Javier Marías was the author of 15 novels, a longtime candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and also the “monarch” of the uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda. Although he wrote in Spanish, translations of his works into nearly 50 languages have earned him readers around the world.
He publishes his first novel, Los dominios del lobo, at the age of 19. His latest novel, Tomas Nevinson, was published in 2021. Over a writing career spanning almost 50 years, Marías has established herself as one of the leading writers in the Spanish language despite sustained criticism for not being “Spanish” enough and for its unusual use of syntax. The writer died on Sunday from a lung infection. He had tested positive for Covid-19 earlier.
“Life is a very bad novelist. It’s chaotic and ridiculous,” Marías had said of life. These short excerpts from interviews to various publications, here’s what the writer had to say about becoming king, Spanish literature, entertainment in the digital age, and more.
Of Bomb Magazine:
I wrote my first novel, Los dominios del lobo (The Domains of the Wolf), a feeling of total irresponsibility. I started writing my own stuff when I was 12, 13, and I know why I did it – mainly because I had finished all the adventure novels, musketeer novels and Dumas that I was reading at the time. Then I discovered that I could write them myself. Of course, it was just mimicry, but I really started writing to read more of what I liked.
This first novel mine always responds to this same spirit: it’s a pastiche, it’s a parody and also a tribute to the golden age of American cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. It takes place in the United States, and the prose is completely different from the way I write now.
Of The white magazine:
I’ve been accused of this [not being “Spanish” enough] for many years. My second novel featured British characters and a strange expedition to the South Pole or the North Pole, I can’t remember which. It was published in 1973, titled Journey along the horizon In English. My first two novels had nothing to do with Spain, Spaniards or political issues, and some people started saying, it’s an English writer who translated himself into Spanish.
It has been said that my spanish is full of syntactical inaccuracies, and it’s true – I forced the syntax a lot in my language, not only because of my knowledge of English, but also because languages should be more resilient than some academics allow. So I had this label of foreign writer – and it was very derogatory – but then I had several different labels throughout my very long career.
Of The New York Times:
I don’t believe much in national literatures. As important as it is, the language in which you write is secondary. There is no “Spanish literature”. In Spain there are unique great authors, from Cervantes to Juan Benet, from Quevedo to García Lorca, from Jorge Manrique to Antonio Machado, from Lazarillo de Tormes to Valle-Inclán. But each is very different from the others. I myself feel much closer to many foreign authors than to many of my compatriots.
Of The LA Review of Books:
Well I don’t have that problem [difficult time with the internet] at all. What can I say, then? I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t even use a computer, but carry on with my old typewriter and correct and correct by hand. I’m not interested in knowing the equivalent of what in the past was just telephone conversations or remarks made by someone in the tavern or pub, so to speak. Why should I listen to private conversations? The fact that they are no longer private does not make them more interesting or important.
As for video games, I’m not sure what they are. The world has become childish to an incomprehensible extent. Even adult readers read novels for young people or children. I’m sorry but I am interested in adulthood, as I devoted my childhood to childhood, as has always been the custom. Today, too many people want childhood – and its irresponsibility – to last until death. A serious limitation to humanity, I think.
Of The Paris review:
I never said I was the King of Redonda or signed anything other than my name, Javier Marías. I have never been monarchical. I’m more of a Republican. It’s just a title. The island was taken over by Antigua, it belongs to Antigua, and I won’t have any dynastic disputes over anything more fictional than real. In my opinion, Jon Wynne-Tyson made the mistake of responding to suitors, and he argued with them all the time, probably more in private than in public. I decided never to answer anyone. And that’s what I did. I said, ironically, that’s the only royal thing to do: not answer at all. What would the King of England or the King of Spain do? They wouldn’t answer.