Victor has gone back to Marta´s house for a night of passion when she suddenly dies in his arms in bed. Victor is then left in a quandary about whether to expose his identity by contacting her husband Déan in London. In the end he shockingly walks off with her bra, her husband´s contact details, and her answering machine tape and leaves her young son alone with his mothers´ body. All of Marta´s family except for her elderly father know that Marta spent the night with someone and Déan is determined to discover who. Victor cannot stop himself from contacting the family to discover what happened to Marta and to find out how much they know.
It is a very interesting premise for a novel but I am not sure how realistic it is. Surely most people with any humanity would ring the police or an ambulance. Still it makes for a shocking story, but one of the characters has an even bigger secret which is linked to this event.
The novel seems slightly misogynistic. Victor is not a very likeable character, he stalks women and has sex with a prostitute who he thinks might be his wife but he’s not sure (seems implausible to me, and this ex-wife springs out of nowhere more than half way through the novel). There is a post modern moment when the prostitute asks his name and he answers;
“Javier,” I lied.
“Not another Javier.. Madrid´s full of them or perhaps it´s just the name you´d all like to have.”
The novel deals with the issue of the haunting of the men by dead women. Marías makes constant references to Shakespeare´s Henry IV and Richard III. The title refers to Richard III´s haunting by the ghosts of those he has murdered (highly historically inaccurate),
“Tomorrow in the battle think on me,” and fall thy edgeless sword. Tomorrow in the battle Think on me when I was mortal and let fall thy pointless lance.”. “Let me sit heavy on thy soul tomorrow, let me be lead within thy bosom and in a bloody battle end thy days:Tomorrow in the battle think on me, despair and die!”
Javier Marías is obviously a very clever author. There are extended reflections on a range of issues some of which are very interesting such as the Anglo-Saxon word that describes the relationship acquired by two men who have slept with the same woman. His reflections on abortion seem very incisive. However this does not make the book an easy read and it has some of the longest paragraphs I have ever read. It can be quite hard to follow, but probably easier if unlike me you don’t start reading this before Christmas and then go back to it a few weeks later.
A good read, but I don´t think I would re-read it, which is pretty much how I felt about A Heart So White.