In Madrid in 1980, a young man takes a job as an assistant to an eccentric film director. What unfolds is the story of a couple living in the shadow of a mysterious, unhappy history--a novel about the cruel, tender punishments we exact on those we love.
...Marías’s narration has a deceptively aimless quality, circling round apparently minor or inconsequential details that are gradually revealed to be integral to an extremely taut structure. As ever, Margaret Jull Costa translates his long, winding sentences into beautiful English prose, both erudite and conversational – a considerable stylistic feat ... a fusion of a coming-of-age story with something like a conspiracy thriller. As ever, with Marías, it is an arch and sophisticated entertainment animated by a probing moral intelligence, a demonstration of what fiction at its best can achieve.
...[an] erudite, strange, hypnotic and beautiful, frustrating book ... one doesn’t really read Marías for plot. One reads him for the language, the elegant hypnotic voice, the philosophical digressions and observations, for his long and winding sentences ... I found myself most loving the book for its pages, brilliant observations, its musings and its suspenseful elegant voice, rather than the overarching story. And I could not put it down.
It is in Marías’s portrayal of two completely different ways of being in the world — Eduardo’s vengeful and intellectual stance, as compared with Beatriz’s self-abnegating stoicism — that we see what a novelist can do best: relish opposing viewpoints and play them off against each other ... Unfortunately, Marías squanders most of his firepower by circling the mystery of Van Vechten’s crime and shaking it down for meaning ... Marías has a problem, which critics have seemed too reticent to discuss: that of lapsing into universal-sounding banalities, almost as a tic ... Melodrama can be an advantage for the modern novelist but it doesn’t always meld well with Marías’s bloviating prose and Shakespearean soliloquies ... it is when Marías gets to the true source of Beatriz’s pain that the novel, dormant for 400 pages, suddenly explodes.