John Dugdale

Cruel to Be Kind

Cruel to Be Kind

By

Hamish Hamilton 503pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Like his earlier books A Heart So White and The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s fourteenth novel centres on marriage, mental cruelty and sexual transgression. It is set in Madrid in around 1980, in the midst of Spain’s post-Franco transition to democracy. Juan, its narrator, works as an assistant to Eduardo Muriel, a famous film director who belongs to a different time (as his John Ford-style eye patch symbolises) and now struggles to raise money for his projects.

Muriel likes to play the role of donnish father figure and much of the novel consists of Juan listening to his long, theatrical speeches. But these encounters are closer to therapy sessions than tutorials. Juan, who continually glosses the older man’s words critically as he relays them, regards him as an enigma to be solved or interpreted rather than as a source of wisdom.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,