I believe that the success of Javier Marías from the nineties, at least in Spain, was due in part to the fact that his books provided ethics and aesthetics to a young urban and enlightened bourgeoisie that thrived and gained confidence. And that he found in his elegant novels what he needed: an equally youthful and flattering mirror. His characters dressed well, reasoned better, had interesting jobs (and things happened to them), which at times bordered on the excitingly sordid or dangerous. They spoke languages, they traveled freely through the European capitals and through that of a country that had shaken off its dandruff and was no longer the eternal Black Spain.
There are artists who have the opportunity and the gift (or the gift of the opportunity) to describe and create a social group at the same time. They give it a stylized and aspirational image that later serves as a password among its members. Woody Allen was inspired by the bourgeois intellectuals of New York's Upper West Side as much as he invented them. Coderch built the houses that provided a common roof and a shared lifestyle for the enlightened Catalan bourgeoisie. Marías allowed the educated and progressive bourgeoisie of Madrid (less visible and salable than the Barcelona one, but there is one, there is one) to feel and recognize themselves as a class in his novels. Who wouldn't have wanted to live in a Coderch house, in a Woody Allen movie, in a Marías novel?
Or for that matter, and in the case of the people of Madrid, who wouldn't have wanted to live in the Madrid of Marías? He was a comfortable and discreet Madrid, educated, of liberal professions and republican ancestry, who looked with contempt at the tacky excesses of bankers and upstarts of the nineties balls (although he did not stop benefiting obliquely from them). His locations were always impeccable and classy, effortlessly refined: the dinners at La Ancha, the drinks at the Bar Hispano, the overnights at the Wellington, the walks in the Berlin park. And the flats and houses by Almagro and El Viso, which one sensed were well placed: with Modern Times furniture or at least La Oca, with Sybilla dresses in their dressing rooms, probably with a book by Marías on their bedside tables. The characters in his novels surely read him, and when reading them one also became a bit of a Marías character.
I was born a year after Franco died. If I serve as a type-case of the reader of my villa, I read Marías in my twenties and fell exhausted and dazzled. He did unprecedented things to Spanish, he gave it a new texture and scope, he built with it a voice and a very personal world and at the same time capable of questioning many. The examples are known: the start of Corazón tan blanco is one of the most powerful in Spanish literature; scenes like the one of sudden death in Tomorrow in the battle think of me are remembered forever as if they had happened to oneself; the brilliance of the literary semblances of Miramientos continues to shine (I just checked it just in case). Álvaro Pombo occurs to me as an example of another writer who at that time displayed a similar verve and pulse.
Over the years that world became more self-referential and obsessive, or perhaps I was more impatient and twisted: I gradually lost the desire to read him. I don't know if I will be the only reader of yours who gave up without a fight before the successive volumes of Your face tomorrow, or who read and then totally forgot Los infatuations and Berta Isla. The Kingdom and the Court of Redonda became too long a joke , and even the perverse pleasure of looking for his Sunday jeremiad lost its grace.
I notice that colleagues my age, in spite of everything, mention it perhaps with more appreciation and respect than those who are ten or fifteen years younger. One always fondly remembers the authors of the first dazzles as an adult reader, perhaps in a transfer of nostalgia for that age. It seems to me that the youngest knew above all the journalistic character and the cavalier academic, with very little harmony with their way of seeing the world. They have read (if they have read) his novels with little enthusiasm and rather incomprehension. Perhaps, going back to the beginning, because those novels reflect a class and a world and an illusion of security from the 1990s that forcibly vanished in the 2000s, that those of us from my fifth still barely catch but that is nothing like the world in which they have had to get fired. I think he seems to them to be a period writer, and that is both unfair and irremediable. Too bad they miss what in his novels transcends that time: the tone, the intelligence, the flexibility of his prose that were so exciting then.
From my house in Madrid, you can see the roof of the building where yours was. The light on her balcony stayed on every night, and as you passed you could see the highest shelf of her library. I always looked up: Marías kept watch and worked, and I no longer remember who told me that they jokingly called her “the little light of El Pardo”. Sometimes, coming back from a party at odd hours, that light made me feel somewhat guilty and at the same time consoled me. It was a somewhat novelistic consolation, of course, but the fictions that best accompany us usually are: he himself would say so. Passing under his balcony at night I will miss the light and the company.