Between Eternities is a fine primer in Marías’ style and appreciation for what many would consider somewhat lowbrow culture.
Javier Marías is one of Spain’s most celebrated novelists, a writer whose work has been translated into more than 42 languages and whose career began when he was still a teenager. Yet to hear him tell (write) it, he doesn’t consider himself a writer nor would he ever aspire to be such a thing. And yet it is the written word (both his and that of others, he himself a celebrated translator) on which he has made a name for himself. As a novelist, he has more than a dozen titles to his name, nearly all of which have been translated into English – among other languages. As translator, he has tackled the likes of Updike, Hardy, Conrad, Nabokov, Faulkner, Kipling, James, Stevenson, Browne, Shakespeare, and, most famously, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. He has also spent time at various colleges and universities as both teacher and guest lecturer, a vocation, along with writing, he inherited from his Franco-Oppositionalist parents.
Between Eternities features selections from his weekly columns for a handful of Spanish publications spanning some 30 years. The topics themselves are just as far reaching, while striving for a sort of timeless universality rather than sticking to the matters of the day. Those that are tied to specific events, like the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, sadly still ring increasingly true and relevant. Addressed in “A Horrific Nightmare,” Marías imagines a Europe in which the gun control problem faced by Americans on a day-to-day basis has become endemic, resulting in the arming of right-wing fanatics of all stripes and the potential danger they would then pose. One can only imagine how horrific such a cultural shift would seem from an outside perspective. Here, we’ve all but become numb to the continued social devastation rendered by guns and the maniacs who have unfettered access to them.
It’s not all social commentary, however, as much of Between Eternities finds the celebrated writer musing on the mundane. Whether it be the proper disposal of a deceased stork chick (“The Modest Case of the Dead Stork”), the imagined nocturnal activities of apartment-dwelling neighbors (“Noises in the Night”) or the overwhelming love of football (the non-American kind, natch) (“The Weekly Return to Childhood”), Marías manages to make even the most mundane of subjects interesting without an over reliance on self-deprecating humor or absurdist observations. Instead, his is a more introspective, almost wide-eyed approach to the world that makes reading of the inner-workings and intricacies of Venice (“Venice, an Interior”) both highly informative, surprisingly character-driven and entertaining, often all at once.
But it’s his more personal writings that tend to be the most effective. “A Borrowed Dream,” which opens the collection, recounts a dream his brother had in the wake of their father’s passing. In said dream, their father meets up with their deceased mother and brother, both of whom remained the age at which they passed and had apparently been waiting decades for their husband and father to join them in the afterlife. It’s a deeply personal recounting that offers universal ramifications for those seeking solace following the death of a loved one. Real or imagined, it is implied, we will all be reunited with those we have lost and love most.
Between Eternities is a fine primer in Marías’ style and appreciation for what many would consider somewhat lowbrow culture. He time and again references and sings the praises of such America cinematic fare as Westerns, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and It’s a Wonderful Life. Scattered amongst the more academic and esoteric literary references, these more accessible works help to make Marías’ style of essay that much more relatable, while still retaining an air of erudition and worldliness. In other words, Between Eternities is a fine distillation of the high- and lowbrow culture that makes up the majority of our world as well as serving as a fine introduction to one of the greatest post-Franco writers Spain has produced.