The densely tangled prose and meditative intensity that made Spanish author Marias’s All Souls and A Heart So White (both 1996) memorable (if demanding) reading experiences is put to decidedly different uses in this clever and amusing 1998 novel. It’s a partially autobiographical metafiction that brings back characters and situations from All Souls (itself a semiautobiographical tale of a visiting Spanish scholar’s experiences at Oxford University)—only to find that that novel’s characters are dissatisfied with Marias’s “creation” of them, and insist on reinventing themselves. Further complications—and pleasures—are provided by a (hilariously unfaithful) film version of the novel-in-progress, as well as interpolated illustrations and diagrams, allusions to Marias’s literary heroes, and arch digressions very much in the manner of Laurence Sterne’s seminal 18th-century masterpiece Tristram Shandy (which Marias has translated into Spanish).
An invaluable gloss on one of contemporary fiction’s most provocative and accomplished bodies of work. And—despite a certain donnish smugness that tends to surface at even Marias’s most outrageously melodramatic moments—a surprisingly entertaining book.