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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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1,045258,062 (4.01)46
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

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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» See also 46 mentions

English (18)  Spanish (3)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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 |
This novel has a Hitchcockian overtone, as secrets and strangers are the recurring symbols. It begins with a tragic family anecdote, something that happened before the narrator’s birth. The rest of the novel uncovers the truth of the event. It’s told in a vague, hypnotically repetitive way, moving from one obsession to the next. There’s a recurring sense of dread, which keeps the tension building until the underlying secret is revealed. ( )
  astrologerjenny | Apr 24, 2013 |
“I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl any more and hadn’t long been back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her own father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the living room with other members of the family and three guests.”

And so with the first sentence we dive into unknown depths.

The title of the book is from Macbeth, in the scene in which Macbeth returns to his wife, after killing Duncan (‘the deed is done’). This is the kernel of the book, the wellspring. “Listening is the most dangerous thing of all, listening means knowing, finding out about something and knowing what’s going on, our ears don’t have lids that can instinctively close against the words uttered, they can’t hide from what they sense they’re about to hear, it’s always too late. It isn’t just that Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth, it’s above all that she’s aware that he’s committed a murder from the moment he has done so, she’s heard from her husband’s own lips, on his return: “I have done the deed.” … she returned having smeared the faces of the servants with the blood of the dead man ("If he do bleed ...") to make them seem the guilty parties: "My hands are of your colour," she says to Macbeth, "but I shame to wear a heart so white," as if she wished to infect him with her own nonchalance in exchange for infecting herself with the bloodshed by Duncan, unless "white" here means "pale and fearful" or "cowardly"."

I compare reading Marias to floating in the water. To fall back on the water, to feel it pressing on the back, on the shoulders, like a hand on the shoulder, it supports us, it holds us up and calms us. To concentrate on not concentrating, so that the immersion carries you along at the same level, unvarying, familiar and new, blindly but inexorably toward knowing, yet knowing that if you stop concentrating you will shift focus and then lose your way so then you have to concentrate again on concentrating to regain your position, to feel it again pressing on your back, supporting you, calming you, like a hand on the shoulder.

On this, my second Marias novel, I was prepared to be immersed, to search for the right plane, and to listen for the reverberations. “It's always the chest of the other person we lean back against for support, we only really feel supported or backed up when, as the latter verb itself indicates, there's someone behind us, someone we perhaps cannot even see and who covers our back with their chest, so close it almost brushes our back and in the end always does, and at times, that someone places a hand on our shoulder, a hand to calm us and also to hold us.” This was a common repetition, a variation, that appeared throughout the novel in similar but slightly different ways each time. The “hand on the shoulder” became the defining image, always with the same significance of reassurance, of calming, of support. But the narrator’s father Ranz (the husband of the suicidal woman in the opening paragraph) never feels that hand on his shoulder. Instead, there are a few times where he puts his coat on his shoulder, never putting his arms in the sleeves, the narrator takes pains to explain this is how he usually wears the coat. He must cover his own shoulder, from the back, he is alone, no one is covering his back. The “hand on the shoulder”… it recurs extensively throughout the story, provoking recognition and heightened alertness each time I came across the action.

The rhythm of the reading differs from conventional novels in that it is mostly told tightly in two planes. One is a brief narrative descriptive type, still usually formed by looping, tumbling sequences, and then the other is the longer reflective echoing musings, which repeat throughout the book, varying slightly in their telling, but cross referencing backward and forward, and these become gradually longer and more insistent until they merge with and become the dominant narrative. It is about listening, secrets, obligations, suspicions, telling stories, concealing stories. Stay in the plane, just at that plane, retain your focus, and it is like being showered in puzzle pieces that somehow fall into place all around you. ( )
  BCbookjunky | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:54 -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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