Your Face Tomorrow, Volume Three: Poison, Shadow and Farewell
by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa
New Directions, 546 pp., $24.95
Although published in three volumes, of which this last is by some distance the longest, Your Face Tomorrow is not really a trilogy; it’s a single novel (one that in total runs to 1,260 pages) divided into seven parts that all have oneword titles: “Fever,” “Spear,” “Dance,” “Dream,” “Poison,” “Shadow,” “Farewell.” Like all Marías’s earlier novels, it’s a first-person narrative, and this—combined with its length, ambition, and its narrator’s penchant for extended, complexly woven sentences—has led a number of reviewers to compare it to Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Its central character, however, Jacques Deza, is blessed—or cursed—with an ability not to recover the past but to predict, not completely but more accurately than most, the future.
The novel’s title is taken from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2. Tiring of the Cheapside revelers with whom he is beginning to feel he has frittered away too much time, the prince-in-waiting, Hal, intemperately bursts out to one of them: “What a disgrace it is to me to remember thy name, or to know thy face tomorrow, or to take note how many pair of silk stockings thou hast.” Deza’s development, like that of Hal, is toward a discomforting awareness of the unsparing realities of power, of cruelty and violence and fear, and he changes, as Hal does, from an ambivalent, marginal figure into someone who believes he can take ruthless, decisive action when required—and when justified. At one point Deza refers to Hal’s curt dismissal, shortly after being crowned Henry V, of his erstwhile drinking partner, Falstaff: “I know thee not, old man.” Treachery plays a crucial part in many of Marías’s fictions, and it is no coincidence that the title of his magnum opus gestures toward one of the most famous betrayals in literature.
Jacques Deza cannot literally see into the future. What he can do is observe people closely, and then use these observations to predict how they are likely to respond to particular circumstances or pressures. He is an expert “translator or interpreter of people,”
of their behaviour and reactions, of their inclinations and characters and powers of endurance; of their malleability and their submissiveness, of their faint or firm wills, their inconstancies, their limits, their innocence, their lack of scruples and their resistance; their possible degrees of loyalty or baseness and their calculable prices and their poisons and their temptations; and also their deducible histories, not past but future, those that had not yet happened and could therefore be prevented. Or, indeed, created.
The analogy between Deza’s powers of observation and those required by the writer of fiction is one of Marías’s ongoing jests. He has always enjoyed dramatizing the porous nature of the borderline between fiction and reality, toying in novels such as All Souls (whose protagonist, though unnamed, is in fact Jacques Deza some ten years …