the land of once begun

Somewhere in his writing Bill Manhire speaks of a slight lift of excitement as he sees a Zed on the page he is reading. As I recall he goes on to say something about how his eye then slides away to other disappointments, suggesting the Zee in question was not after all a signpost to the back end of 'home'. Yes, it happens, I've experienced that. Rarely do you find any particularity in those instances where the Zed does point to the South Pole, it's usually just a sign for somewhere derisively or unimaginably elsewhere ... but not always. I'm reading Javier Marías' Your Face Tomorrow, the first volume of a novel cycle entitled Fever and Spear. I think there's two more after this, one written but not yet translated, one a work in progress. (This translation from the Spanish is by Margaret Jull Costa whose version of Pessoa's Book of Disquiet is my favourite). Your Face Tomorrow is set in Oxford now and is about the recruitment of a Spanish academic to a shadowy network of ... shadows. He has the ability to see through people, not necessarily to their future though that is part of it. What he and those he works with see is character and their view is dispassionate, objective, real, if you like. I'm not going to say character is fate because what the book is about is those two terms and how they might be related. Jacques Deza is recruited by a man called Sir Peter Wheeler who is in turn based upon a real figure, Sir Peter Russell, a distinguished scholar who recently published a much praised life of Henry the Navigator. I do not know if Russell was born in Christchurch, New Zealand before the First World War, but Wheeler was. There's not a lot of his childhood in the book, it's not about that, but it is curiously pleasing to find in a fiction, or a quasi-fiction, the historic connection between NZ Universities and Oxford honoured and particularly the tradition whereby literary men from those antipodean halls of learning became spies of one sort or another during the 1930s and 40s. Your Face Tomorrow is multilayered, multifaceted if you like, reflective, analytic, measured, leisurely and extremely perceptive about motivations, particularly where trust and betrayal are concerned. I'm loving it. Incidentally, on the back cover are praises by J. M. Coetze, whom Marías has made a peer of a Kingdom he rules (really!), W. G. Sebald (from beyond the grave?) and Marina Warner, who compares Marías with Sebald. The comparison is I think made because of the alluring intertwine of the real and the imaginery in Marías but their styles are very different. Reading Marías is more like reading José Saramago. And just as good.

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