There are many reasons to admire the novels of Javier Marías, who might be the best-kept secret of Spanish literature, even though all his work has been translated into English for a global audience. A secret, because he is yet to command the adulation that his fiction – known for blurring the lines between reliability and imagination – deserves, an adulation that the world has granted to writers of lesser abilities but better spin doctors.

As The Paris Review puts it: “His own books have been published in more than thirty languages and have sold over five million copies worldwide, and he is often mentioned in the European press as a contender for the Nobel Prize. Critics and admiring colleagues (JM Coetzee, Salman Rushdie, and the late WG Sebald) have praised the way he pits Spanish black humour against English grandiloquence to produce novels that are simultaneously fast-paced and meticulous, speculative and clinical, stylish and classical.”

If there’s one thing that needs to be singled out from Marías’s work, however, it is his beginnings. No reader can stop at the first sentence. Here’s a selection:

All Souls
Of the three, two have died since I left Oxford and the superstitious thought occurs to me that they were perhaps just waiting for me to arrive and live out my time there in order to give me the chance to know them and, now, to speak about them.

A Heart So White
I did not want to know but I have since come to know that one of the girls, when she wasn’t a girl anymore and hadn’t been long back from her honeymoon, went into the bathroom, stood in front of the mirror, unbuttoned her blouse, took off her bra and aimed her father’s gun at her heart, her father at the time was in the dining room with other members of the family and three guests.

Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me
No one ever expects that they might some day find themselves with a dead woman in their arms, a woman whose face they will never see again, but whose name they will remember.

Dark Back Of Time
I believe I’ve still never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once, as everyone does, not only novelists or writers but everyone who has recounded anything since the time we know began, and no one in that known time has done anything but tell and tell, or prepare and ponder a tale, or plot one.

The Man Of Feeling
I don’t know whether I should tell you my dreams.

Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever And Spear
One should never tell anyone anything or give information or pass on stories or make people remember beings who have never existed or trodden the earth or traversed the world, or who, having done so, are now almost safe in uncertain, one-eyed oblivion.

Your Face Tomorrow 2: Dance And Dream
Let us hope that no one ever asks us for anything, or even enquires, no advice or favour or loan, not even the loan of our attention, let us hope that others do not ask us to listen to them, to their wretched problems and their painful predicaments so like our own, to their incomprehensible doubts and their paltry stories which are so often interchangeable and have all been written before (the range of stories that can be told is not that wide), or to what used to be called their travails, who doesn't have them or, if he doesn't, brings them upon himself, "unhappiness is an invention", I often repeat to myself, and these words hold true for misfortunes that come from inside not outside and always assuming they are not misfortunes which are, objectively speaking, unavoidable, a catastrophe, an accident, a death, a defeat, a dismissal, a plague, a famine, or the vicious persecution of some blameless person, history is full of them, as is our own, by which I mean these unfinished times of ours (there are even dismissals and defeats and deaths that are self-inflicted or deserved or, indeed, invented).

Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow And Farewell
While it isn't ever something we would wish for, we would all nonetheless always prefer it to be the person beside us who dies, whether on a mission or in battle, in an air squadron or under bombardment or in the trenches when there were trenches, in a mugging or a raid on a shop or when a group of tourists is kidnapped, in an earthquake, an explosion, a terrorist attack, in a fire, it doesn't matter: even if it's our colleague, brother, father or even our child, however young.

The Infatuations
The last time I was Miguel Desvern or Deverne was also the last time that his wife, Luisa, saw him, which seemed strange, perhaps unfair, given that she was his wife, while I, on the other hand, was a person he had never met, a woman with whom he had never exchanged so much as a single word.