Saturday, November 12, 2011

Your Face Tomorrow: Continuing Thoughts

Having now completed the second volume of Javier Marias's masterful Your Face Tomorrow, Dance and Dream, I am more confident than ever in proclaiming it to be one of the great works of literature in this or any other age.

I have no doubt that a lot of people, were they to attempt reading it, would probably very quickly set it down again in disgust and confusion over the sheer amount of space Marias devotes to the narrator's thoughts, or continue reading and dull their reaction because they don't understand why it has been written in such a fashion. The truth is (and I say this not because this is the primary style of my own writing), this is exactly how literature should be, except most readers have spent their lives reading strictly journalistic descriptions of experiences rather than introspective, probing, expansive thought, the kind that Marias excels in expressing.

That is not to say that Your Face Tomorrow is completely unrecognizable, since it is familiar, in many senses. Having recently read a number of Roberto Bolano's books, I find much that I recognize from modern world literature, the kind that is deeply enmeshed with the memories of the past century, the atrocities too many civilizations have lived through. Some critics have alluded to Marcel Proust in the book's general ambition and existential nature, but Your Face Tomorrow is so much more than that. As Marias himself briefly mentions, there's a far more relevant example to draw from, Tristram Shandy (there is even a character named Toby, if you need a direct link), a book about a man trying to reflect on the experiences and associations that shaped his life. Like Shandy, the narrator, Jacques Deza, is constantly being sidetracked, although like several characters he always circles back around, which makes Marias more disciplined, more focused, than Laurence Sterne (who in fact didn't finish his book for all his meanderings).

Your Face Tomorrow is about observation, yes, but it's about infinite reflection, about a sensitive man trying to make sense of a world that often baffles such undertakings. It is exactly the kind of literature more people should read.

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