Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías

I ended my post on the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow with a question: is Deza in control of his narrative, consciously choosing to let the thread go and pick it up again as he so often comments on others doing, “or is it a true natural stream of consciousness coming through—and is there a difference?”

The third volume, Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, doesn’t come close to answering this question outright, but Deza does provide some useful information when he begins to turn his interpretive faculties on himself. He is spurred in this direction by “young Pérez Nuix,” a colleague in the interpretive work he does for Tupra, who bursts out laughing at a hypothetical Deza gives about himself and Tupra.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘it just amuses me that even an intelligent man like you should suffer from the same inability. It’s astonishing how wrong our perception of ourselves always is, how hopeless we are at gauging and weighing up our strengths and weaknesses. Even people like us—gifted and highly trained in examining and deciphering our fellow man—become one-eyed idiots when we make ourselves the object of our studies. It’s probably the lack of perspective and the impossibility of observing yoruself without knowing that you’re doing so.’

Much later, in another conversation with his young colleague, Deza disagrees with her on the care novelists put into their work. He thinks they must take great pains what to include, while she doubts that: “‘If that were the case, no one would ever write anything. It’s just not possible to live that cautiously, it’s too paralyzing.'”

It’s this paralysis, I suspect, that leads Deza in quite another direction: he puts everything in, or at least, he puts in all sides of what he does put in, with his constant hedging and amending and revisiting.

One of the subjects of Deza’s investigations, or rather interpretations, is a famous aging pop singer, alias Dick Dearlove. Think Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, perhaps Elton John, you know the type: past his prime, still easily selling out shows, still gets plenty of sexy young men and women when he tours a place like Spain but admits he now has to pay for it back home in England. Deza’s main diagnosis here is “narrative horror,” or what Tupra and the rest of the group have previously named the “Kennedy-Mansfield” syndrome. Kennedy as in John F., and Mansfield as in Jayne. The issue is one of having the carefully constructed narrative of one’s life, worked out painstakingly over decades to make one appear just thus and so, undone by some late-hour scandal or tragedy, or overshadowed by a spectacular and memorable death. We all have some narrative of our lives, some constructed Self, on which we may place greater or lesser importance. For K-M syndrome sufferers, the importance is immense.

For someone like Deza, it seems much less, but it still exists. It is that which leads him to warn us, over and over, and then over again, never to say anything to anyone or tell anyone anything or let a single word escape us that might reveal something about us—because such revelation will only be used against us, turned against us and our narrative somehow to undo the self or story we have created. Deza obviously does tell us his story, but his particular style of narrative horror leads him to a variation on hysterical realism. Deza doesn’t describe every little detail of everything in every scene. Instead, he hysterically describes and then re-describes the same things, sometimes in contradictory ways, giving as many sides as possible to the reader so the reader can do his or her best to put things back together again, perhaps not getting it right but hopefully also not getting it wrong.

It’s taken me far too long to enter my own thoughts on this final volume of Your Face Tomorrow, readalong graciously hosted by (the very patient) Richard. But I will make up for it, I hope, because this giant of a trilogy has inspired me far beyond the confines of a single post. If I were smart, I would have held this until Monday and done a week. But I’ve made you all wait long enough, and I do believe a five-post series is on the way all the same.

4 comments to Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías

  • I’m entirely game to receive a concluding five-post series on this novel, Nicole, esp. if the remaining ones are as insightful about the narrative (and narratibve style) as this one. Was particularly pleased to be reminded about these two secenes featuring Pérez-Nuix’s exchanges with Deza, so rich in highlighting Deza’s own self-awareness issues and in that of Marías’ ironic playfulness in questioning the goal of the novelist himself. So glad, once again, that you decided to read along during the trilogy despite the time commitment required!

  • “young Pérez Nuix” – revealing psychological tic, or obscure running joke?

    The chunk about Jayne Mansfield was one of my favorite parts of the novel, although I am not sure why.

  • With young Nuix’s mention of “one-eyed idiots”, I’m also reminded of the possible long-running joke on “one-eyed oblivion” in the first sentence of the book. A very witty turn on “private eye”. I like your diagnosis of “narrative horror” and how Deza exhibits its symptoms in his oblique tell-all narrative. I am seeing this tendency not only in Deza but in the narrators in other novels. Look forward to the rest of your multi-post.

  • Richard—It’s been so worth the time commitment! Thanks again for hosting; as you can see I’m going strong this week and still very into Marías.

    AR—I like to think of it as both tic and joke. I especially liked the photo of Mansfield with Loren.

    Rise—Be careful about looking too hard for narrative horror—you may find it all too often in real life. Scary!

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