WRITTEN LIVES Javier Marias
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Marias says in his prologue to this collection of quirky profiles that he wanted to treat “well-known literary figures as if they were fictional characters” – and he does this through a series of oblique glances at some literary icons. The author insists that nothing here is invented, though he concedes that some episodes have been “embellished”.
And so we have cheeky, affectionate and sometimes sly essays that concern themselves with the sadness of Turgenev and Mann; the silence of Djuna Barnes; the post-gaol life of Oscar Wilde; the death of Mishima; and the poses of Joyce, among others. What he’s doing, of course, is using small entryways to provide potted biographies -- the-profile-as-short-story, as it were.
Somewhat disappointingly, Marias isn’t too interested here in the prose and concerns of these writers, but speaks instead of how events (some well-known, others not) and traits have influenced their lives. There’s no academic posturing: for instance, the essay on Kipling forgoes any debate of whether he’s an unabashed colonialist or not. He saves the best for last, however: the essay on writers’ images is quite delightful.
Worth your while? Not to be taken too seriously, which makes it a perfectly agreeable companion during long commutes.