Dark Back of Time
Publication Date: May 2001
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Javier Marias' s singular new production Dark Back of Time begins with the tale of the odd effects of publishing All Souls, his 1989 Oxford novel. All Souls, narrated by a visiting Spanish lecturer, is a book he swears to be fiction, but which its "characters" -- the real-life dons and professors and bookshop owners who have "recognized" "themselves" -- fiercely maintain to be a roman a clef. They claim certain roles for their own, and for others: the narrator's invented mistress has been firmly identified as one of the professors' wives. Marias views with astonishment a world that seemed nearly asleep set into fretful motion by a world that never "existed". Yet this backwash of All Souls only begins an odyssey into the nature of identity ("We do not know anyone entirely, not even ourselves"), and of time ("which is not yet past nor lost and maybe isn't even time at all"). With the flair of Sterne, his "false" novel manipulates time, weaving in autobiography, a legendary kingdom, strange ghostly literary figures, halls of mirrors, a one-eyed WWI veteran, a curse in Havana and a bullet lost in Mexico. Dark Back of Time becomes a brilliant ironic puzzle about the powers of art and of memories, which become only more mysterious the more Marias remembers.