In Madrid in 1980, a young man takes a job as an assistant to an eccentric film director. What unfolds is the story of a couple living in the shadow of a mysterious, unhappy history--a novel about the cruel, tender punishments we exact on those we love.
...Marías’s narration has a deceptively aimless quality, circling round apparently minor or inconsequential details that are gradually revealed to be integral to an extremely taut structure. As ever, Margaret Jull Costa translates his long, winding sentences into beautiful English prose, both erudite and conversational – a considerable stylistic feat ... a fusion of a coming-of-age story with something like a conspiracy thriller. As ever, with Marías, it is an arch and sophisticated entertainment animated by a probing moral intelligence, a demonstration of what fiction at its best can achieve.
...[an] erudite, strange, hypnotic and beautiful, frustrating book ... one doesn’t really read Marías for plot. One reads him for the language, the elegant hypnotic voice, the philosophical digressions and observations, for his long and winding sentences ... I found myself most loving the book for its pages, brilliant observations, its musings and its suspenseful elegant voice, rather than the overarching story. And I could not put it down.
The noirish plot detail provides a satisfying framework and counterpoint for a different type of novel, one full of philosophical speculation and digression ... one of Marías’s most enjoyable and accessible novels. The trademark digressions, fascinating reflections on the psychological effects of civil war, are harmoniously balanced with the events of the narrative ... If there is a criticism, it is that this is a particularly male view of the Franco years and their sequel. Acknowledging that the dictatorship tried to disempower women, Marías enacts this on the page by making Beatriz all but voiceless.