I read three Javier Marias books like year, a trilogy that was published in 2004-2010 or so. I think that Javier Marias is an incredibly readable and interesting and brilliant writer, and his weaving together of a kind of crime novel, spy novel, and cultural critique over the course of 1300 or pages in the Your Face Tomorrow books should put him in contention for the Nobel without question, and that’s not even getting at the dozen or so other novels he’s written.
In an interview at the end of this novel he talks about who he had been reading when he wrote this short novel. He discusses Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and then mentions the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, made by Billy Wilder. All of this tracks in this book.
This is a novel within a novel about a group of people who are meeting in a cafe when a man comes in and asks them to allow him to read a novel his now dead friend wrote. They agree, and the rest of the novel, with minor intrusions is that novel, Voyage Along the Horizon. That novel is about a shady captain who convinces a group of literati to accompany him to Antarctica in order to communally wrote or create a piece of art. As the voyage goes on it becomes more and more harried, and more and more death-filled.
The structure, plot, and style of this novel is very much along the lines of Conrad, namely of course Heart of Darkness, but given his mentioning of Henry James, I was reminded of James’s long story, “The Patagonia” (the ship in Marias’s novel is the Tallahassee), in which James describes an Atlantic crossing, but also makes reference to his own novella Daisy Miller.
Anyway, this is a charming and precocious novel that shows a lot of talent and intelligence. But it’s notable mostly because the author was only 20 when he published it, which is outrageous.