The Books of My Numberless Dreams

On Patience

Posted on: January 22, 2007


You use time in an unusual way in your novels: your narrators think and consider for pages. They go off on long tangents. Something very minor–an object or incident or glimpse–usually sets them off.



That happens to everyone, doesn’t it? But I think the tangents are rather controlled. They always come back to where they should.



Do you do this in order to teach the reader to have patience?






When I first started reading your novels, the narrator’s digressions made me anxious to get to the point.



Yes, I think I am forcing that. In the second volume of Your Face Tomorrow, there is a scene in which a man draws a sword. The scene takes place at a disco, and the man is about to cut someone’s throat. The narrator is a witness to this, and he tells it, and he is startled, of course, and horrified–it is something very odd to see in contemporary London–but then what comes immediately after is a reflection on the sowrd: what a sword means, what a sword has meant in history, what it means nowadays and how anachronistic it is, and how, precisely because of this, it is feared maybe even more than a gun because a gun–the possibility of its being drawn–is something that you would expect if you are attacked. There is a long reflection for many, many pages. No one knows what has happened to that sword that has just been drawn. If someone would skip those pages to find out whether the man is going to be beheaded, they are free to do that, but my interaction–my wishful thinking–is that all digressions in my books should be interesting enough in themselves to make the reader wait, not just for the sake of waiting, but to say, OK, this writer has interrupted this and I would like to know what happens with the sword, but what he is telling me next instead of what happened with the sword is something that I am interested in too. I try the reader’s patience on purpose but not gratuitously.

From “The Art of Fiction” interview with Javier Marias, Paris Review, Winter 2006


3 Responses to "On Patience"

Love Javier Marias. Thanks for posting this. And now off to find my copy of the Paris Review so I can read the rest of the interview!

You’re welcome! It was a pretty good interview: I had a hard time picking out an excerpt to post.

Ha! Yes indeed, what a coincidence imani! thank you for posting this. An intriguing insight into the Javias!

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