The writer Javier Marías, author of novels whose A heart so white, all souls, dark return of time and Tomas Nevinsondied in Madrid at the age of 70, his family confirmed on Sunday.
Born in the Spanish capital, Spanish-speaking scholar and contributor to EL PAÍS, Marías made his debut as an author in 1971 at the age of 19 with Los dominios del lobo (or The domains of the wolf), a novel written “in the morning” – he had always considered himself an “evening” writer – in the Paris apartment of his uncle, the filmmaker Jesús Franco, for whom he had translated scenarios on Dracula. His beginnings are dedicated to his mentor Juan Benet, who negotiated with the Edhasa publishing house to print it, and to his friend Vicente Molina Foix, who “gave” him the title.
For many years, Marías combined writing and translation with teaching at the Complutense University of Madrid. In 1979, his version of Laurence Stern Tristan Shandy won the Spanish National Prize for Translation and he would get the same distinction in 2012 in the storytelling category for fads, but as he had announced in advance, he refused to accept. The move, based on accolades established by the Spanish state, also affected his view of the Cervantes Prize, which he did not win, but not the Nobel Prize, for which he was nominated. Despite this, Marías has won some of the most important international literary prizes, from Venezuela’s Rómulo Gallegos Prize to the Dublin Literary Prize and the Formentor Prize as well as the Nelly Sachs Prize.
After winning the Herralde Prize for The man of feelings (1986) and inaugurating his “Oxford cycle” with all soulsMarías’ work gained international notoriety with the publication in 1992 of a A heart so white, which won the Spanish Critics’ Prize. In this critically acclaimed novel, Marías’ unmistakable first person was crystallized, which sought to synthesize storytelling and reflection in long paragraphs that – in the service of a mysterious plot point or moral dilemma – obsessively reproduce the winding path of thought. later came Tomorrow in battle think of me (1994) and, at a time when the word autofiction was little used in Spain, dark return of time, in which a new twist on all souls has been provided.
Between 2002 and 2007, Marías embarked on her magnum opus: the monumental trilogy which under the title your face tomorrow, his approach to the Spanish Civil War through an incident inspired by the denunciation of his father, philosopher and disciple of José Ortega y Gasset. Imprisoned as a Republican sympathizer, Julián Marías was banned from teaching at universities under Franco’s regime for refusing to sign his name to the principles of the nationalist movement. This forced him to make regular trips to the United States to be able to give lectures and as such Javier Marías spent the first year of his life in Massachusetts, near Wellesley College, where his father was a visiting professor. The Marías were guests at the home of the poet Jorge Guillén and counted Vladimir Nabokov among their neighbors. Marías would eventually translate his poems and which he portrays in the Written Lives volume, a legendary compilation of profiles published in Keys magazine, founded by his friend Fernando Savater.
When it emerged that the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy had closed the cycle of works produced by Marías’ maturity – throughout the 1950s he was still known as “Young Marías”, his father being the eldest of Marías – he returned to fiction with a string of successful novels: fads, So the evil begins, Berta Island and Tomas Nevinson. In a prologue added to the 50th anniversary commemorative edition of The domains of the wolf – his first novel if we exclude the raw and still unpublished The Vispera (Where, The day before) – Marías noted that in response to the frequent question of why he writes, he tended to answer half-jokingly: “So I don’t have to suffer from a boss and I don’t have to get up early or work at fixed hours.” He also said that a writer’s desk was not “the best way for a lazy man to spend his life”.
“Sometimes I put my head in my hands, aware as I am that each page has been patiently written and rewritten, always on paper and in typewriter, with corrections made by hand and then retyped.” Also, for years Marías believed “I won’t live long, who knows why”. What he did not imagine then, he says, is that the “almost childish game” of writing would lead him to “work so much”.
His latest book, Será buena persona el cocinero? (or, will the cook be a good person?) arrived in bookstores last February. This is a compilation of reviews published between 2019 and 2021 in El Pais Semanal, where it had occupied the back page for nearly two decades. “More than 900 Sundays”, he liked to recall, between picky and resigned because he felt he had “never succeeded in convincing anyone of anything”. For years, he was the last regular contributor to send his articles to the editor by fax. His only nod to technology was to later use WhatsApp to send the pages after photographing the pages coming out of an Olympia Carrera Deluxe, to which he ironically linked his fate: when the machine stopped working, he day, I will stop writing.
Marías was one of the most international Spanish writers of all time. His works have been translated into 44 languages in 57 countries, selling over eight million copies worldwide. In one of his last interviews last May, he said: “If I’m held in esteem, I’m happy, I’m grateful, but otherwise I’m not too worried. In my case, everything that was supposed to happen has largely already happened. I can’t complain, I was very lucky. He was aware that his books are in the pantheon of literary history and, at the same time, in thousands of libraries and the imagination of millions of readers. Even so, he said he was not concerned about the fate of his novels. “Posterity is a concept of the past, if that is an apparent contradiction. These days, that makes no sense. Everything ages at an excessive speed. How many writers, as soon as they die, immediately fall into oblivion. Considering the reaction the news of his death caused, it’s unlikely that it was his own fate.
An avid football and film fan, Marías was a controversial columnist and novelist respected by her peers and revered by her readers. He enjoyed signing books at the Madrid Book Fair and confessed to being much more acerbic in writing than in person. Once the door to his office is open, he no longer distinguishes between illustrious photographers, publishers or students.
Having undergone painful back surgery shortly before the pandemic, Marías spent her last years between her home in Madrid and that of his wife, Carme López Mercader, in Sant Cugat (Barcelona). He continued to write on the typewriter but only managed a few lines of a new novel he had in mind. Tired of writing four in the past decade, he succumbed to pneumonia. On September 20, he would have celebrated his 71st birthday.