Monday, May 03, 2010

Javier Marías: Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico

Eli S. Evans reviews  Javier Marías' Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.

At first glance, Javier Marías’ short novella (or long short story) Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico—originally published serially in 1996 in Spain’s El País newspaper—appears little more than a put on, a dashed-off throwback by a Marías who had already reached literary maturity, if not yet the all but uncontested international reverence he enjoys today, to the pastiche of his early, adolescent novels: the absurdist tale of one Ruibérriz de Torres who, from an indeterminately contemporary present, recalls the trip he took to Mexico at the age of twenty-two (just past adolescence himself) to work as Spanish language consultant to Elvis Presley during shooting for the film Fun in Acapulco.

But what seems a mere literary inside joke initially, and perhaps even to the author himself—in the epigraph, Marías dedicates the short novella, or long short story, to “someone who’s laughing in my ear”—reveals itself, upon closer examination, to be a good deal more. Clocking in at fifty-seven rather diminutive pages in its recently released English translation, an elegant gold and white paperback the size of a folded napkin and nearly as slender, Bad Nature performs a virtually Borgesian distillation of, if not the entire literary universe—as is the case in some of the best of Borges’ stories—then at the very least the entirety of Marías’ personal literary universe: the “Yoknapatawpha of the mind,” as Wyatt Mason described it in 2005, that the Spanish novelist has been mapping, in a single voice, over years and across novels.
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