Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Only Ones

The idea for this project first appeared a while ago, maybe three or four years back. It's just that I needed all this time to become fully committed and throw myself into what I had in mind. 

The project will be called The Only Ones, and it only got this name because on the 21st of July, in Madrid, there was a particular concert I was going to see. As I was leaving the Ciudad Universitaria metro station, I heard "The Whole Of The Law" from that legendary 1978 album by The Only Ones. Then "Another Girl, Another Planet", and then "Breaking Down". And there I had it, every piece, down to the last drop. 

I will publish The Only Ones, the 2016 original in writing, on dullygray pages at the beginning of August. In the meantime, feel free to check out Peter Perrett's classic album that has both nothing and everything to do with my work.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016



When I first thought of a life with no Internet, for two weeks only, I did not expect it to be such a big deal. A social experiment, irrelevant and frankly rather intimidating. For a moment, I actually thought about an online blog about me being offline. Took me two seconds to realise this would be like a vegan hunting for meat.

Not that I reject the idea. I really am going offline for two coming weeks. Too many words to type. Too many places to see. Too many people to meet. Windmills of La Mancha, Melody Gardot performing live. I won't be around except through a narrow porthole which, naturally, has nothing to do with either of the two sites. So you see, it actually could be a big deal after all.


Connemara is a mountainous district in western Ireland. It's beautiful, but then all of Ireland is beautiful. Back in 1987, at some point between This Is The Sea and Fisherman's Blues, Mike Scott entered a school in Clifden and played "The Whole Of The Moon" to a bunch of schoolchildren and teachers gathered in the assembly hall.

He was accompanied by Vinnie Kilduff on whistle and an improvised choir wearing blazers and 80s haircuts. It’s one of my favourite music stories, and below you can see the video of that performance. I laugh and I cry when I see these kids singing along to Mike Scott going off on the simple, battered old piano.

And then he just stood up and left the room.


Abbas Kiarostami died last week. If you have never seen Taste Of Cherry or the equally brilliant Certified Copy (with one of the best ever performances from Juliette Binoche), you owe it to yourself. As Christopher Hitchens put it, "Upgrade yourself, for Christ's sake. Do you think you are going to live forever?"

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A HEART SO WHITE by Javier Marias

Once, maybe twice in a lifetime you chance upon an author who writes specifically for you. Not for a critic. Not for a fan. Not even for a wife or a husband. For you. Every word gets through to you. Every line opens you up like someone saying 'I love you'. Soon you realise that you will not die a happy man if you don't read every book, every short piece this writer has ever come up with. Javier Marias is that kind of writer for me. What Saul Bellow is for Martin Amis. What Daniel Defoe was for James Joyce.

I cannot forget how I first opened The Infatuations back when it came out a few years ago. Half a page – that's all it took. The prose felt magical and begged you to get lost in it. The long-winded, impeccable sentences enveloped you the way some carnivorous plant would, except you were in no danger to be squashed to death. The plot was a beautiful, if complex, embellishment to a style verging on perfection.  

A Heart So White, one of Marias's earlier novels, is all that and more. I could give you the whole plot in three brief sentences (Marias is the kind of writer who can spend two full pages describing a look in someone's eyes), and you would call me insane for praising the book so much. Well, I wouldn't care. Javier Marias is the master of understatement. And with A Heart So White, he has this to say to you: don't tell your secrets to the one you love, not if you really love them. (At which point I start humming the melody of "What She Doesn't Know", Nina Nastasia's fantastic single from 2008.)

All you need to know is this: a recently married man finds out about the secrets of his father. Everything else is the process. It's what you will love this novel for – the painful, ecstatic process of discovery. That and the fact that Javier Marias's novels are full of short stories that fit the general narrative so beautifully (maybe that is the reason why I find some of the stories in When I Was Mortal a bit underwhelming – they feel unfinished). Like the girl at the stationer's. Like the guards and the paintings. Like the two women from a bar who notice you 'the way one notices a mosquito'.

Javier Marias comes up with observations you wish you could never forget: 'in cases of mutual dishonesty, sometimes the only way to reconciliation is through sex'; 'it's always the most conventional things that contain the largest measure of madness'; 'when you listen intently – you can't see anything, one sense excludes the others'. When he mentions Nabokov's Pnin in the sense that people enjoy it rather than finish it – it's priceless. And this coming from someone who has read Pnin multiple times. These observations are interlaced with experience and wisdom, and you will learn a lot about marriage ('narrative institution') as well as older people who so 'rarely allow themselves to blush'.

My personal favourite moment is Marias describing the way we tend to remember people from one particular photo – like our mother when she was twenty-eight. It's a beautiful point, and it provides some sort of key to the bridge between the past and the present that Javier Marias is forever trying to establish in his books. With the coldness and precision of the famous Spanish saying: revenge is a dish better served cold. Spanish people in Javier Marias's novels are complex individuals carrying with them 'the weight of the unspoken', as Saul Bellow once put it, something that will one day give us the knowledge and the experience we need. And stain our hearts so white.


'It's strange that words don't have worse consequences than they do'. If you can come up with a line like that, you are my favourite author and you have written one of the most beautiful books I can think of.