Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías is a ‘metaphysical thriller’, in the novelist’s words, published in the year 1996 and translated into the English language by Margaret Jull Costa. It is one of Marías’ masterpieces in his vast oeuvre of works, and the title was compelling enough to make me read the novel. Especially, I fell in love with A Heart So White, which is one of the masterpieces of contemporary literature. The prospect of reading another Marías novel soon after A Heart So White filled me with a sort of anxiety as one shouldn’t, goes the general advice, read the same author’s work without giving a large gap. Every author has themes which recur eternally in their work; therefore, the reader’s experience may get bogged down due to some repetitiveness on the author’s part. But I couldn’t resist the temptation; I had fallen into the trap of continuing my journey with the same author because I was beguiled by the beauty of Marías’ writing. The plot is intriguing and suspenseful enough: A married woman named Marta falls to her death in the arms of Victor, a ghost-writer, who becomes entangled in a mystery which enlightens him to his own misgivings and breaks his shell of ignorance. Given the plot may sound familiar to some of the other masterpieces written by the same author, the nature of his writing is always fascinating for it breaks the boundaries of human nature and traditional literature to explore the darkest and morally blurred regions of the human spirit.
To begin with; the novelist is in top form, Marías’ prose is simply fantastic, the way he constructs his characters and the world around them is par excellence and utterly marvellous. The story begins with the sentence: ‘No one ever expects that they might someday find themselves with a dead woman in their arms, a woman whose face they will never see again, but whose name they will remember.’ (Page 1.) Who besides Marías can you expect to write such a gripping opening sentence? The importance of the opening sentence has been stressed enough by great writers, and Marías clearly succeeds in following that excellent piece of advice. The novel grippingly follows up with sentences upon sentences folding on themselves and unfolding; revelations as sharp as a razor blade occur in few words after a build-up of numerous pages. The writing style is challenging; not every reader may be able to devour the lengthy meditations, reflections and sentences but reading this novel or any novel of the author is a remarkably rewarding experience.
The novel is filled with what may seem to be at first irrelevant and pointless detailing and diversions which traverse the boundaries of storytelling, yet don’t be so easily dismayed because all of the seemingly irrelevant discursions conjoin together at some point to create a breath-taking observation which adds meaning to the story. What may seem to be a mere obsession and self-indulgence on the writer’s part ends up delivering a chilling message or ominous revelation which the reader couldn’t even have imagined. Marías is a master of contemporary psycho-analytical writing, and his prose has a limitless pregnancy to itself for it offers a unique insight each time you read a paragraph or a sentence; nothing seems to be the same anymore. What makes Marías so unique is his mastery of writing sentences and characters; his observation is astute, his perceptions penetrative and insightful which are packed up with sentences so carefully and beautifully written that one is compelled to quote pages of his writing at length.
Marías’ genius lies in his craft of constructing a fictional world out of a real landscape; he makes it appear to be a dream world despite the haze of darkness that covers it. No matter how dark or disturbing his books are, they are glazed with an eternal melody which melts the frozen sea within the reader’s heart. A wry humour, humbling and self-deprecating, always comes across in even his most disturbing passages. At a time, when literariness in writing is undermined and anachronized, Marías displays his command on literature and literariness of writing with contemporary wit and dramatic bravura. What I found most satisfying in his works that even though elements of politics occur in his book, all the themes of his writing are based on his characters rather than any political ideology. He is a writer who truly appreciates the power of fiction which doesn’t need to answer political dilemmas because as a writer, he glares at the most perennial questions which haunt, disturb and intrigue the humanity from the beginning of existence; questions of insecurity, fragility of life, darkness, loneliness and loss of personal identity. Every word in his books is so breathtakingly alive and marvellously pulsating that their complexity almost ceaselessly touches the reader’s intellect.
For me, Marías is one of the most mature writers of his time; his unprejudiced eye captures everything and invades the deepest corners of the human mind, which are even hidden to ourselves. That part of us, which is unreachable, fragile and melancholic is translated into words of breath-taking beauty on the page. Combined with polymath wit, not unlike Coetzee’s works, the prose of this novel is sensual and erudite. Notwithstanding the melancholy and emotional complexity of this novel, it has moments of jaw-dropping revelations which have a powerful impact on the reader. On the other hand, there are moments of disturbance which throw the reader into an empty space and create a sense of despair and sadness.
I was perhaps waiting for a novel like this ever since I read Coetzee’s Disgrace. I was blown away by the mesmerising power of this book. It is, in all senses, a masterpiece of contemporary writing which flirts with the classical. It is the most fascinating, sharp and unsettling book I have read this year. I am astonished at the variety of themes Marías brings to life in this novel from love to death, hatred to retribution, loneliness to exploitation and darkness to light. Here is an inimitable voice as melodious as birdsong and as sharp as a knife; a voice that must be heard. He should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his masterly works.
“When things come to an end they have a number and the world then depends on its storytellers, but only for a short time and not entirely, they never fully emerge from the shadows, other people are never quite done and there is always someone for whom the mystery continues.” – Javier Marías from Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me