All Souls

Javier Marías

translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
Harvill Press 1992
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
I haven't read a Harvill volume yet that I didn't enjoy greatly, and Javier Marías' All Souls was no exception. Drawing on the author's own experience, its narrator is a visiting Spanish lecturer on a two year teaching stint at Oxford. (Somewhat surfeited on novels set in Oxford and written by insiders, it was a change to read one by an outsider.) The principal thread is his affair with the wife of another academic, but the novel is episodic and it is individual portraits and vignettes which are most memorable: a farcical high table dinner, the college porter who changes decades every day, the concealed presence of horror in ordinary people and everyday objects, and the rubbish bin as a measure of human existence. Though there's nothing surreal about All Souls, it does contain some Borgesian elements, especially in the narrator's expeditions through Oxford's second-hand bookshops in search of the works of obscure English writers Arthur Machen and John Galsworth [sic].

March 1996

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%T All Souls
%A Marías, Javier
%M Spanish
%F Costa, Margaret Jull
%I Harvill Press
%D 1992 [1989]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0002712830
%P 210pp