Dense, acrobatic stream-of-consciousness exploring the political and personal ramifications of the violation of a confidence, by Spanish novelist Marias (The Man of Feeling, 2003, etc.).
Exiled to London to work for the BBC, feeling bereft by the loss of the home in Madrid where ex-wife Luisa is raising their two kids, pensive, lonely narrator Juan Deza makes the acquaintance of several shadowy and intriguing characters. Through the elderly Oxford professor Sir Peter Wheeler, a retired Hispanist, Deza meets another suave Oxonian of indeterminate profession, Bertram Tupra, who lures him into more lucrative work as an interpreter to Latin American military types fomenting a mysterious coup d’état in Venezuela. Deza’s job is to observe, to interpret interrogations and to offer an opinion when asked. What he interprets, ultimately, are “stories, people, lives,” and he eventually will begin to make pronouncements on those lives. Meanwhile, Wheeler discloses in long-winded conversation with Deza many troubling facts about his illustrious past. (Among other things, he was a spy in Spain during the Civil War.) Wheeler has collected many drawings and posters from WWII illustrating various situations in which “Careless Talk Costs Lives.” He shows them to Deza—as a cautionary warning? Then he launches into an extended digression on his wartime espionage, noting that “men carry their probabilities in their veins, and it’s only a matter of time, temptation and circumstance before these, at last, lead those probabilities to their realisation.” Deza is being followed by a woman with a dog; the story ends elliptically with a knock at the door. The thread of Tupra’s machinations will no doubt be resumed in Volume II. Marias is a gorgeous stylist, his prose thrillingly meandering in his native tongue and pleasantly rendered here.
Not the easiest reading, but should find its fans among intrepid English-speakers undaunted by works in translation.