Javier Marías was the author of 15 novels, a long-running contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and also the ‘monarch’ of the uninhabited Caribbean island of Redonda. Although he wrote in Spanish, the translations of his works into almost 50 languages won him readers across the globe.
He published his first novel, Los dominios del lobo, at the age of 19. His final novel, Tomas Nevinson, was published in 2021. In a writing career spanning nearly 50 years, Marías emerged as one of the foremost writers in the Spanish language despite sustained criticism for not being “Spanish” enough and for his unusual use of syntax. The writer died on Sunday following a lung infection. He had tested positive for Covid-19 earlier.
“Life is a very bad novelist. It is chaotic and ludicrous,” Marías had once said about life. These short excerpts from interviews to various publications, this is what the writer had to say about becoming a king, Spanish literature, distractions in the digital age, and more.
From Bomb Magazine:
I wrote my first novel, Los dominios del lobo (The Domains of the Wolf), from a feeling of total irresponsibility. I started writing my own things 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 found out I could write them myself. Of course it was just mimicry, but I really started writing in order to read more of what I liked.
That first novel of mine still responds to that same spirit: it’s a pastiche, it’s parody and also a tribute to the golden age of American cinema in the 1930s and ’40s. It takes place in the United States, and the prose is completely different from how I write now.
From The White Review:
I was accused of that [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 Voyage Along the Horizon in English. My first two novels didn’t have anything to do with Spain or Spanish people or political issues, and some people started to say, this is an English writer who translated himself into Spanish.
It was said that my Spanish is full of syntactical inaccuracies, and it’s true – I have forced the syntax in my language very much, not only because of my knowledge of English, but also because languages should be more resilient than some academic people allow them to be. So I had this foreign writer label – and it was very derogatory – but then I’ve had several different labels throughout my very long career.
From The New York Times:
I do not much believe in national literatures. Important as it is, the language in which you write is secondary. There is no such thing as “Spanish literature.” In Spain there are great single 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.
From The LA Review of Books:
Well, I don’t have this problem [difficult time with the internet] at all. What can I say, then? I don’t own a smartphone. I don’t even use a computer, but go on with my old typewriter and correct and amend by hand. I am not interested in knowing the equivalent to what was in the past just telephone conversations or remarks uttered by someone in the tavern or pub, as it were. Why should I be listening to private conversations? The fact that they are not private anymore does not make them more interesting or important.
As for video games – I am not sure I know what they are. The world has become childish to an incomprehensible extent. Even adult readers read novels for young people or kids. I am sorry, but I am interested in adulthood, as I devoted my childhood to childhood, as it ever was the custom. Nowadays too many people want childhood – and its lack of responsibility – to last until death. A serious limitation to humanhood, I think.
From The Paris Review:
I have never said that I am the king of Redonda or signed anything other than my name, Javier Marías. I have never been monarchic. I am rather a republican. It is only a title. The island was recovered by Antigua, it belongs to Antigua, and I am not going to have dynastic disputes about anything that is more fictional than real. In my opinion, Jon Wynne-Tyson made the mistake of answering to the pretenders, and he was disputing with them all of the time, probably more privately than publicly. I decided never to reply to anyone. And that is what I have done. I have said, tongue in cheek, that this is the only kingly thing to do: not reply at all. What would the king of England or the king of Spain do? They would not reply.