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Een hart zo blank : roman by Javier Marías

Een hart zo blank : roman (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Javier Marías, Aline Glastra van Loon (Translator)

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1,078277,745 (4.03)52
Title:Een hart zo blank : roman
Authors:Javier Marías
Other authors:Aline Glastra van Loon (Translator)
Info:[Amsterdam] : Meulenhoff Millennium; 316 p, 21 cm; http://opc4.kb.nl/DB=1/PPN?PPN=322867533
Collections:Your library
Tags:Literatuur, Spaanse lit.

Work details

A Heart so White by Javier Marías (1992)

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    Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías (laurabi)
    laurabi: Una novela en la que Marías despliega su oficio, un desarrollo que atrapa y no sólo por la trama sino (como siempre) por las disgresiones del autor, desmenuza las situaciones con un detalle obsesivo y el final golpea por lo inesperado.

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English (20)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this a lot, but it is not an easy book to summarise. Loosely it is a book about family secrets, communication and relationships, with a long-hidden tragedy at its core, and focuses on a son's attempts to understand his father's past and come to terms with the psychological effects of his recent marriage, written in a rich language with a lot of sudden changes of focus, and occasional repetitions. Trying to break it down like that doesn't convey how rewarding the read is. ( )
  bodachliath | Feb 24, 2015 |

The number of pages of made-time that it takes for Javier Marías to get anywhere is simultaneously relaxing in its pace and frustrating in its ramble. But what better activities does one have to do with one's time than to sit still with a book written by a master-observer regarding the human condition? There are few topics the author fails to elaborate on within his process, the hours of contemplation required in finding and eventually knowing his subjects well. In simple big-time wrestling terms, sentences elaborately structured with such sophistication and care that even a lesser reader might employ its own standing head scissors before Marías takes his precise and finishing aim with an incoming pile driver. Ha! The entire novel kept me waiting for what was to come. I could not foretell the ending nor know the direction of the exit he might be headed for. For lack of better terms let us name this brilliant crafting suspense within a literary elaboration.

Often I find myself nodding in agreement with Marías regarding relationships, especially marriage. But his complicated nuances between father and son, mid-life renewals of childhood friendships, work environments and travel, affairs both present and past, all contribute to the measured extravagance almost exploding on every page. Memory often plays an integral part in the Marías oeuvre, at least it has in the few titles I have thus far read. Whether these recollections can be trusted, or the fictions made real, all stories told or heard are subject to a bit of untruth or embellishment at the least. It is refreshing to read Marías in the sense of his having already considered his ideas extensively before setting them down on the page. He seems to exhaust every possibility in arguing his case for whatever position might be adhered to by one of his characters. He is not only a brilliant writer but gifted in making what he writes extremely interesting, though long-winded. But for one who revels in the rhythm of time, and has nothing more useful to do than enjoy a fine and lofty musical performance, then Marías is the writer meant for you. And if questioning one's motives or wanting to trust in another human being is just your cup of tea, then Marías is also a good resource to reference to, as any doubt which might exist in one of our preconceived or well-thought notions this great author will raise doubts beyond any small measure. But still the angst augured is relaxing in its own way. And the consequences sometimes light in regard to the manner in which he gets us there. Somewhat like a lazy ride on calm water in a whisper-quiet motorboat.

These Marías characters never surprise me with their secrets and suspicions. All relationships have them. Marías is a master at identifying anything and everything that might become questionable or in need of further thoughtful consideration. If he writes of someone dying, and perhaps he already has and I am not aware of it just yet, then it would most certainly be the slowest of deaths. The suffering process would drag out, time would stand still as it often does in uncomfortable, dreadful situations. And the novel here does this as well. Secrets that demand to be told with all their budding questions answered. Unavoidable realizations and an understanding of an awful incident in the past, an almost hopeless situation if the dire consequences had actually been avoided, a forgiving comprehension necessary in order to process the information successfully without wanting to do your own self in. But then, as always, a complicit exercise where the innocent party carries a burden of guilt and shame just by knowing and agreeing to be tolerant, to continue to be still loving and abiding, no matter the questionable facts regarding the dated crime. Javier Marías is one of the most gifted novelists writing today. He is so clever and kind with his words that his vicious grip is administered unexpectedly.

When applied correctly against an opponent the mandible claw is a maneuver which is regarded by fellow wrestlers to cause intense, legitimate pain. The aggressor places his middle and ring fingers into the opponent's mouth, sliding them under the tongue and jabbing into the soft tissue found at the bottom of the mouth. The rest of the same hand is placed under the jaw, and pressure is applied downward by the middle and ring fingers while the thumb and/or palm forces the jaw upwards.

( )
  MSarki | Jan 24, 2015 |
The title, taken from Macbeth, can mean many things, but for me it symbolises that pure, hopeful innocent state of fresh love, and the ease with which that obsessive, passionate emotion can be stained. The most primal, shocking stain is the red of blood, through violence, but that's just one of many shades. The steady, habitual compromise that married life brings, compared to living alone where you are free to do what you want when you want, may appear less dramatic, Marias seems to argue, but the end result can be just as toxic.

The story begins grippingly by recounting a scene, decades back, when the narrator, Juan's, aunt (though she is never really his aunt) committed suicide in a violent, semi-public way, soon after her honeymoon to his father. This is his father's 2nd marriage, the first ending equally violently with his 1st wife's premature death. The 3rd is to Juan's mother, the sister of the suicide victim. The main section of the narrative focuses on Juan's own marriage to Luisa, a fellow translator. On a honeymoon in Cuba, they overhear a haunting confrontation between a married man and the tempestuous woman he is having an affair with. She is impatient for his wife to die, so that they can be together, and even suggests he murder her. This voyeuristic moment has clear echoes to a more personal one for Juan towards the end of the book.

Back to normal married life between Juan and Luisa, where she quits her translator job to be a home-maker, and they explore the novelty of living together, of secret suspicions, of how one life, with all its habits and needs, can slot into a different life, of whether the future is one of constant erosion of that initial relationship, or something else. Juan travels widely for his job, and at some point stays in New York with Berta, an old flame from his student days. She has been mildly disfigured in an accident, and as if there's no hope of a real relationship anymore, goes on a series of seedy one-night stands, via a video-based dating club. Each one she obsesses over, and appears to devote huge hope for, but each one ends abruptly, almost brutally, and the cycle continues. The other main plot strand revolves around relationships Juan's father, Ranz, previously had, including with his own mother and aunt. These are uncovered in part by various eccentric family friends, and the shocking details are revealed, piece by piece, until the climax at the end.

Although there are times when the story is hard to put down, it's really a vehicle for an exploration, even a treatise, on the nature of love and romantic relationships. There are many philosophical digressions, which are insightful, extremely thought-provoking and fascinating in their own right. They weave brilliantly with the story, and the end result is an incredibly accomplished novel, which captures the topic of romantic love in an expansive, bitingly accurate way. ( )
  RachDan | Sep 16, 2014 |
In the start of this book, a young woman, newly married, walks away from a dinner party and shoots herself in the breast. The story then fast forwards several decades and we follow a young man Juan, who happens to be the son of the man married to the woman who committed suicide. Very gradually, the story is revealed and we learn about the history of Juan’s father and the tragic story of the wife who committed suicide.

The title of the book comes from a line in Macbeth

“My hands are of your color, but I shame
To wear a heart so white.”

Lady Macbeth says these lines after dipping her hands in blood to share in her husband’s murder of King Duncan. The book follows the theme of guilt and raises the universal question of whether or not we share in the guilt of crimes committed by the people we love. Beautifully written with a good dose of interesting ideas to ponder. ( )
  jmoncton | Apr 19, 2014 |
What do love and democracy have in common? The unnamed English politician in HSW suggests that in a democracy politicians "have to do it in a way which [the people] believe they've chosen, just as couples get together believing that both have chosen to do so, with their eyes wide open." (65) But in fact, one party always obliges the other--the unstated suggestion here is that politicians always oblige the electorate to act as those politicians want us to, while making us think that we've chosen their deeds. Whoever's stronger (monetarily, physically, mentally...) decides on the action, while also making the other party feel like they chose the action. And once they've done something horrific in the weaker party's name, the weaker party, like Lady MacBeth, tries to make them "share [our] irremediable innocence, [our] cowardice" (70). It's okay that you helped to nearly destroy the Middle East, President Carter. You'll be forever known as a peace-maker.

HSW isn't about politics, although there are some funny stabs here and there. It is about the net that we're born into and from which we can never disentangle ourselves. Your deeds are rarely your deeds entirely; you are almost always at the mercy of your surrounds, your friends, your family and your history. This doesn't sound so surprising, but Marias worries the bone until you can see the marrow oozing out of it. It's intellectually and artistically impressive.

Part of the reason I loved this so much was that I finally got a handle on what Marias *does*, thanks to a brief passage in a late chapter, p 204:

"Kissing or killing someone may seem opposed as actions, but talking about the kiss and talking about the death of someone assimilates and associates the two things, sets up an analogy, constructs a symbol."

And it finally came to me: this is what Marias' novels do. His narrators talk about a series of actions (the scenes for which he is justly famous), and then 'assimilate and associate' those scenes with each other to construct a 'symbol.' The feeling that his novels are whodunits comes from this procedure: it's only at the end of the novel that the 'symbol' he is setting up is completed.

HSW assimilates and associates a scene from Macbeth, a love affair gone wrong, the narrator's (Juan) marriage, the narrator's father's (Ranz) three marriages, a children's story, and various other small scenes (such as that with the British politician). The association is complete when we find out how Ranz's first two marriages ended. On the way Marias gives us a very Heideggerian epistemology tied in to literature (in brief: the truth can never be revealed in language, language is what constructs secrets. Nonetheless, we have to keep trying to get at the truth through language, and the attempt is noble), some political satire, and, tied in to all of this, pieces of a Mariasian aesthetic (even if literature is a lie, it's probably better than action; even if it's incomplete, it's still a whole; different stories have the same meaning). At some point I want to formalize what I think I've learned from this novel, but I've blathered enough here. I've transcribed a bunch of relevant quotes below.

If you've never read Marias, start with this one. If you have read him, and liked him, read this immediately.


"The most important things in life are always done for reasons of logic and out of a desire to experience them or, which comes down to the same thing, because they're inevitable," 79.
"Because I have money, I was able to decide the movements of two people yesterday morning," 92.
"Almost everyone feels ashamed of their youth, it isn't true that we feel nostalgia for it," 112.
"It's always the most conventional things that contain the largest measure of madness," 121.
"They give watered down versions of anything that happens or has happened and I suppose later on it's difficult to disabuse them. Maybe they can't find the right moment, after all, when do you stop being a child? It's difficult to draw a line, when is it the right time to acknowledge an old lie or reveal a hidden truth?" 127.
"There are people who know only the fantasies that they themselves experience, who are incapable of imagining anything and so have little insight, using one's imagination avoids many misfortunes, the person who anticipates his own death rarely kills himself, the person who anticipates that of others rarely murders," 128.
"Being with someone consists in large measure in thinking out loud, that is, in thinking everything twice rather than once... marriage is a narrative institution," 133.
"Everyone likes to tell their story, even people who haven't got one. Even though the stories may differ, the meaning's the same," 136.
"Perhaps that is what drives us to read novels and news reports and to go and see films, the search for analogy, for symbolism, the need for recognition rather than cognition," 185.
"The truth never shines forth... because the only truth is that which is known to no one and which remains untransmitted... that which remains concealed and unverified, which is perhaps why we do recount so much or even something, to make sure that nothing has ever really happened, not once it's been told," 186.
"The use of the plural becomes inevitable and ends up appearing everywhere," 190.
"Perhaps it was now a secret because I'd said nothing about it... a secret... is shaped out of concealment and silence... it's only then that things really happen, when we don't talk about them," 201. [This a secret about 'Visible Arena,' cf Heidegger.]
"Talking about the kiss and talking about the death of someone assimilates and associates the two things, sets up an analogy, constructs a symbol," 204.
"You do tend to tell your children things in a disorderly fashion, little by little and not in any particular sequence," 207.
"Perhaps she was infatuated," 216.
"The professor... came straight to the point, he had no doubts whatsoever about the value of knowing about everything, or that knowledge could ever harm anyone, and that if it did then you just had to lump it," 227.
"There's not such thing as a whole or perhaps there never was anything. But it's also true that there is a time for everything and that it's all there, waiting for us to call it back, as Luisa said," 272.
"A song that is sung despite everything, but that is neither silenced nor diluted once it's sung, when it's followed by the silence of adult, or perhaps I should say masculine, life," 279. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Like Henry James's or Marcel Proust's, his sinuous, flattering, seemingly endless sentences presume -- even insist -- that we are as subtle and intelligent as the author. And their subject matter is Proustian or Jamesian as well -- Marías is interested not so much in the violent death or the adulterous love affair itself as in how we think and feel about such events when we contemplate them beforehand or consider them afterward.

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Javier Maríasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Costa, Margaret JullTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wehr, ElkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Für Julia Altares
Julia Altares zum Trotz

und für Lola Manera in Havanna
in memoriam
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Non ho voluto sapere, ma ho saputo che una delle bambine, quando non era più bambina ed era appena tornata dal viaggio di nozze, andò in bagno, si mise davanti allo specchio, si sbottonò la camicetta, si sfilò il reggiseno e si cercò il cuore con la canna della pistola di suo padre, il quale si trovava in sala da pranzo in compagnia di parte della famiglia e di tre ospiti.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811215059, Paperback)

A breathtaking novel about family secrets, winner of the 1997 Dublin IMPAC Prize for the best novel published worldwide in English, and arguably Javier Marías's masterpiece.

Javier Marías's A Heart So White chronicles with unnerving insistence the relentless power of the past. Juan knows little of the interior life of his father Ranz; but when Juan marries, he begins to consider the past anew, and begins to ponder what he doesn't really want to know. Secrecy—its possible convenience, its price, and even its civility—hovers throughout the novel. A Heart So White becomes a sort of anti-detective story of human nature. Intrigue; the sins of the father; the fraudulent and the genuine; marriage and strange repetitions of violence: Marías elegantly sends shafts of inquisitory light into shadows and on to the costs of ambivalence. ("My hands are of your colour; but I shame/To wear a heart so white"—Shakespeare's Macbeth.)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A few months after his honeymoon, Juan Ranz still has not been able to adjust to the changes in his life. Then he finds out that Teresa, his father's first wife, committed suicide upon returning from her own honeymoon. Only one person knows why and has kept this dark secret for years."Pocos meses despue s de su viaje de novios y sin au n haber podido, o querido, adaptarse a su cambio de estado, Juan Ranz se entera casi sin querer de que Teresa, la primera mujer de su padre, se quito la vida al regreso de su propia luna de miel. So lo una persona conoce el porque y ha guardado durante an os ese oscuro secreto."-- Back cover.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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