While the Women Are Sleeping (1990)
Javier Marías (1941)
Translated (2010) by Margaret Jull Costa
The nebulous region between our daily lives and the supernatural world of our imaginations and dreams provides the stage for Javier Marías in this collection of ten short stories, While the Women Are Sleeping. His characters in these stories lead normal lives, and seem to feel largely in control of their destinies, until Marías presents them with a person or an event that lies outside their previous understanding of the world. At that moment they are forced to confront the uneasiness, and sometimes fear, that come with facing the unknown.
In the title story, the narrator and his wife are enjoying a long holiday at a beach resort; they pass their days on the hot sand watching their fellow bathers, commenting on their peculiarities. One day a new couple arrives at the beach, drawing their interest, and, over the next many days they observe this couple, watching the man spend all his time circling the woman with a video camera, as she sits tanning herself or wades briefly into the water. The narrator and his wife notice that the man “didn’t ask the young woman to do anything … he seemed content with making a visual record, day after day, of that naked statuary figure.” Late one evening the narrator meets the man next to the hotel pool and, as the wives sleep unaware in their rooms, he learns the strange compulsion behind the daily videotaping.
Gualta opens with a man attending a company dinner, where he meets a colleague who could not only be his twin, but who in fact has all his same mannerisms and attitudes. After the initial shock wears off, the narrator engages, experiences and judges … himself. Surprised at what he finds, he returns home from the dinner with a new awareness --- and a new obsession.
A man looks up on the world from his grave in The Life and Death of Marcelino Iturriaga. As the story opens, it is the one year anniversary of his death, and his wife is visiting, bringing “a bouquet of flowers which she very carefully places on top of me … blocking my view.” He remembers back to the sudden illness he developed in the months leading up to his death, and the strange and unexpected transition to a new state of being that he experienced upon dieing.
The majority of the stories in this collection are told in the first person, which heightens our connection and empathy with the characters as they confront these unforeseen shifts in their conception of the world. Marías writes with a mix of sly humor and directness that draws us into the stories, and allows us to see ourselves in them --- including our largely subconscious fear that we do not actually have it all under control.
Other reviews / information:
For American readers of a certain age, these stories will have a bit of the feel of a literary version of the old Twilight Zone television series.
Other works I have read by Marías, though I read them before I began this blog of reviews:
- When I was Mortal: A collection of short stories.
- A Heart so White: A novel of a man who upon getting married reconsiders his past.
- Dark Back of Time: A novel written as a kind of imagined biography; a study of human nature that will pull you in deeply and force you to consider ideas and fears you had tried to leave buried in your subconscious.
Have you read this book, others by this author, or even similar ones by other authors? I’d enjoy hearing your feedback.
Other of my book reviews: FICTION and NON-FICTION