The Structure of Your Face Tomorrow

When I finished the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow, I contemplated the many episodes that make up Deza’s narrative as he follows the stream of his consciousness, and now that I’ve completed the series I decided to do some real work and go through and analyze the structure of the whole thing. It’s a bit involved, and highly subjective, but I think reveals some interesting things about the trilogy.

First, I went through and “coded” passages in the book according to what overall “theme” or motif I thought they most belonged to. The selection and classification into themes is where most of the subjectivity comes in but I don’t think available “scientific” alternatives are really an improvement. So I used what I’ll call my best judgment to come up with eleven main “themes” of the novel plus a “wrap-up” section at the end of the last section, where I felt too many things were covered too quickly to really subdivide further. Typically, a section of narrative had to be at least three or four pages long for me to count it as its own section, so simple allusions or brief, sentence- or paragraph-long interludes aren’t counted here. Based on the classification of each episode I made this way, I calculated how much of each book, each volume, and the total trilogy was taken up with each theme. You can see all the original data the calculations are based on in this Google Docs spreadsheet.

The first volume of the trilogy, Fever and Spear, has eight of my themes present, with three clearly dominating the field. “The Group,” passages that deal primarily with Deza and his employment with Tupra, working on what Sir Peter Wheeler prefers not to call other than simple “the group,” and all their activities involved with interpreting and translating and beyond, takes up nearly half the book. Over a fifth of the book falls under what I call the “loose lips sink ships” theme, which includes everything from Deza’s abstract exhortations not to speak or tell stories to Sir Peter’s lecture on the British propaganda campaign encouraging silence about the war effort. You can see already that I’m using “theme” very loosely here to name these categories; “The Group” is not quite the same in kind to “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” You can also see that “Loose Lips Sink Ships” will relate very closely to other categories, like the Spanish Civil War. And that something like “The Group” will intertwine with “Young Pérez Nuix” and “De la Garza” to an especial degree.

In third place for the first volume we have “Spanish Civil War,” but looking at only “Fever,” the first book, that section is much more prominent. This is the night Deza spends in Sir Peter’s study, maniacally researching the history of his patria or pais. This book is almost entirely taken up with the Spanish Civil War and The Group, but with many tiny competing slices. In “Spear,” though, most previous themes will disappear and only Loose Lips Sink Ships and The Group remain from before. Young Pérez Nuix appears and her entrée is pretty significant.

The first part of the second volume, “Dance,” does some interesting things to maintain and imitate the structure of the first volume. In “Dance,” we are back up to seven themes, one of which, “The Disco,” is entirely new (and significant, at 13%), and another, “De la Garza,” is resurrected from a much tinier piece of “Fever.” Of course, The Disco and De la Garza are also highly interrelated here, so we basically have something insignificant from the first book reappearing here in much more elaborated and central form. A small, perhaps even amusing headache for Deza in the beginning becomes a larger, much nastier one.

“Dance” also resurrects “The Dancing Neighbor,” which will come up in each volume of the trilogy though always in muted quantities and at long intervals, and “Luisa,” who disappeared from the more focused “Spear” and is back in more than double her previous amount. Young Pérez Nuix is also becoming more prominent, but The Group itself is getting less screen time as its more specific related categories take up more space.

The surface of “Dream” takes place mostly in a small, limited setting (the handicapped bathroom of the disco), as the surface of “Spear” similarly does (Sir Peter’s house). And again, after a wide-ranging first part of the volume, “Dream” focuses in on fewer themes, including the further extension of De la Garza’s importance.

Overall, the structure of the whole second volume, Dance and Dream, is divided into the same number of categories as Fever and Spear; one has been replaced and here each has more equal opportunity in the spotlight.

Volume three, Poison, Shadow, and Farewell, has each of the seven themes that appear in the the first two volumes, plus two new ones (not counting the “Wrap-up”), and seems most fragmented of them all.

That’s mostly thanks to the final book, “Farewell,” and the fact that “Poison” and “Shadow” overlap only where “The Group” is concerned.

It is interesting that in “Shadow,” Luisa finally gets most of the spotlight, particularly after Young Pérez Nuix has so stolen the show in “Poison.” The “Poison” theme itself makes its first and only appearance in the book “Poison” (though it involves two separate sections of narrative there), but it paves the way for what comes later as well. The “Custardoy” sections of “Shadow” and “Farewell,” which take up around a quarter of each book, may be related to Luisa and The Group in general, and De la Garza and The Disco, but I would argue that they are most closely related to Poison itself, and to the poison Deza said began to enter him in Tupra’s Peter Pan house.

“Farewell,” the final book, does just what it needs to. Not only does it end with the uncategorizable wrap-up section, even beyond that it wraps things up. Its dominating theme is Loose Lips Sink Ships, which we haven’t seen since its tiny appearances in “Dance” and “Dream.” The Group is relegated to only 7.6% of the book, as it loses importance in Deza’s life. It may be surprising to see that Luisa has also lost so much status here, but the Custardoy storyline finished off and a new equilibrium reached between husband and wife mean less mental energy expended on this by Deza. “Farewell” also gives us a last visit to The Dancing Neighbor, so he’ll be able to appear in each volume, and brings the Spanish Civil War back one more time as well.

I think all this does evince a certain amount of control on the part of Marías, or Deza, or both. Most things are introduced in the first volume, and somewhat rapidly, including some things that won’t appear very important at all until later. Only a few minor things are dropped, and a few more are added as we go along to keep interest and to keep the same ambiance as was initially there, of the constant introduction of new ideas. Meanwhile the main things take turns developing in more depth, and nothing is forgotten at the end that must be repeated, resolved, and put to bed, even if not in a permanent way.

And the end product is, I think, about what you’d expect: a trilogy of many events, motifs and ideas, some very minor, several of medium importance, and a few that stand out as what you would say the book was “about” if someone asked you. The Group turns out to take up 27.5% of the text, not counting the many of its subplots that were separately categorized; no wonder this is a “spy novel.” But Loose Lips Sink Ships makes a pretty strong showing in second place as well, and the way this true theme pervades so much else, including even The Group, also explains why that, for me, is the first thing I think Your Face Tomorrow is “really about.”

There’s lots of other things I could crunch and/or analyze about these episodes. Each episode’s average length; the way their proximity to each other and the orders they are presented in relate to the content. And maybe infinitely more things you could do if you were to change the rules, change the categories, pull apart sentence from sentence, and on and on. But I hope the interest of this, while limited, will be limited not only to myself.

5 comments to The Structure of Your Face Tomorrow

  • This is amazing! I love charts.

    Seriously, I haven’t even read this (yet), but this post was useful to me in terms of getting a sense of the overall shape of the trilogy and how the two- or three-part structure of the volumes works in terms of themes. Very cool!

  • I had wondered about some of this – I mean, not this exactly, not what you are doing – but how these different phrases and themes are distributed, and what meaning, if any, the division of the seven books into three meant. In the first couple of books, especially, there are so few actual scenes that the organization does not seem too hard to grasp. That “The Dancing Neighbor” appears only once per “trilogy” book, things like that.

    You have a good way of showing how the “all over the place” books differ from the more focused ones. “Focused” is the wrong word, but it’ll do.

    A next step might be to take a “simpler” volume like “Poison” and work on how the themes are splintered. Pieces of Young Pérez Nuix and Poison alternate, with no obvious connection. A direct connection appears eventually, but maybe there are other parallels. I don’t know.

    The little phrases and repeated words are presumably some part of the scheme as well.

    Now that you have simplified some of the organization ,the book seems even more complex to me. That’s good, I guess.

  • This is fantastic diligent work! A great resource in delineating Deza’s train of thought. It really highlights recurrence of themes and plot elements, and reveals, to me, the haphazard and random nature of the novelist’s method. Since, like Aira, Marias writes in a kind of forward movement, writing pages and pages without going back to them except perhaps for minor revisions, the “structure” of YFT is I think more important for highlighting Deza’s (or the novelist’s) subconscious more than what he is telling at the surface.

  • Emily—Glad you liked it. I was pretty pleased with how it came out, just in terms of how easy it was to compare things visually like this.

    AR—Yes, the real “first step,” the “if I had sabbaticals” project, would be to pull apart sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, and tag everything like mad. The book is very “webby” like that, where the ties that the tags represent hold everything together in really complex clusters, I think.

    Your point about the obvious direction connections and possibilities of indirect ones is great. I think that would be really key to a re-read. I think you’d find a lot even with a pretty unfocused re-read.

    Rise—Thank you! Good point about Marías’s method, that does make things interesting.

  • Haphazard and random up to a point, right? Significant parts of YFT must have been planned out early. Or maybe I mean insignificant parts, like the plot. But also many of those recurring words and phrases.

    The novel, despite its length, has so few episodes, and only a handful of characters. It’s easy enough to see how JM lines them up in advance, but then leaves himself completely free while writing them, while filling them out. He can digress and improvise to the limits of his capacity or interest. Improvise might be the right word – he just has to return to the chords and melody once in a while to remind us of the underlying song.

    Publishing chunks of the novel before finishing it is a pretty serious conceptual constraint, even for a writer who revises more.