I first met Berta Isla when it was published in Spanish by Alfaguara and I loved her. I devoured it and recommended Berta Isla right and left. A few weeks ago I received a copy of the English edition by Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books Ltd) and had the (necessary) need to reread it. The woman on the cover, maybe Berta, almost forced me to do it and now I have to thank her. I have remembered how much I liked it and I have found that the great Javier Marías does not lose his essence when translated into English... probably due to the great work of Margaret Jull Costa.
Whoever has read Your Face Tomorrow (if you have not done so I do not know what are you waiting for) will recognise the people of the MI6 and Peter Wheeler who in the new novel by Marias are the ones who decide the future of Tom Nevinson, its protagonist. In this last book, Javier Marías returns to his origins of what remains as his most extensive novel published in three volumes (Fever and Spear, Dance and Dream and Poison, Shadow and Farewell). I imagine that this feeling of déjà vu is because, in some way, he looks after his good readers. This novel is about the life of a marriage: Berta and Tom (or Tomás) –who is slightly blurred; I say that because he is a stranger–, who met in college and from that very first moment they felt that they were made for each other. When they finished university they got married. However, neither of them had planned the relationship that they had to live. They do not have the routine of a normal couple. Berta will have to adapt to silence, to absences, to ignorance and to half-truths; Isla will have to learn to love a stranger.
A change of voice narrator makes us realise the absence of Tom. A turn in the plot, at the very end, makes all the protagonists rethink their role and Berta's voice comes back, full of force.
On most of the topics covered in the novel (the lie, the truth, the loyalty, the lack of ethics...) Javier Marías manages to make you think. To what extent is betrayal legitimate, when fear prevents us from facing certain things, etc.
Once again Marías demonstrates his characteristic style: complex but easy, refined, thoughtful and successful.
Marías uses in Berta Isla numerous quotes and books. I recommend two: The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis which he published in Spanish in his editorial Reino de Redonda and Honoré de Balzac’s Colonel Chabert, translated into Spanish by Mercedes López Ballesteros for same publishing house.
I can not do anything but recommend Berta Isla.