This was another airport purchase for my holiday although I didn’t get around to reading it while I was away. I hadn’t heard of A Heart so White or its author, Javier Marías, previously – I seem to have managed to read a lot of (translations of) Spanish books recently – this is his only book on the list and I really enjoyed it.
The blurb recounts the opening scene of the novel where, during a family meal, the narrator’s recently wed aunt (then a young woman – it’s years before the narrator – Juan’s – own birth) calmly goes in to the bathroom and shoots herself in the heart. It’s not until the very end of the book that we discover why she is compelled to do so. Juan’s father remarries, this time to his dead wife’s sister, and the present of the novel begins on Juan’s own honeymoon. Juan and his new wife are both translators, and I think the title is a reference to Macbeth, a quote from which Juan finds himself translating on their first meeting – where Juan is translating between the British and Spanish prime ministers with Luisa acting as a back up – to check that his translations are accurate. Faced with a fairly banal and strained conversation between the two leaders, Juan fabricates parts of their speech – putting words in to their mouths – with the result actually turning out to be quite meaningful. I suppose it’s ironic that throughout the novel Juan, who unconsciously strides to understand as much as he can of other people’s conversations (across all the various languages that he speaks) does not seek to delve deeper into his own father’s past, and the shadowy circumstances around his aunt’s death.
I’m not completely sure what I was expecting when I picked this up and read the blurb, but I did really enjoy it and would recommend it. The opening suicide, avoided for so long by the narrator himself, plays around the events of the novel – as he ponders his own newly married status, as alluded to (and directly discussed) by friends of his father, and eventually as uncovered by Luisa – but to be honest I think the book has a lot more going for it than just the driving force of this mystery.