On The Page: Desire

I’m reading The Infatuations by Javier Marías at the moment. I normally read his novels in Spanish and then in English but this time, I’m trying the reverse. Yet again, the wonderful prose of Marías is brilliantly translated by Margarget Jull Costa and I have to say, I have hardly paused to wonder about where a particular word is placed, or mis-placed. The Infatuations has been described as “dazzling” (The Economist), a “pared-back morally ambiguous study of a murder” (The Telegraph) and “an instant classic” (The Guardian).

Proust-like in it’s lush prose, the novel, for me is about desire. Or rather, a study of that fine line between the desire to feel the intensity of life and the absence of it (i.e. death). The female narrator Maria’s desire for her (accidental lover) Javier, veers from desire in the sense of lust (here Marías writes about sex almost without any details of the act itself – desire in itself!) to almost child-like infatuation. Javier, it seems, is the Freudian substitute for the (murdered) man she spent every morning admiring from afar in the cafe.

Marias the infatuations

Desire, it seems, always ends in disappointment. But what is it, I wondered, that we want when we desire? Do we know what we want?

I’ve been having a bit of a struggle with one of my characters, or, more precisely, the relationship between two of my main characters. As the narrator is female, the relationship is portrayed from her viewpoint. It is through the lens of her desire that we experience how her lover desires her. But what is this desire? It is not – as in Marías’s latest novel – infatuation, power, desire for knowledge. I knew that. I know what it is not. What what is it?

Is it a void to be filled or simply the desire she has to have her own desire recognised? Or is it, as the psychoanalysts would have us believe, simply becuase she has realised – or her consciousness has acknowledged – an absence or a loss?

She, my character, is at a loss. Nothing I thought seemed to be authentic to her. I felt I was failing her. So I wrote a scene anyway.

I wrote about her wandering through markets, the noise and sing-song agression of haggling, the colours, the scents providing the sensory experience she so craves. This craving echoing my own desire to get to the root of hers.

And then I decided to let it all go. To read, to listen to Bach, to watch the coal fire glow. (Yes, it is late March and it is below zero these nights). I decided – most consciously – to let desire go.

This morning, I woke up before dawn, scribbled a few lines. A few hours later I read what I’d written, I realised that I’d got it. I had found the point that had been swirling in my head, back and forth. I had found what desire meant to this character. And what it meant was not what I – or she – had been thinking at all.

That slippery nature of desire. That fine line, again.



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