Javier Marias - All Souls
I read this book in the right time and in the right place. As it was a present coming from a dear friend of mine. Thumbs up for Giulia!
Now let's just suppose I crushed into "All Souls" just a couple of years ago when I was far from Oxford and completely unaware of going to settle up there in a few months time.
Well, in that case, I would have thought that this novel was well written and Marias certainly got brains, but would not praise much else.
For "All Souls" is a sort of diary, a personal account on Oxford in the 1980s as seen from a Spanish visiting professor. The observations, notes and reflections of the author are either profound or frivolous, but always well focused and straight to the point.
And yet, without knowing Oxford, without having lived in Oxford most of what Marias wrote could sound rather pointless.
Lucky me, then. I saw the dons walking around in apparent hurry. I met the beggars on the pavements. I investigated through the shelves of the bookshops. And I even heard about the solemn high tables in the colleges' dining rooms. Marias was there and left.
There is a romance in this novel, yes. But it doesn't seem to matter. It's a temporary liaison, it's going nowhere and it stands in the background. The author is far more passionate while writing about the half-forgotten novelist Arthur Machen or about the railway station in Didcot.
I think this book looks at Oxford in a very good way: awe and nonchalance walk side by side.