Lust and Loss in Madrid: the Spanish novelists

Marias_javier_071014_jpg_300x1040_q85Colm Tóibín at the New York Review of Books:

How strange it must seem to historians, sociologists, and philosophers that, after all that has happened in the world, the small matter of love, in all its minuscule twists and turns, continues to preoccupy novelists more than, say, the breaking of nations or the fate of the earth. Some novelists have tried to rectify this; they have attempted to make the art of the novel seem more important somehow by treating, say, terrorism or large political questions with great seriousness. But then other novelists return, like scavengers or renegades or deserters or prophets, to the old dramas of fidelity, treachery, and passion among people who are ordinary.

How these small, perennial, familiar issues can seem larger and more pressing than important public questions is a mystery. And further mystery arises from the idea that public events are often quite useful, at times indispensable, to novelists, but as mere background, as things that help to focus the narrative, give it flavor, or make the story seem more important than it is. Compared to investigative journalism, history-writing, biography, or self-help books, the novel is a strange, humble, hybrid form; it is perhaps in its very humility, in its pure uselessness, in its instability, in its connection to the merely human that its grandeur lies.

Both Javier Marías and Antonio Muñoz Molina write in the full awareness of the battle between pride and humility that has been waged in novels themselves over the past two hundred years.

more here.