IMPAC-winning novelist Javier Marías returns with another intriguing story of crime, characteristically narrated against type, almost like an anti-whodunnit.
Born in Madrid in 1951, where he still lives and works as translator and newspaper columnist, Javier Marías is the author of 12 novels, as well as two collections of short stories and two volumes of essays.
In 1997, he won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, worth €100,000 for the novel A Heart So White - €25,000 from that sum went to Margaret Jull Costa who translated The Infatuations, which appeared in 2013.
The author's work has been translated into 42 languages in total and Jull Costa has duly rendered the Madrid-based author's latest, 504-page novel into English from the original Spanish. As the story begins, the young Juan de Vere becomes assistant to to the film director Eduardo Muriel who asks him to help uncover secrets about his wife Beatriz. Dr Jorge Van Vechten is the mysterious family friend who also becomes the subject of young Juan's enquiry.
Like all of Marias's work - and this is a word of warning, just in case you were expecting a taut whodunnit - Thus Bad Begins does not involve a straightforward narrative, as it takes all manner of side journeys and by-roads. The author has never been in the business of honing the story or making things succinct, rather he seems to almost radiate language, letting his dense narratives spin outward as though the construction of a vast spider's web were somehow happening without any authorial effort.
In Thus Bad Begins, he follows long threads of consciousness that link and interweave the lives of his characters. References to moivie stars abound - Muriel looks like Richard Boone as he strokes his chin, and Zero Mostel and Charles Laughton are also mentioned. Even Jack Palance has a walk-on role. Among those narrative detours, there is time for expansive digressions, reflections on the Spanish Civil War and on Spain of the late seventies, when the story begins. "Adolfo Suarez was in power, the first elected Prime Minister for forty years, Franco having died four or five years before, " begins an early chapter. "On the one hand, Franco had been instantly discarded and was seen by most as a kind of dinosaur, and, six months on, the more thinking members of the public were astonished at how little time had passed, because it felt as if entire centuries had gone by since his disappearance."
As always, Marías is keenly interested in sexual allure and sinister motive and while his sentences may be long and lingering, and Juan's cogitations almost dream-like at times, you will be seduced. His is a unique voice and unique tone in contemporary literature.