Sunday 30 August 2009
Don't believe the hype
Friends, if the word on the internets were to be believed (well, the narrow corners that I haunt anyway), Javier Marias's A Heart So White is the most super-fantastic novel that's ever been written, ever.
Maybe it is and I'm just a Philistine but I thought it was walking the edge of being really very bad. I admired parts of this book - in particular, the scene in which Juan, the narrator, meets his wife, Luisa. Both are working interpreters and both are present at a meeting between two major international politicians who can't speak one another's language; in this meeting, Juan is the interpreter and Luisa is the "net", the other interpreter who makes sure Juan is accurately conveying what each politician is saying.
He doesn't; he makes things up, things outrageously unconnected to what they actually say, and the politicians, as a result, begin to say truly interesting things to each other. What makes this scene so compelling is Juan's double perspective - he's both totally engaged in the conversation he's manipulating his uni-lingual victims into having and at the same time entirely aware of Luisa's body language, which is enticingly complicated, as she allows this manipulation to proceed.
Unfortunately, I found nothing else in A Heart So White half so compelling. Indeed, this book was, for the most part, just a slog for me as I continually found myself asking what the point of the narrator's experiences and extremely long and repetitive musings were.
Ostensibly about Juan's slow discovery (through the intercessions of others) of what happened to his father's first two wives, this was actually only really addressed at the very beginning and the very end of the novel. What happens in between I found alternately boring and irritating - and also almost entirely unconnected. To make matters worse, the ultimate revelation of Ranz's marriages previous to his marriage to Juan's mother, was entirely anti-climactic. I was neither shocked nor horrified, nor, it must be said, at all interested anymore.
And to answer your unspoken question, I kept reading just because of that one fantastic scene described above; I was hoping for one more flash of brilliance. But this scene was too good in the end; it simply doesn't belong in the wasteland that is A Heart So White. It must be evidence of chaos theory. If this book can't be considered a good reading experience, at least it can be seen as a good example of science at its most interesting. SCIENCE!!!!