**Named a Best Book of the Year by the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times**
From the internationally acclaimed author of The Infatuations comes the mesmerizing story of a couple living in the shadow of a mysterious, unhappy history--a novel about the cruel, tender punishments we exact on those we love.
Madrid, 1980. Juan de Vere, nearly finished with his university degree, takes a job as personal assistant to Eduardo Muriel, an eccentric, once-successful film director. Urbane, discreet, irreproachable, Muriel is an irresistible idol to the young man. But Muriel's voluptuous wife, Beatriz, inhabits their home like an unwanted ghost; and on the periphery of their lives is Dr. Jorge Van Vechten, a family friend implicated in unsavory rumors that Muriel now asks Juan to investigate. As Juan draws closer to the truth, he uncovers only more questions. What is at the root of Muriel's hostility toward his wife? How did Beatriz meet Van Vechten? What happened during the war? Marías leads us deep into the intrigues of these characters, through a daring exploration of rancor, suspicion, loyalty, trust, and the infinitely permeable boundaries between the deceptions perpetrated on us by others and those we inflict upon ourselves.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Celebrated Spanish author Javier Marias' 14th novel is a flat-out masterpiece. Thus Bad Begins is set in post-Franco Madrid, a city in the throes of a giddy transformation but haunted by lingering suspicions and potentially deadly secrets. The story revolves around a young man's struggle to forge a creative, ethical life surrounded by the ghosts of authoritarianism. It’s inspired and heady stuff.
Reviewed by lvaro EnrigueJavier Mar as has entered that rarefied space in which a writer becomes essential to society. He is a critical conscience who can express what philosophers and political scientists can't. The subtle perfection with which he exposes trivial acts, in turn revealing silent, shady agreements that add grease to the political machinery of society, has injected new vigor into the otherwise antiquated Spanish realism. His work is a call for political responsibility in everyday civil life. Mar as sets Thus Bad Begins in an aberrant moment in recent Spanish history: the years between the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the moment in 1981 when the country overcame the shadow of Catholic totalitarianism by finally ratifying a law that allowed divorce in 1981. Thanks to family connections, a recent graduate from college gets a position as the personal assistant of a mid-ranking film director. The job description includes script correction, entertaining guests, and keeping company with the director's mentally abused wife. The novel takes off when the director asks the assistant to embark on a murky investigation to find out whether some ugly rumors about one of his friends are true. The research takes the young man through the last phases of his coming-of-age as he discovers that the liberties his generation enjoys are based on an agreement of silence between the winners and losers of the Spanish Civil War. This agreement translated into a humiliator/humiliated relationship during the unbearable 36 years of Franco's fundamentalist regime. The director's household his miserable marriage, which can't be dissolved, and the court of literati and celebrities who make up his regular entourage becomes a metaphor of the bigger house of Spain and the decisions taken by the political and cultural elites to rush into an open society, skipping all effort to bring any closure to past wounds.If historical periods were lives, Thus Bad Begins would be situated in the infancy of the democratic pro-European Spain of our time and its little dramas and glories, its actual deficiencies and virtues. It's not that Mar as pretends to analyze Spain on the Freudian couch Spanish society is famously impervious to psychoanalysis and its by-products; it's that by placing his story during that moment in history, the author can propose a theory about the reckless exchange of values in a society that went from ultraconservative to ultraliberal in record time.Mar as acquired recognition as a master storyteller thanks to his natural hand at developing complex plot lines and a style that redefined the notion of precision in Spanish writing. As years go by, his writing rendered into English with grace by Margaret Jull Costa so that I never felt as though I was reading a translation is still that of a virtuoso. His storytelling has evolved into a more reflexive, denser, meditative voice. Thus Bad Begins is a novel, of course, but it could be perfectly read, too, as a beautiful, savage essay on hypocrisy. lvaro Enrigue's most recent novel, Sudden Death, was published in the U.S. by Riverhead. Enrigue was born in Mexico and lives in New York City.