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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

A game of mirrors in Madrid

The playful fiction of Javier Marías is brilliantly funny, says Miranda France

Thus Bad Begins

by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99)

Sometime towards the end of the 1980s, I remember sitting with a group of friends in a bar in Madrid. As dawn broke, one of us said that he really ought to get some sleep. “I’m an eye surgeon,” he explained, “and in three hours I’ve got to do an operation.” The rest of us gulped, raised a glass to the patient and ordered a final round before having breakfast and going to bed.

Javier Marías’s new novel is set during that first, upside-down decade of Spain’s new democracy, an era of sleeplessness, parties and sexual freedom Madrileños call La Movida (the movement). It’s easy to forget, from this distance, the speed at which Spanish society changed aft er Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. One character in Thus Bad Begins can’t fathom the capital’s burgeoning transvestite community: “Don’t talk nonsense, they’re clearly women and pretty spectacular ones at that. The race has improved over the years, that’s why they’re tall.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: Peter Pomerantsev describes the situation in Eastern Europe as the governments of Hungary and Poland turn right. Simon Tilford, from the Centre for European Reform, questions the substance of David Cameron’s EU deal and Philip Collins argues that Jeremy Corbyn is not fit for purpose. Also in this issue: Peter Kellner shows us that we are feeling more optimistic than during the last stages of the last Labour government and Jessica Abrahams explores the sexism of Valentine’s Day. Plus Justice Malala on South Africa and the Prospect Duel asks: "Should all immigrants learn English?"