Someone once wrote of William Shawn during his reign as editor of The New Yorker that he favored the intellectual, meditative narrative. Stories in which nothing (almost) happens. The comment it seems to me applies also to Javier Marias. In my April 27 comments on Dark Back of Time I said, “For all its virtues–wonderful ideas, heady prose–there’s not much of a story and no juice. Too much of the head and not enough heart and gonads.” That goes double and triple for Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear.
I finished the book only because I’ve had a record year for quitting early, and I didn’t want to add to that record. However, the book jacket’s mention of a possible Nobel, favorable comparisons to Dovstoyeski, Proust, and Beckett (as if those three were all alike) seem to belong to the PR realm of Gov. Sanford comparing himself to King David.
The protagonist is a Spaniard named Jaime Deza, possessed of remarkable powers in assessing the motives and inclinations of people after only minimal observation of them. Deza finds himself at Oxford as a teacher, BBC commentator, and finally, as an agent for–well, for whom? And an agent who does what? He observes interviews and writes reports containing his insights into the interviewee’s character. He never knows whether his opinions are accepted or rejected or whether his work has any impact at all on anything.
He engages in erudite and arcane conversations and speculations with himself and with a British ex(?)-spy named Wheeler. They discuss past wars and romances and quote philosophers and writers. To what end is a mystery to me. As little as Deza knows about the effects of his work, the reader knows even less. The book is meandering, plotless–even the little plot of Dark Back of Time is not present–and fascinated with its own self-indulgent erudition and speculations.
All in all, Your Face Tomorrow is a turgid collection of comments and quotations without any resemblance to the Aristotelean requirements of a beginning, middle, or end. Usually, when I find myself at odds with those who lay kudos on a work which I can’t approach, I give the benefit of the doubt and attribute the fault to myself and let others proceed with their admiration. In this case, no. This is not a novel. It’s a collection of psychological, philosophical ruminations in thin disguise. Arid and unrewarding.