Last month, I embarked on Javier Marías’ spy trilogy Your Face Tomorrow with the first part, Fever and Spear, and having enjoyed my introduction to the series, it was never going to take me too long to move on to the middle volume. Admittedly, with little actually occurring in Part One, there are unlikely to be any major reveals in today’s review. However, those who haven’t read the book should still take this as a warning that some information might be revealed 🙂
Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance and Dream (translated by Margaret Jull Costa, published by Vintage Books) continues with the events of Fever and Spear, with our friend Jacques Deza discovering the identity of the woman who has been following him home in the rain. In truth, though, this information is (in this book at least) fairly irrelevant; once the woman is invited into the flat, and a request is made (one foreshadowed in a lengthy preamble to the main plot), Marías appears to lose interest in the scene, and the reader is whisked away somewhere else entirely.
In fact, the majority of Dance and Dream is spent at a London nightclub, where Deza is assisting his boss Bertram Tupra in a meeting with an Italian client. Deza’s role is twofold: he must intervene whenever a communication break-down occurs, while simultaneously charming the client’s wife. This is difficult enough as it is – when a casual acquaintance notices him on the dance floor and tries to hit on the ageing beauty Flavia, his task becomes even trickier. Little does Deza know that very soon he will get a glimpse of the true nature of his new job, and of a ruthless streak to the enigmatic Tupra…
Again, Marías is slow to get his story off to a start, spending the first sixteen pages musing on the nature of requests and the effect they have on the life of the person they are asked of. Once we return to Deza’s evening visitor, this theory is soon put into practice:
That’s her problem, one thinks mistakenly or incompletely, or that’s his problem, when someone is preparing to ask us something. It’s my problem too, we should always add, or should I say include. It would doubtless be my problem once the request had left her lips or her throat and once I had heard it. Once we had both heard it, for that is how the person making the request knows his or her message has traversed the air and cannot be ignored, because once it’s in the air, it has reached its destination.
p.21 (Vintage Books, 2010)
However, unlike Fever and Spear, Dance and Dream has a certain sting in its tail, with the elaborate set-up of the first part beginning to pay off. Deza fell rather casually into his role as an interpreter of faces, and it’s only now that he’s seeing what people want his information for.
The backbone of this middle volume is the lengthy scene in the night club, tense and taut, with a sense of menace hanging over the whole affair. Deza is no longer in training, watching videos or casually interviewing people back at headquarters; instead, he has been let loose in the field, expected to know how to behave in all situations. Tupra is still the urbane presence of the first novel, yet the concealed threat hinted at in the first part, the animal lying in wait beneath the expensive suit (and overcoat…) is finally unveiled. The catalyst for the ensuing events is hapless Spanish diplomat Rafita de la Garza, whom we last met at Sir Peter Wheeler’s dinner party. A deluded skirt-chaser, the Spaniard picks the wrong night to go cruising for women – and the wrong woman too…
Yet, despite the importance of this central event, Marías can’t resist going off on what we see as tangents (but almost certainly aren’t). In the midst of the fun and games happening in the club, we are regaled with more stories from Deza’s time in Oxford, and Jacques’ father’s anecdotes of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. As we hear of atrocities committed by the victorious fascists, clear parallels emerge between the brutality of those times and what is to follow in contemporary London.
It’s to Marías’ credit (and Jull Costa’s, of course) that even in the midst of a more active plot, the writing remains as wonderful as ever. The style is crisp and elegant, whether Jacques is musing about the nature of impermanence or waltzing into the ladies’ toilets, suppressing his embarrassment in the course of his duties. And, of course, everything, every action, every word, every drop of blood (!) is interconnected, a key, somehow, to the bigger picture.
From the midst of the night at the club, the visit from the woman and Deza’s memories, several themes can be seen emerging. There are frequent mentions of a posteriori justification, twisting the reasons for actions to fit the consequences; the idea of poison also appears several times, with botulism favoured both by bored Spanish housewives and the men who succeeded in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich during the Second World War (see HHhH…); Deza also seems to have a fascination with people and apartments, whether it’s his estranged wife Luisa in Madrid or the dancing man he can see from his own window. Now, if I can just connect all those ideas somehow…
It’s all rather exhausting at times, trying to keep track of the many trains of Deza’s thoughts, so it’s good to know that the man himself feels the same way at times. Just as we, the readers, struggle to get to the core of proceedings, so too does Jacques:
…so I could never be quite certain what was intentional and what accidental – meaningful or superfluous – in each sentence spoken by Tupra: there was always a doubt in my mind as to whether I should simply listen to them or note them down with my retentive faculties at full power, paying close attention to every word and not taking a single syllable for granted. Sometimes I adopted the latter strategy and it was terribly exhausting being under such constant tension. (p.58)
Sorry, Jacques – you’re not getting any sympathy from me 😉
The reason for all this attention to detail is, of course, that we know full well that all this is going somewhere, the ideas, themes and motifs gathering overhead to rain down on the unwitting reader in the final volume of the trilogy. Dance and Dream ends on another cliffhanger of sorts, with Tupra driving Deza off for a chat, one which may reveal a little more about the nature of the world the Spaniard has unwittingly wandered into. In truth, I still have little idea where this is all going (or why), but I’m certainly enjoying the ride…
…let’s see if Deza enjoys his…