‘A Heart So White’ by Javier Marías tells the story of a newly-married interpreter called Juan, and his complex relationship with his father, Ranz. The opening chapter is a six-page paragraph which recounts the suicide of a young woman who we later learn was Ranz’s first wife, the sister of Juan’s mother. The mystery surrounding these circumstances is gradually revealed through a number of other events.
I don’t know what it is about Iberian authors and their epically long sentences and paragraphs but I found that ‘A Heart So White’ was quite similar to ‘Blindness‘ by José Saramago in terms of literary style. Like ‘Blindness’, the density of the prose here means that it is not the easiest book in the world to read but it is ultimately very rewarding. At times, the story is quite perplexing but you always know that you are in safe hands in terms of the quality of the writing.
As well as the mystery of Teresa’s suicide, certain events in Juan’s life are also covered including his honeymoon in Havana and a subplot involving Juan helping an old friend in New York. At first, these episodes appear to be quite loosely connected to the family mystery at the heart of the story but the book as a whole brings together interesting themes including communication and relationships. My favourite parts of the book were the scenes in which Juan is working as an interpreter. As I studied French to undergraduate level, I find the subtle intricacies and complexities of interpreting between different languages very interesting and Marías writes beautifully on the topic (credit here also must go to Margaret Jull Costa for the English translation).
‘A Heart So White’ is often meandering, ambiguous and not a great deal happens in terms of plot but the writing is mesmerising and Marías never wastes a single word. I think it is the atmosphere rather than the details of the story which will probably stay with me but I imagine that re-reading this book would reveal whole new layers that I failed to notice the first time round.