For one love - foretold, desired, dreamed of

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For one love - foretold, desired, dreamed of
For one love - foretold, desired, dreamed of

This is another brilliant novel by Spanish writer Javier Marías, who is among the favorites in the annual Nobel Prize for Literature stakes.

The Sentimental Man” is an unusually elegant and insightful novel set in an equally exquisite frame. An opera singer travels by train to Madrid, where he will transform into the character of Cassio from Verdi's opera Otello. On the train, she meets a strange trio - a woman, her husband and his secretary, her companion. Then he discovers that they are staying at the same hotel, subtly slips into their closed circle and, as expected, a love triangle emerges from all this. It sounds melodramatic, but from the pen of Javier Marías even the most banal plot gains originality. It is a story of a love before the beginning and after the end, beyond its own being, a love foretold, desired, thought, dreamed. The sophisticated analysis of the "big feelings", the subtle irony and the multitude of emotional and thought details pour into a musical immensity that reverberates long after the reader closes the last page.

Javier Marías is the most awarded contemporary Spanish writer. His books have been translated into 35 languages worldwide. The novel "For me, remember in tomorrow's battle", one of Marías' signatures, was awarded the "Fastenrat" prize of the Spanish Royal Academy, the "Romulo Gallegos" prize of Venezuela for Spanish-language prose, the French "Femina" for foreign literature, the Italian " Mondello" and others. Many of his translations from English have also been awarded. Javier Marías has taught Spanish literature and translation theory at the University of Oxford and translation theory at the Complutense University of Madrid. Since 2006, he has been a member of the Spanish Royal Academy. The Boston Globe wrote of him: "The most nuanced and gifted writer of contemporary Spanish literature".



I don't know if I should tell you my dreams. They are old dreams, out of fashion, more suitable for a young person than an adult. They are gingerbread and at the same time precise, a little sluggish, although very picturesque, like the dreams that a rich in fantasy, but in fact a simple soul, a very orderly soul would dream. They are wearisome dreams, because the dreamer always wakes up before their resolution, as if the dream-impulse had exhausted itself with the description of the details, and was indifferent to the result, as if the dream-activity were the only one still ideal and aimless. Therefore I do not know how my dreams end, and it may be unkind to recount them without being able to offer a conclusion or a lesson. But I find them fantastic and very tense. The only thing I can add in my justification is that I write from that form of duration-that place of my eternity that has chosen me.

What I dreamed this morning, however, when it was already in doubt, is something that happened in reality and that happened to me when I was a little younger or less old than now, although that it's not over yet.

Four years ago, for work, just before I miraculously overcame my fear of airplanes (I'm a singer), I traveled by train multiple times in a fairly short period of time, six weeks in total. These short journeys, without rest between crossings, took me to the western part of our continent, and during the penultimate of the series (from Edinburgh to London, from London to Paris, and from Paris to Madrid in one day) I saw for the first time the three faces I dreamed this morning, and they are the same who have occupied a part of my imagination, many of my memories, and my whole life (respectively) since then, or for four years.

In fact, I did not immediately notice them, as if something warned me not to do so, or I, unconsciously, wanted to postpone the danger and happiness to which our acquaintance would lead (however, I fear that this thought belongs to -rather to my dream than to the then reality). I was reading a volume of self-satisfied memoirs by an Austrian writer, but at one time, being very irritated (indeed this morning he threw me off my balance), I closed it, and contrary to my habit, when I travel by railways, I do not talk, I do not read, I do not negotiate my repertoire, nor do I remember failures and successes - I did not look "straight" at the landscape, but at my companions in the compartment. The woman was sleeping, the men were awake.

The first man, for his part, was actually looking at the scenery: he was sitting right across from me with his large head of curly white hair turned to the right and his impressively small hand - so small that it seemed as if it could not belong to anyone a real human body - with which he slowly caressed his cheek. I could only see his features in profile, but within the general indeterminacy of his age-one of those slightly enchanted figures who give the impression of bearing the strain of time more than necessary, as if the threat of imminent death and the hope of remaining forever sealed in an unblemished image compensate them for the effort-he looked quite old because of that frozen luxuriant vegetation which crowned him, and the two furrows-deep cuts in smooth skin-which on either side of a barely outlined, at first expressionless mouth suggested a man prone to smiling for years, both when it was appropriate and when it was not. At that moment of his indeterminable age he looked quiet, small and rich, in his smart but slightly worn trousers and a little short trousers - his whistles were almost exposed – and his glittery, multicolored jacket. A man to whom fortune came late, I thought; maybe a medium-sized entrepreneur, independent, but at heart. As I could not see his gaze, which was directed outwards, I could not tell whether I was in the presence of a cheerful or gloomy person (though he was heavily perfumed, giving off a faded but invincible coquettishness). In any case, he looked with extreme attention, one would say with eloquence, as if he were present at the painting of a picture or had before his eyes water or fire, from which it is sometimes so difficult to look away. But scenery is never dramatic, like painting a picture, moving water, or wavering fire, and for that reason viewing it refreshes the weary and bores the tireless. I, in spite of my strong appearance and he alth, which I cannot complain of under the increasingly iron demands of the profession, get very tired - a consideration for which I decided to look at the landscape in my turn, "mediated", through the invisible eyes of the man with the small hands, the elegant trousers and the sumptuous jacket. However, as it was already getting dark, I could barely see anything-only bas-reliefs-and I thought that the man must have been looking at himself in the glass. At least I, after a few minutes, when at last there came the soft victory over the light under the faint, uncertain glow of a still northern evening, saw it double, split, repeated, almost as clearly in the windowpane as in reality. No doubt, I decided, the man was studying his features, looking at himself. The second man, sitting diagonally across from me, stared straight ahead. It was one of those heads the very sight of which stirs turmoil in the soul of one who still has an uncleared path before him, or, in other words, of one who still depends on his own efforts. Baldness, which must have been hastened, had not succeeded in shaking his complacency, nor his determined lust for power, had not softened-nor even clouded-the sharp expression of eyes accustomed to run quickly over the things of the world-accustomed to being caressed by the things in the world-that had the color of cognac. His own self-doubt had allowed himself to pay no other tribute than a flawless black mustache to hide his rugged features and diminish the incipient spiky--and it might still pass for strength to a pair of his subdued eyes--of head, neck, and his prone to roundness belly. The man was powerful, ambitious, a politician, an exploiter, and his attire, especially the shiny jacket and pin tie, seemed to come from across the ocean, or rather was due to a polished European bow to the style considered elegant across the ocean. He was a dozen years older than I, but a throbbing vein, visible for a moment in the slight smile which his full lips now and then silently outlined-like someone changing his posture or crossing and uncrossing his legs, nothing more-me inclined to think that so powerful a man must have had something childish about him, which, combined with his rotund body, would have made those who perceived him split between laughter and horror, and added to them a few drops of irrational sympathy. Perhaps this was the only thing he lacked in life: his wishes to be understood and fulfilled without having to communicate them. Even when their accomplishment was certain, he might be compelled from time to time to resort to stratagems, threats, oaths, attacks. But probably just to have fun, probably to periodically test his acting skills and not lose flexibility. Probably to subdue men better, for I know very well that there is no more effective nor more lasting obedience than that which is built upon the invented, or even upon that which never existed. This man, whom I had at first judged in my dream to be as cowardly as he was tyrannical, did not look at me-as well as the other-not once, at least as far as I could tell, that is, while I was looking at him. This man, of whom I now know too much, looked, as I say, indifferently before him, as if on the empty seat, which he must not have seen, was written the detailed history of a future unknown to him, which only remained to be confirmed.

While the exploitative type had revealed his face in full and the slightly enchanted individual only the profile, the woman sitting between the two, with whom the men may or may not have traveled together, had no face at the moment. The head? was upright, but the face ? it was covered by the straight, brown hair that fell forward on purpose-probably to shield the light train sleep from the light, probably so as not to unduly expose the intimate, relaxed image that she herself could not see-the sleeping?, lifeless image. The legs? they were criss-crossed, and very low-heeled winter boots exposed only the upper part of the calf, which passed to the knee - where the faint sheen of the tights was enhanced - and ended at the end of a black skirt that appeared to me to be suede. The whole figure, without the face, gave the impression of impeccability, of stability, of end and resignation, as if there was no more room in it for changes, nor for corrections and refusals-like the days already ended, like the legends, like the church services of the established religions, like the paintings of ages past that no one would dare touch. The hands, placed in the lap, rested in turn on top of each other, the right with an open palm, the left - perpendicular to it - in a half-closed fist. But the thumb of the left-long fingers, a little bony, like one tempted to say goodbye to youth prematurely-moved slightly, in jerks, like the involuntary, spasmodic movements of sleepers against their will. She had an old-fashioned pearl necklace; he had a red cape around his neck; he had a double silver ring on his ring finger. The hair ?, no doubt thus adjusted by a single, repeated movement of the head, did not allow one to even imagine the face ?, proceeding from any visible feature alone, so thickly did it fall, like an opaque veil. So I took a good look at the hands. Besides the movement of the thumb, something else caught my attention: not so much the nails-hard, whitish, groomed-as the skin around them looked badly bitten or burned, to such an extent that that of the forefingers-for it was mostly that of the the pointers-one could tell outright that she was gone, and question whether she had ever been there. At the edges of those nails, the epidermis was badly deformed, giving it a red, ugly color, like inflammation, or they were open wounds. I thought that if it was the latter (for I could not distinguish well) it was the work not so much of the unseen incisors of the sleeping woman and of the girl she had been, as of time itself, for the atrophy-and, it seems, for that it was a question-it needs no less disuse and inactivity, no less a systematic will to remove, than the most temporal of existing things, that which, above all, best distracts all things from their temporality: habit (or its ever-belated son, the law that declares that the time of habit is now over and the distraction is over). I was beginning to ponder these questions of which I understand nothing, and of which I really know nothing, when, by a great lateral jolt of the train, that brown, shiny, straight hair revealed for a moment the face it guarded. The face did not wake, and after only a few seconds everything returned to its old position, but in the large, tight and tense lips, in the squeezed, tense eyelids, streaked with tiny red veins (in the unseen closed eyes), I saw that the woman who she was sleeping, she was tortured, how can I say? Perhaps I saw that she was tormented by a melancholy breakdown.

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