The Infatuations, by acclaimed Spanish author, Javier Marias, is classed as a ‘murder mystery’, but this fails to emcompass the range of ideas, concepts and philosophies that Marias entwines throughout the novel, all of which make you question our preconceived notions on love, loss, death and most importantly, what it means to be truly infatuated with someone.

The Infatuations, as told from editor Maria Dolz’ perspective, begins by showing readers the interest and attraction that Maria feels towards a couple that eat at the same cafe that she does every morning.  Although she knows nothing about their lives, she is continually drawn to them; they are so in love, or infatuated, with one another that she looks forward to seeing them every morning.

One day however, the couple are no longer at the cafe, and Maria feels strangely empty without her ‘Perfect Couple’ to watch.  Later, when she discovers a news article depicting a gruesome, and seemingly random, stabbing, she learns that the husband has been murdered.  A few months down the track, when the widow, Luisa, returns, she offers her condolences and, in turn, is invited over to Luisa’s house.  While there, Maria meets Javier, the attractive and seemingly innocent best friend of the deceased, who has taken it upon himself to look after Luisa and her two children during this time of bereavement.

After striking up a fatalistic affair with Javier, whom Maria has desperately fallen in love with, Maria sadly learns the truth, or what she chooses to believe of it, which sparks questions as to what it means to truly love someone, and how long that love with last after they’ve gone.

This novel is described as a murder mystery, and while there were numerous other aspects of the storyline, the murder mystery is what most intrigued me.  What seemingly appears to be an unfortunate case of mistaken identity for Miguel Desvern (or Deverne), turns out to be a cold-blooded murder fuelled by love, but whether that’s love for Miguel, or for his wife, we are never 100% certain.

From the beginning of the novel, I was wary that there were something going on below the surface, as few murder mysteries are based on a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’.  However, it wasn’t until the very last page that I felt that I truly understood what had occurred, which is something that I thought that Marias did brilliantly.  Although I suspected relatively early on, and later confirmed, that Javier organised Miguel to be murdered, there were two motives that could explain his actions.  Or, perhaps more succinctly, there were two Miguels – one fabricated, and one real.  Although this wasn’t revealed until late in the novel, personally I believe that it also explained way Miguel was described continually either as Desvern or Deverne – as though even the narrator, Maria, could never quite get decide who he really was.

While one seemed more plausible than the other, both were driven by love.  And what love is, and what it entails, is one aspect of the novel that Marias continually comes back to.  Whether it’s the love of a friend, whom we wish no harm to come to, and will always be there to provide support.  Or the love that a woman has for a man who is in love with another; although it is fatalistic and will always end in pain they continue, hoping for just one more time, one more kiss, one more visit.  Or, perhaps most momentous of all, forbidden love; when we want someone, or something, that we know we cannot have, but believe that we deserve.

Of course, this forbidden love is the backbone not only to Marias’ plot, but also to the questions that arise from it.  If we love someone, will we stop at nothing to make them love us back?  While most would believe this refers to the actions one takes. whether that’s through murder, deceit or cheating, could it also encompass one’s thoughts, manipulated and distorted so that they believe they can achieve their desires?

A constant theme throughout the novel is what happens when someone dies.  They no longer belong in this world, and as a result, anything that occurs after their death, has no bearing on them whatsoever.  Unless one believes in the afterlife, it makes no difference whether your wife remarries, your name is immortalised, or you’re completely forgotten; if you’ve passed away, then essentially, you cease to exist.

However, what about the people that remain?  Although we all fear our death on some level, for those remaining, the early demise of a loved one is far more painful.  But as Marias, through his character, Javier, continually asks; do we move on?  Do partners re-marry and learn to love their second spouse even more strongly than their first?  Do children forget about the influence and love of their deceased parent?  Do memories, emotions, and most importantly, love, start to cease when a person can no longer reinforce them by simply being present?

Although this was an interesting argument, and on one level does make (time heals all wounds etc), I also believe that Javier was wrong, emphasising how distorted his mind had become in his quest for love.  While the pain may reside, and memories start to fade, that doesn’t necessary mean that love does.  Anyone who is truly, deeply in love would never want harm to come to their loved one, even if a new love, stronger and more passionate, was on the horizon.

To say that The Infatuations brought up a lot of questions would be an understatement.  However, above all else, the question of responsibility was one that resonated most with me.  If we know someone is responsible for a murder, do we hand them into the police?  But what if other people, innocent bystanders, are irrevocably affected by it?  Is it better to live in happy ignorance, or to know the truth, but to be miserable as a result?

Although at times The Infatuations was rambling, confusing and a little bit too philosophical for my liking, I thought that Marias has written a wonderful novel that turns the concept of a murder mystery on its head, and delves deeper, making ourselves not only think more deeply, but also question things that we may not have considered before.

Have you read The Infatuations?  Are you a fan of Javier Marias? Let me know!

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