BOOK REVIEW / Be like dad, keep mum

A HEART SO WHITE by Javier Maras, trs Margaret Jull Costa Harvill pounds 14.99 / pounds 9.99
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The Independent Culture
THIS heady winner of the Spanish Critics' Award could be dangerous literature for the affianced. The narrator Juan, who is already feeling uneasily "so what now?" about his new union, is bearded by his father Ranz on the wedding day itself and warned, "If you ever do have secrets, or if you already have, don't tell her." This seems cynical advice to Juan, a believer that the marital pillow is not only where you tell all, but "in order to flatter the person you love you denigrate everything else in existence": the shared put-down as turn-on. But Juan doesn't know how dark his father's secret can be, only that before marrying his mother, Ranz was married to her sister and she shot herself as a newlywed, slipping away from a family lunch in a chilling scene that opens the novel. Everyone said how tragic that Ranz should have lost two brides. Two? thinks Juan. So there was another one before the suicide? What happened to her? In the course of this intriguingly textured novel, Juan's wife Luisa eases a terrible confession from the old man.

Maras not only grips with this narrative suspense but with exquisite craft takes on love, longing and passionate coercion. He combines a crime passionnel in Havana, a lonely-hearts nightmare in New York and the portrait of a marriage in Madrid into an unusually resonant and provocative mix. Maras, himself a translator into Spanish and for two years an Oxford lecturer (upon which his acclaimed novel All Souls is based), no doubt had a hand in this superb translation by Margaret Jull Costa, with but one eccentricity: a penchant for the word "brainsickly".