Berta Isla

Javier Marías, trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. Knopf, $28.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-525-52136-5
Marías (Thus Bad Begins) transforms a spy thriller into an eloquent depiction of those left behind at home in this rich novel. Popular, beautiful Berta Isla decides she will marry Tomás Nevinson, a half-Spanish, half-British classmate with a preternatural ability to learn languages, while they are students together in mid-1960s Madrid. During his studies at Oxford, Tomás is recruited by a professor to use his abilities with languages and accents to serve as an infiltrator for the British Secret Intelligence Service. He demurs, until he is accused of murdering his British lover and needs help evading the charge. Marías toggles to Berta as a narrator for Tomás’s return to Spain, their marriage in 1974, and his cover job for the British Embassy. Berta struggles to cope with her husband’s long, mysterious absences and forces a confession about his real job after a terrifying threat on their young son’s life. Tomás offers scant details of his work, which only partially satisfies Berta, who spars with him. When he leaves on assignment just before the start of the Falklands War in 1982, Berta’s worries compound as his time away stretches into months and then years. Marías switches back to a third-person narrator for the gut-punching conclusion that explains what happened to Tomás. The espionage premise is initially enticing, but the real draw is the depth of Marías’s characterization. This weighty novel rewards readers with the patience for its deliberate dissection of a marriage. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/16/2019
Release date: 08/06/2019
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 544 pages - 978-1-984898-25-8
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