Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear - the first book of three

Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear is the first book of a trilogy, and is presumably not meant to stand on its own, not entirely.  Or is it?  I have not read the other two books.  How would I know.  What I can do, what I can hardly resist doing, is wonder what will happen in the next two books.

No, stronger, stronger – this is what I should do, what I have to do, because I have 800 pages to read and only finite memory and concentration.  Where should I direct my attention; which parts of this book should I take with me, and which can I safely abandon?

If I turn to p. 282, for example, I find two lists of names.  The narrator has joined some sort of intelligence gathering operation and is examining its files.  The first list is of “some very famous entries: ‘Bacon, Francis’, ‘Blunt, Sir Anthony’, ‘Caine, Sir Michael (Maurice Joseph Micklewhite)’” and so forth, celebrities and politicians, presumably unrelated to the novel’s story, although a few have some thematic resonance, whether biographically like Blunt and John Le Carré, or through their stage names and pen names (the narrator is obsessed with names) like Michael Caine and John Le Carré.

But then there’s the second list, of nobodies, names that “meant nothing, being unknown to me: ‘Booth, Thomas’, ‘Dearlove, Richard’, ‘Marriott Roger (Alan Dobson)’” and many more.  If I were reading a Nabokov novel, this list would contain two traps, three snares, a private joke only understood by the author’s wife, and at least one clue that will be absolutely necessary 300 pages in the future.  I refer the skeptical reader to Lolita, I.11., Lolita’s class roster, “a poem I know already by heart.”  Does a Marías novel, or more importantly this Marías novel, work the same way?  One of the names is borrowed on the very next page, drafted as a pseudonym – perhaps Marías is done, then.  But: “I have an excellent memory for names,” the narrator warns me as he ends his list.  I don't!

A glance at the first few pages of the second volume tells me that the style and narrator continue as usual, without pause.  What, I wonder, do the breaks between books mean?  Perhaps the meaning is entirely commercial, one book for the price of three, with a handsome omnibus edition available in the near future.  Or the narrator may make a more subtle shift in his language or imagery or thematic interest.  Or he will just emit words until their accumulated weight crushes him.

Another glance, at the acknowledgements page of volume 2, lets me know that Rilke makes a return appearance.  I had better dogear page 346 of volume 1, with its quotation from the Duino Elegies.  I don’t know why I need it, but it seems I do.

It is just possible that something will happen in the second book.  It is a fine joke, a joke on the spy genre, how little happens in Fever and Spear.  There is, I admit, that frenetic action scene in which the narrator frantically searches the indices of a number of books, and what about the revelatory reading of an entry from Who’s Who?  I have a prediction about where this is all going, what the emphasis on talk and silence will get us, all based on the fact that Marías underlined a single sentence of his novel: “Amongst those arrested are several singularly beautiful foreign women.”  The underlining makes sense in context, but I am giving it an additional layer of meaning, treating it as a trick.  I am surely wrong; Marías surely has his own tricks, better ones.


  1. Yes, I too find myself wondering which bits to keep in mind as I venture into volume 2. Surely in the mass of words there are important plotty ones that will be needed later.

  2. What, I wonder, do the breaks between books mean?

    But remember, you are talking about the breaks between volumes here, the first one of which itself includes two books. Is there a meaning to the break between Fever and Spear? Other than as a way to drive the narrative, that is?

    And the names of those about a private joke, Deza begins referring to fevers and spears just a few pages in, as though we should understand what this all means--"I am my own fever," etc. (not looking it up just now). Or perhaps this is just some reference I don't know...

  3. Plotty words - oh, I don't know about that. Maybe. I'm thinking more of thematic connections. Every time Rilke is invoked, image X is also nearby, which links scenes A, L, and Q, which means ________. Plot can usually take care of itself.

    That's what I mean when I pay Marías the high compliment of reading him like Nabokov.

    Now, I was thinking of those parts as chapters, not books, but why? No reason besides the arbitrary divisions of a publisher. Or no reason that I understand! I never understood the "fever" and "spear" business.

    If each part is a "book," then there are seven total, which, like the long party scenes, is another mirroring or parody of Proust.

  4. I didn't finish the book, so I can't contribute much. I did read the the three books were written and published over a period of 5 years, maybe 7. That doesn't mean they aren't meant to be read as a single book, of course.

    Fascinating post, as usual.

  5. CB - it's like a modern form of serialization.

    The key aspect of the staggered publication, however the books are designed to be read, is that, as with a serial, Marías, writing later sections or sequels is constrained by what he has published. He has to paper over earlier mistakes, or be especially clever incorporating new ideas.

    The "trilogy" is perhaps a useful constraint.