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Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison,…

Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell

by Javier Marías

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Your Face Tomorrow (3)

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3121455,438 (4.16)15
Jacques Deza is back in London and once again working for the secret intelligence agency run by his old Oxford friend Bernard Tupra. Deza finds himself increasingly under the spell of his shadowy boss, forced to watch Tupra's collection of incriminating videotapes of important public figures.



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» See also 15 mentions

English (8)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Being a spy sounded cool but it's actually just incessant, obsessive overanalysis of every word or gesture until you simultaneously are assured of your conclusions and doubt everything you've ever known. ( )
  xicohtli | Jul 20, 2016 |
There's a select group of novels in my reading history: the first time I read them, I would occasionally become deeply envious of people who hadn't started them, because that meant they had something amazing to look forward to. The first time it happened was with War & Peace. It also happened with The Magic Mountain, Gravity's Rainbow (although I was sick when I read it, so it might have just been a fever), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Gerard Woodward's sort of memoir trilogy. That's not to say all of these books are equally good, and certainly not that they have much in common. Anyway, I got that feeling with this volume of Your Face Tomorrow.

Like many of the above books, it'll probably take three or four reads before I really have any idea what this is even about, but my best guess so far is: 20th century 'total' warfare leads us to be suspicious of language and thought. Thanks to this suspicion, and a possible cultural decline, we are decreasingly able to use these things properly, and those who are able to use them properly often end up using them for pretty obviously evil or self-interested acts.

This gets very self-reflexive for a novelist, particularly one like Marias who (accurately) believes that he can use language and thought well. In the hands of a lesser man or woman, the book would end up feeling like a novelist's lament for the art of the novel, in which the real world is little more than a tool used to talk about books. With Marias, though, we're given a book which reminds us that novelists are people too; like the rest of us, they're concerned with ideas and thoughts and knowing other people. Instead of being another navel-gazing disquisition on the impossibility of modernist literature in a post-modern world, then, we get a book about what it's like to *live* in a world that makes it difficult to take important things - including, but not limited to modernist literature - seriously. But just by *being* one of those important things, Your Face Tomorrow reminds us that we can be serious people.

Also, Maria Jull Costa is the best translator I know. Amazing work. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I held off writing anything about the trilogy for a couple of days after finishing this final part, but I'm still not really sure what I feel about it. In a way I agree with the other reviewers here who hated it (maybe especially with the person who said that Marías is "un onanista de la lengua"!); in a way I also agree with the people who see this as a great and wonderful novel.

The writing is beautiful, of course, and the English translation seems to be remarkably seamless — not a trivial achievement for a book that is so preoccupied with the process of translation and with the less-than-straightforward boundary between English and Spanish. It's also writing that draws you on and makes you keep reading: I was surprised to see that I'd got through the 1200-odd pages of the trilogy in not much more than a week. It perhaps isn't a book that you would sit reading for hours on end (you need a break from time to time to think about it and get your bearings) but it also doesn't seem to be easy to put down for very long.

Predictably, the subject-matter is often uncomfortable for the reader, but it seems to be less gratuitously so than in A heart so white. Although the narrator is still largely self-absorbed, events push him into a situation where the problems he has to reflect on are no longer primarily his own, but correspond to more general human issues of agency and responsibility. He is trying to work out how far we can be the authors of our own stories, how much we can be blamed for the intended and unintended consequences of what we do and say, and how it is that we can find ourselves doing things that by any reasonable standard should be completely repulsive. Naturally enough, there are no neat answers on offer, and we are left at the end of the book with the deeply unsettling feeling that we might well be as capable of betraying our friends or taking part in acts of violence as the narrator is. ( )
  thorold | Nov 11, 2013 |
I was initially excited by the structure of Your Face Tomorrow, seeing in it something like the inverse of Paul Auster's foray into detective fiction in The New York Trilogy: instead of starting with a distinctly framed genre story and then dissolving its conventions, Marías seems to begin in a fog of abstraction and obsession through which the alluring outlines of a spy novel occasionally coalesce (before again being obscured by the narrator's ruminations).

I was also interested to see how the novel's critique of judgment and the consequences of judgment played out. So many of the characters are invested in their supposedly exceptional powers of observation and interpretation--that is, in their own certainty of apprehension--that it would be easy to go along with the theory that they are indeed gifted far beyond the norm of an age in which knowledge and its sure application have, allegedly, fallen into disfavor. But Deza, the narrator, demonstrates how arbitrary his own judgments seem, how they gather force chiefly because he loses the sense that anything he says about the subjects of his interpretation will have repercussions outside his cozy, anonymous office. This dramatic presentation of judgment without accountability is the novel's surest touch; the question of that judgment's necessity is left embattled but open, which is perhaps the only subtle accomplishment in Your Face Tomorrow.

Neither the structure nor the critique wavers in intent or interest throughout the novel's three volumes. What finally wore me down and made finishing the book an exasperating chore was the grinding pettiness and inanity of Deza's narration. His mode of thoroughness seems less like a development of his thoughts and observations than it does an endless restatement of them, a cycling through synonyms, metaphors, and literary allusions that adds little to the narrative except length (and indeed, without them, this 1,200 page novel could be a tidy but still hefty 500 or so). His expressions are often hackneyed or awkward, as if there is no language in which he is fluent and no cultural context to which he belongs (a criticism he often aims at other characters). Even his taste is irritating, as consistently off-putting as it is casually insisted on: he scorns women who subscribe to this modern fad of not shaving their armpits; he regards with horror a middle-aged man who has the gall not only to sport a ponytail, but also to wear a hat at the same time. Nearly every aspect of Deza's narration conspires to inconsequentiality.

And surely all these irritations are integral to the function of his character in the novel: in the context of his job, pettiness translates to attention to detail, alienation becomes objectivity, and taste stands in for judgment. Deza's own manner is the novel's severest critique of the practices of power without accountability. He is inconsequential, his thoughts are inconsequential, but they are both instruments in games of deadly consequence.

This should be very exciting. It should galvanize readers once we understand that the narrator's modes of thought and expression, with which we have been tricked into sympathy, are odious--or at the very least problematic.

(An aside: in this last volume, I thought I had final proof that Deza's tastes are intentionally faulty, as he declares that The Godfather trilogy is a masterpiece, each part of which is superior to the last. That had to be an authorial joke at the character's expense; surely no one of any discernment who has seen all three movies could believe the third was the best, or even that it was any good at all. Yet, this strikes me now as a joke on the reader, who knows and may well vehemently agree with consensus about the films; it is a trap to implicate us in exactly the kind of inconsequentiality that Deza displays.)

But the total effect of all that dithering and arbitrary pronouncement is dullness. By the time Deza gets involved in anything that might be consequential (or exciting), I am already so thoroughly anesthetized by his account that his actual experience moves me very little. And again, frustratingly, this numbness is appropriate to the themes of the novel. It makes sense as an effect of a work that concentrates on the disconnects between expression and action, action and consequence. But in the end, I am overwhelmed by inconsequence: bored. ( )
  idlerking | Mar 31, 2013 |
Utterly and poetically brilliant. ( )
  cecilyb | Nov 1, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Javier Marías’s magnificent, sui generis three-part novel, “Your Face Tomorrow” — all 1,200-plus pages of it — is consumed with the attempt to locate, parse and make music out of the deep grammar of language and power. While the prose is exquisite and never less than fluidly, balletically pleasurable, the project is both fundamentally troubling and fundamentally troubled. Every chamber of its heart is dark and uneasy, and though Marías brings matters to a close in the final volume, “Poison, Shadow and Farewell,” one might say that instead of coming to a definitive point, he has, instead, expanded the unanswerable questions to their farthest extent. The very last sentence merely pulls the pin on the final grenade. It’s as terrifying as it is beautiful.
“Your Face Tomorrow” requires patience, effort and intellectual discipline of the reader. “Poison, Shadow and Farewell” delivers a payoff at the end, but the real challenge, and pleasure, is in getting there.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Javier Maríasprimary authorall editionscalculated
Costa, Margaret JullTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wehr, ElkeÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Carmen López M, who has been kind enough to hear me out patiently until the end

And for my friend Sir Peter Russell and my father, Julián Marias, who generously lent me, a large part of their lives, in memoriam.
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This is only volume 3 of Your Face Tomorrow.
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