Javier Marías is one of Spain’s most acclaimed contemporary novelists. He began writing fiction at an early age – the story ‘The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga’, included in his collection While the Women Are Sleeping, was written aged 14 – and after study at the Complutense University of Madrid spent several years translating English-language texts, including works by Thomas Browne, Laurence Sterne and Wallace Stevens.
The digressive and meditative tendencies of these writers are evident in Marías’s later fiction, particularly in his three-volume masterpiece Your Face Tomorrow, which has been hailed as one of the great works of twenty-first century literature. This Proustian spy novel maintains a taut, suspenseful narrative over 1000+ pages, while continually illuminating and questioning the unreliability of narrative, the (im)possibilities of translation, the contingencies of historical record, and the division between reality and fiction. These concerns are returned to throughout his oeuvre. Dark Back of Time, a semi-fictional memoir, takes as one of its subjects the critical misattributions of factual and fictional elements in an earlier novel, All Souls, which describes the activities of a Spanish lecturer at Oxford, where Marías taught translation theory for two years in the 1980s. The publication of All Souls, which includes a biographical sketch of the English writer John Gawsworth, led in 1997 to Marías being named the King of Redonda, an unpopulated island in the Antilles formerly ‘ruled’ by Gawsworth.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of his reign is the annual conferral of duchies upon writers and artists Marías admires, which include John Ashbery (Duke of Convexo), A. S. Byatt (Duchess of Morpho Eugenia), Francis Ford Coppola (Duke of Megalópolis) and W. G. Sebald (Duke of Vértigo). His latest novel, The Infatuations, characteristically combines a mysterious and gripping plot with extensive deviations into recurring themes of secrecy, betrayal, and the passage of time. The interview took place in Marías’s apartment, which overlooks a square in central Madrid. During our conversation, the windows of the apartment were alternately opened to aerate the smoke-filled room, and closed to keep out the sound of loudspeakers used by the many tourist guides below. Despite continually warning that he would not be, Marías was generous with his time, speaking for over three hours.