Sunday, September 10, 2023

Everything tends towards attenuation

'What happened is the least of it. It's a novel, and once you've finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel's imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with, a plot that we recall far more vividly than real events and to which we pay far more attention.' That isn't true, or rather, it's sometimes true, but one doesn't always forget what happened, not in a novel that almost everyone knew or knows, even those who have never read it, nor in reality when what happens is actually happening to us and is going to be our story, which could end one way or another with no novelist to decide and independent of anyone else..."

Since January, I have borrowed this book five times. On the latest occasion I renewed it a further two times. So it's been at my fingertips for twenty-one (nonconsecutive) weeks. I tried renewing it again yesterday, just in case, but somehow my request didn't register. But I managed to finish it. Finally I finished The Infatuations, by Javier Marías.

I tagged it to my library wishlist in May 2016. The first borrowing wasn't even, strictly speaking, intentional. I downloaded it as an extra, to bypass a glitch in downloading reserved library ebooks; it may as well be something I'm actually interested in reading, I thought.

I started reading it in February. Until the next waitlisted book became available. The Infatuations, it seemed, was always available. No harm in letting it expire if I could just check it out again. I read some more in April, but not in June. Some library worker might review my loan history and think I was infatuated, even obsessed, with this book. In July, I decided to read it in earnest and had to go back to the beginning.

Our protagonist is smitten with a couple, "the Perfect Couple," she knows by sight; they frequent the same café most mornings. Until one day she realizes she hasn't seen them for a while, and learns that the man had been brutally murdered.

"How easy it is for a person simply to vanish into thin air," I thought. "Someone only has to move jobs or house and you'll never know anything more about them, never see them again. All it takes is a change in work schedule. How fragile they are, these connections with people one knows only by sight."

María Dolz is infatuated with the couple, but is also a little in love with them singly, consumed by the details of the death and the imagined life of Miguel Devern, and fascinated by Luisa Alday, with whom she finally exchanges words.

Yes, there are people who cannot bear misfortune. Not because they're frivolous or empty-headed. They're not, of course, immune to grief, and they doubtless experience grief as intensely as anyone else. But they're designed to shake it off more quickly and without too much difficulty, as if they were simply incompatible with such states of mind. It's in their nature to be light-hearted and cheerful and they see no particular prestige in suffering, unlike most of the rest of boring humanity.

The couple had also noticed María as a regular; "the Prudent Young Woman" they called her. At Luisa's home, she meets Javier Díaz-Varela, and speculates about the nature of their relationship, but soon after she herself develops a sexual relationship with him, an infatuation. He in turn seems to have his sights on the widow of his best friend. 

What is fact, what is real, and what is true? What is fiction, what stories do we tell ourselves so we sleep better at night, what explanations are lazy or fantastical, what excuses result from obscure psychological motivations?

In the end, everything tends towards attenuation, sometimes little by little and thanks to great effort and willpower on our part; sometimes with unexpected speed and contrary to our will, while we struggle in vain to keep faces from fading and paling into nothing, and deeds and words from becoming blurred objects that drift about in our memory with the same scant value as those we've read about in novels or seen and heard in films: we don't really care what happen in books and films and forget about them once they're over, although, as Díaz-Varela has said when he spoke to me about Colonel Chabert, they do have the ability to show us what we don't know and what doesn't happen. When someone tells us something, it always seems like a fiction, because we don’t know the story at first hand and can’t be sure it happened, however much we are assured that the story is a true one, not an invention, but real. At any rate, it forms part of the hazy universe of narratives, with their blind spots and contradictions and obscurities and mistakes, all surrounded and encircled by shadows or darkness, however hard they strive to be exhaustive and diaphanous, because they are incapable of achieving either of those qualities.

I think about my various infatuations, how some linger, vanish slowly, others stop suddenly, with no consistency of logic. I think about the boy from the bookshop who used to come buy coffee from me every day at the bakery the summer I was eighteen, until one day I stopped working there and he was gone forever.