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Review by Edith Haeuser


Tomás Nevinson, by Javier Marías (born in 1951), published last year. I hadn’t read a novel of nearly 700 pages for a long time, and I’m not a particular fan of spy novels either. But this is a fascinating spy story, which the author wrote in homage to John Le Carré. It’s the year 1997, and Nevinson, who is half-English and half-Spanish, has been persuaded by his former boss Tupra to work for the secret service again. He is sent to a small town in northwest Spain to find the woman, half northern Irish and half-Spanish, who 10 years earlier had collaborated with ETA and the IRA. But the very first sentence of the novel reads as follows (in my humble translation):


I was brought up the old-fashioned way and never thought that one day I would be given orders to kill a woman. You don’t touch women, you don’t beat them, you don’t hurt them, either physically or verbally…. On the contrary, you protect them and respect them and let them go ahead, you shield them and help them if they carry a child in their womb or in their arms ….


It’s much more than a spy novel: the book is full of allusions and literary quotations, many of them from English authors, of philosophical meanderings and a dry sense of humour. The meandering reminded me of Laurence Sterne’s meandering in his wonderful novel Tristram Shandy. And indeed, Javier Marías, who worked at the University of Oxford for several years, has written the first translation into Spanish of Tristram Shandy, his favourite English novel (La vida y las opiniones del caballero Tristram Shandy, first published in 1978).

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