Javier Marías's infatuating story of murder in Madrid
by Javier Marias
translation by Margaret Jull Costa
$26.95 List Price
A colonel in Napoleon’s army is severely wounded during a daring act of valor at the Battle of Eylau, then trampled by cavalry seeking to rescue him. Given up for dead, the “old greatcoat” is tossed in a mass grave. Many years later, having clawed his way out of the earth and been nursed back to health abroad, he returns to Paris, appearing at a lawyer’s office to attempt to reclaim his name, his fortune, and his family. But there is no place for the formerly dead in the France of the Restoration. Colonel Chabert’s would-be widow has liquidated his estate and fabulously remarried to an arriviste in the new, on-the-make Paris. Though righteous, the colonel is better kept safely among the departed; no one has much need for a living ghost, and he tragically ends his days in a rural almshouse, a “grotesque gargoyle.”
The foregoing is not a description of Spanish writer Javier Marías’s The Infatuations, his first novel since the three-volume Your Face Tomorrow (completed in 2007) and intimate by comparison, but of Balzac’s marvelous little Colonel Chabert, an 1832 novella in which the author digs up and buries again the revenant Paris of the just-immediate past. But Colonel Chabert haunts Marías’s genre-nodding story of love, murder, culpability, and betrayal with unusual vivacity. More than haunts it: Pages and pages of The Infatuations feature two main characters endlessly mulling over Balzac’s novella, providing an exhaustive explication de texte that at once is an excursus of the very book we are holding in our hands. They ruminate over its plot and moral implications and
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