While the Women are Sleeping by Javier Marias
|While the Women are Sleeping by Javier Marias|
|Category: Short Stories|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A very good collection of unusual short stories with adult themes but a great intelligence in discussing them.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 144||Date: November 2011|
The first thing the trivially minded will note is that this is not the complete edition of While the Women are Sleeping, for not all the stories in the original Spanish volume are here. You might think that's because some have been hived off for a future 'best of' compilation. But if this isn't the best of Javier Marias, then I don't know what is.
The main story concerns two men discussing the death of adoring love in the sunniest piece of macabre you'll ever read - love can knock a generation off you, we learn through this bizarre example, but it always ends. Elsewhere a man meets and hates his spitting image, and decides to change things.
Commonly there's a first person narrative, even from beyond the grave. Similarly, there are letters apparently from the dead that seem to inspire sex - yes, there are those kinds of themes. Ghosts overhear people reading aloud, ghosts feature in schools. A further topic Marias returns to again and again seems to be the edge often present when people say who they claim to be - the example set in a bookseller's here is great.
The fact that this contains stories from several decades of Marias' long career means there is some connection from one story to another, but never any real repetition. Also, a quality level has been maintained by being selective. The fact that this has taken twenty years to appear in English is quite peculiar, for anybody writing these stories in English would be immediately noted for their slightly spooky, slightly edgy and instantly captivating tales. Still, there is a touch of the modern European literary style to things - check the very lengthy opening sentence to 'The Resignation Letter...' here to see what I mean - that means this is indeed preferable to many British or American short story collections.
Highlight for me perhaps is 'Lord Rendall's Song', where Marias pretends to be a completely different author entirely, writing a story where a man comes home to - what? his own ghost, his double, a fractured duality of his existence? It's not the only memorable tale here, containing by no means the only compelling image, and is not even the only example of perfection on these pages. Not all tales are of this superlative standard, but there's no room in this small book for things to go too far downhill, and Marias is able to make sure they never do. Definitely recommended.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
A similarly edgy collection of compact tales can be had with The Museum of Doctor Moses by Joyce Carol Oates.
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