Javier Marías, the constant godson of Shakespeare

Javier Marías (Madrid, 1951-2022), fascinated by William Shakespeare, was basically a character from Shakespeare. He was brilliant, sophisticated, obsessive, with a world of his own, somewhere between dismissive and arrogant, intelligent and, sometimes, with masked subtlety or stark nonchalance, vindictive. And at the same time, with all that psychological baggage, he was one of the great Spanish novelists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

He used to define himself as a novelist, a columnist, a translator and often an editor, there is his publishing house Reino de Redonda, where he wanted to publish with care some of the books and authors that had always interested him. Javier Marías, victim of bilateral pneumonia, after several days in a coma, died yesterday in Madrid at the Quirón Clinic, at the age of 70.

An intense and literary life

He has had an intense life. And rich. Full of meanders that explain many details of her existence: her father was persecuted by the regime and emigrated to the United States, where she spent her childhood. Javier, the little boy Javier, the fourth of five brothers, lived in the house of the poet of the generation of 27 Jorge Guillén and very close to the house of Vladímir Nabokov, one of his later referents.

In that exile, parallel to that of his father, a Republican and disaffected against Francoism, he learned English very well and read a handful of classics for children and all audiences. Literature was imposed on him before adolescence. In the summer he would return to Spain, and he was aware that he belonged to a special family; His mother was the writer Dolores ‘Lolita’ Franco and one of his uncles was the erotic and horror filmmaker Jesús Franco.

He was a budding writer. He wrote a lot, and before the age of 20 he had already written novels, short stories, various prose, etc. He studied at the Colegio Estudio and then went to Paris and from there, in 1971, he brought his first novel: ‘En los dominios del lobo’. He was not yet 20 years old. He will alternate teaching with writing and translating: he translated into Spanish Laurence Sterne, his famous novel ‘Tristram Shandy’, Joseph Conrad, William Faul-kner (especially his lyrics), Robert Louis Stevenson and Karen Blixen , among others. He never gave up this trade, which is a form of reading and interpretation in which he enjoyed a lot.

Within the exceptional nuances of his life appears another of his teachers: Juan Benet, who offered him friendship, passion for literature and a way of seeing the world. In the evolution of his writing –he signed books such as ‘El hombre sentimental’ (1986), ‘Todos las almas’ (1989), ‘Corazón tan blanco’ (1992) or ‘Black back of time’ (1998)–, he gradually developed aspects that interest him: he works on writing, with long sentences and enveloping subordination, as if he were a musician. With an instinct for improvement, with an aspiration to purity, precision and beauty. And that will be his stubbornness: in each of his novels, trilogies sometimes like ‘Your face tomorrow’ (‘Fever and spear’, 2002; ‘Dance and dream’, 2004; and ‘Poison and shadow and goodbye ‘, 2007), it creates wandering writers and creatures who try to tell their story and forge a universe with an elusive and seductive voice, anchored in a thousand mysterious angles, fabricating identities, almost always fleeing through the cracks of time.

It is the writer of the density that does not stop. In his books there is always a tapestry of characters, situations, enigmas, escapes, and he manages to establish a connection between them to which he himself is no stranger. There are, as in the novels of Enrique Vila-Matas, many disguised ‘alter egos’. He is one of the authors who displays his poetics of autofiction in the 90s with mastery.

Javier Marías was a lover of literature, a scholar, a dreamer confined to his house full of books. He was still typing and he, the heavy smoker who shared a house and library with his father, the one who lived a quiet love in Barcelona, ​​always surprised with his observations and bets. He had the ability to create characters that revolve around themselves, he created continuity plots where he addresses identity, memory, love, the weight of the past, the comings and goings of misfits, who moved as they pleased not only in the United Kingdom or the United States, where several of his texts take place, but through Paris or Spain.

Specifically, beyond Madrid and his neighborhood of Chamberí, he was constantly in love with Soria and financially supported Numancia, one of his football teams. The other was Real Madrid, as he has recalled in many of his articles and in the book ‘Wild and Sentimental’. In the days when Madrid and Barcelona faced each other, he wrote from his status as a merengue and Vázquez Montalbán did so as a culé.

The mirrors of a storyteller

He was a creator of voices and narrators, and he mixed narrative and essay like few others. He was obsessed with the point of view and who counts things. He madly admired Juan Benet and García Hortelano, in front of whom he would do acrobats like someone making merits or jokes.

Although there was always a cosmopolitan and Anglophile tendency in him, in his novels one can trace the traces of the Spanish Civil War, the grayness of the post-war period, the harassment and mistreatment of his father, some passions (one of his best novels is, without doubt, ‘Berta Island’).

And it did not matter to him to enter into controversies, whether it was with Antonio Muñoz Molina or Arturo Pérez-Reverte, with Jorge Herralde (who was the editor who discovered him and supported him for years until a traumatic breakup) or Gracia Querejeta, whom he took to trial for disagreeing with a film adaptation: ‘The Last Voyage of Robert Rylands’, based on ‘All Souls’.

It sounded annually between the nominations for the Nobel Prize (he is a writer of the lineage of WG Sebald, Orhan Pamuk, Mircea Cartarescu or Martin Amis, for example) and also for the Cervantes, although this was more unlikely because he rejected the state prizes. He did it with the 2012 National Narrative Prize, in which he beat the Aragonese Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and his novel ‘El día de Mañana’: Marías rejected the award and the economic amount of it.

He was an academic since 2008 in the R chair (he entered the company of José Luis Borau from Aragon and Darío Villanueva from Galicia), and inherited the place of Fernando Lázaro Carreter from Zaragoza. He had a close relationship with HERALDO: advanced some text and recalled that it had been the writer and literary critic from Zaragoza César Pérez Gracia, a collaborator of the newspaper, who had discovered that ‘Tomorrow in battle think of me’, the title of one of his most widely read books, was a quote from Shakespeare .

He had many readers not only in Spain but all over the world. In the articles he was sincere and defiant. One of the most beautiful books of his trajectory is ‘Written Lives’ (Siruela, 1992), where he reflects on the trajectories of some writers who are in the DNA of his fiction. And another, delicious one, by a very fine literary columnist, is ‘past passions’: he portrays Benet, Luis Antonio de Villena, his uncle Jess Franco with absolute mastery.

With ‘Berta Isla’ (2017) and Tomás Nevinson (2021) he once again demonstrated that he was a novelist as peculiar as he was exceptional, ambitious, owner of a world based on details, on time management and on the paths that fork in memory and obsession.

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Javier Marías, the constant godson of Shakespeare