Written Lives by Javier Marías
In Written Lives “Spain’s leading writer” Javier Marías (this according to the jacket copy, so no one tell Arturo Pérez-Reverte) put together a series of mini-biographies of various authors. In each, he tells both the overarching tale of the author’s life while also focusing on some little quirk that is not usually associated with said author. (For example, for Isak Dinesen he discusses what she was like in her old age post-Africa and for Oscar Wilde he completely ignores Wilde’s high-flying days in London to focus on his Parisian exile.)
The book itself is short and I read it on one stifling afternoon, but it still feels far too long. The concept of the book is interesting, but one perhaps better served by a series of essays in a magazine rather than a book. As a book, it becomes redundant and lags dreadfully sometime even before the middle.
This is not to say that it is a bad book, per se. Rather, it is one which is probably best used a reference book when you want to know more about Robert Louis Stevenson or Emily Brontë rather than as something you sit down and read from cover to cover. Marías is indeed a good writer and I would willingly try a novel of his, but this collection just makes him sound repetitive and fails to make any but the first five or so life stories interesting. A book worth getting from the library perhaps, but not one worth rushing out for or buying at all.