s no escape from it. Very few criminals get caught. Human societies have learnt to accommodate evils of various types. Truth is never clear in such a world; “it’s always a tangled mess.”
Caught in that tangled mess, the wise person would assume that prudence is the ideal virtue.
The novelist, Marias, brings in a lot of literary allusions many of which are explained in necessary detail to show the prevalence of evil throughout human history. Occasionally ‘novel’ itself becomes a dominant theme in the book. “... once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matter are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with...”
The Infatuations does open in our mind’s eye a vast world of possibilities and ideas. That’s the greatest achievement of the book. It disturbs us; that's an added achievement of the book.