This novel blew me away and I'm still working to fit my pieces together. I got lost into Marías' winding train of thoughts and I'm still trying to find my way back to reality. What was it that I liked so much about this novel? Well, everything: the plot, the subtle humor, the flow of words, the ideas, the profound pondering. I found and lost myself at the same time, and I really can't explain this; if you haven't done it yet, you should read the novel and see for yourself.
Marías talks about death, about memory, about guilt, about the power of names. He also talks about the life of a story, prone to be transformed with every additional mouth that will pass it on. The plot of Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me
is merely an excuse for the writer to travel down the meditative path, to reach depths of thought that left me wondering and made me feel exalted. So many truths that I haven't thought of before, so many approaches that now seem obvious. He made me look at my possessions and ask myself: do these objects hold any interest to other people, or is it just me who justifies their existence and utility? And do I really need all these things around me?
There's death in this novel, unexpected and ludicrous, as in dying in your socks, or at the barber’s, still wearing a voluminous smock, or in a whorehouse or at the dentist’s; or dying in the middle of shaving, with one cheek still covered in foam, half-shaven for all eternity, unless someone notices and finishes the job off out of aesthetic pity.
Through Marías, it suddenly becomes easier to look in the face of the life's worst enemy, to laugh at it and even embrace its possibility a little.
After we are dead, our memory ceases to exist, along with the ephemeral life of our personal things. What was important to us may probably lose its meaning to other people: everything that had meaning and history loses it in a single moment and my belongings lie there inert, suddenly incapable of revealing their past and their origins.
Our smell might persist for a while, if windows are not opened and clothes are not washed. But our bodies will travel towards dissolution, like all things that are never repeated, or happen so often that tend to fall into non-existence. Just as the unwanted belongings, our bodies will suddenly become useless, prone to be discarded like all the scraps that will rot. Our faces will become foggy, but our names will forever be remembered by those who once knew us. Raw, plain reality that we'd better be able to confront.
It isn't just the minuscule history of objects that will disappear in that single moment, it’s also everything I know and have learned, all my memories and everything I've ever seen– my memories which, like so many of my belongings, are only of use to me and become useless if I die, what disappears is not only who I am but who I have been, not only me, poor Marta, but my whole memory, a ragged, discontinuous, never-completed, ever-changing scrap of fabric.
But how does memory work? Even the King (also known as One and Only, Solo, Solitaire, Lone Ranger, Only the Lonely and Only You) is worried that he won't go down in history with some identifiable traits of character. He is ready to invent such traits, so that people could remember him more easily. But he is not aware that famous figures benefit from the power of myth that comes with the passage of centuries and sometimes from their vile feats. While some are forgotten and lost in the mists of time, others are perpetuated and become legends. But the vast majority of people is sentenced to a life of ghosts, lurking in the shadows, never quite stepping into light. Looking at their last achievement and denying their past, people believe they pass through important transformation, but are they really changed into a new, completely different person?
Even if this was my first novel by Javier Marías, his works are etched in my mind, so I could notice that, throughout the narration, he used phrases that later were to become titles of other novels: What a disgrace it is to me to remember your name, though I may not know your face tomorrow
; who is going to hurl us over on to the reverse side of time, on to its dark back
; Tomorrow in the battle think on me, think on me when I was mortal
There are so many other things here that are worth discussing, but I've already written too much. The novel's only fault may be that the characters' voices are not quite distinct: the narrator and the cheated husband talk in the same way, and it's a bit hard to believe in such a chance encounter between two meditative people. But I chose not spoil the joy of devouring Marías' words and imagined instead that everything was filtered through the narrator's voice, thus becoming his story. But wait, this must be it and it makes sense: it is his story now, told in his own words, in his own style.