With the death of Javier Marias One of the greatest novelists of the Spanish 20th century disappears, but not in the silly way in which we say these days that the death of the British queen marks the end -again- of the endless 20th century.
I clarify: affirming that Javier Marías is a novelist of the 20th century is not contempt for being 'old' or anachronistic, because in literature the deadlines and expirations of other fields do not operate, nor is the newest worth more. No one dismisses Cervantes for saying that he is very Golden Age, nor is it considered nineteenth-century Galdós, since both were radically modern in their time —it is a different thing to be a nineteenth-century novelist in the middle of 2022—. In the same way, dating Marías as a 20th-century novelist does not devalue him, on the contrary: there is much merit in being a 20th-century novelist and continuing to enjoy national and international recognition, the many readers, critical unanimity, and the awards that he continues to receive. Marías at this point in the 21st century —and what he will continue to have, his posterity well earned—.
If I say that Marías is a novelist of the 20th century, it is not because of what is most obvious, what is most anecdotal about his personality, everything that is sympathetically remembered at his death: his proud analogical militancy —his mythical typewriter and his no less mythical fax —, the grumpy character of Marías in the press columns —which was still a growing generational disconnection with a good part of the political, social and cultural changes of recent years—; his nostalgia for supposedly lost ethical and aesthetic values, his insistence on setting his novels in the last century as if nothing interested him in our time; recognized header readings of him that rarely included his contemporaries, at least his Spanish contemporaries; or the public image of him —always portrayed with a cigarette and in an imposing library, from another time—.
Nor because Marías represents a type of writer today on the verge of extinction: with public relevance and unanimous recognition, influential tribune in a great medium, institutional prestige —which he himself shook off by rejecting any award—, academic, absolutely untouchable by critics. All very 20th century.
Marías was already one of the greatest Spanish novelists before the end of the last century. Those that for me continue to be his best works were written in the last decade of the 20th century: Heart so white, Tomorrow in the battle think of me and Black back of time appear within six years, and only for those three titles he would already deserve be in all the stories of literature, and of course be read today. His latest novels, of which I confess that I am not so enthusiastic despite their uncompromising demands, do not cease to seem thematic and formal twists and turns on his previous work.
I suspect that the readers of Marías today are mostly children of the 20th century, and that the younger ones, perhaps deterred by the caricature of the "grouchy Marías", are perhaps missing the still young Marías, one of our greatest novelists.
Everything that we can recognize today, his very personal style, his habitual obsessions, his Anglo-Saxon bias and detachment from the Spanish tradition, his narrative thought, his digressions and endless deviations, his complexity and density compatible with accessible reading, his literary territory and morality, his humor and his games, were recognized thirty years ago, when he was still 'the young Marías', as Benet called him. And it was then that they caused an impact that is perhaps not appreciated as much today, for having lost his pioneering status. Even in today's hackneyed autofiction, Marías was one of the first to intelligently play with the confusion between narrator and author.
Few authors can boast that so many readers remember by heart a start to a novel like that memorable one in Corazón tan blanco, insuperable (“I haven't wanted to know, but I've known…”). And even fewer authors resist a 'blind tasting': opening any book of theirs, and without knowing the author's name, identifying it by its unique style. In the case of Marías, that way of narrating and contracting and expanding the syntax through comings and goings, reiterations, parallelisms, choruses and that long musical phrase that always leads the reader on the edge, on the verge of losing the thread but unable to let go.
In his death, the best memory of an author is always his reading, and the best praise, the recommendation that he be read. I hope I'm wrong, but I suspect that Marías's readers today are also mostly children of the 20th century, and that the younger ones, perhaps dissuaded by the caricature of the “grumpy Marías”, and totally oblivious to the type of writer and the style and themes it represents, perhaps they are missing the still young Marías, one of our greatest novelists. One of the largest without more, without dating.