Javier Marías Franco was born in Madrid on September 20, 1951, the fourth of five sons. His mother, Dolores Franco (no relation to the dictator), was a translator and editor.
The family enjoyed several stints in the United States when he was young, with his father, still blacklisted in Spain, being invited to teach at Yale and Wellesley College.
Javier’s maternal uncle was the eccentric filmmaker Jesús Franco, best known for his erotic horror films such as Vampyros Lesbos (1971). Teenage Javier worked on his scripts and appeared as a sword-wielding Chinese thug running over a precipice in The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969) – “This suicidal descent, repeated over and over, is, I think, the most dangerous as I’ve ever done” – but was unable to see the finished films as they were banned in Spain under the Franco regime.
His first foray into writing was when he composed his own Just William stories. He was only 19 years old and studying philosophy and literary sciences at the Complutense University of Madrid when he published his first novel, The Domains of the Wolf (1971). It was followed by Journey Along the Horizon (1972) about a novelist who joins an expedition to the South Pole.
After these early beginnings, however, he gave up writing fiction for a few years and made a name for himself as a translator of Conrad, Nabokov, Updike and Sir Thomas Browne, whose ancient cadences were often discernible in his spoken English. He won an award for his portrayal of Tristram Shandy.
From 1983 to 1985 he taught Spanish literature and translation at Oxford and struck up a deep friendship with Sir Peter Russell, the Hispanic and ex-spy, who was perplexed but delighted by his portrayal of “Sir Peter Wheeler” in several of Marías’ books. .
Novels began to flow again, and his distinctive mature style was fully in place by the time of All Souls (1989), a satirical portrait of Oxford. This precipitated an academic scandal, with some Oxonians furious at being caricatured and others pressuring him to star in a film project themselves: Marías chronicled the fallout in a playful memoir, Dark Back of Time (1998).
An actual character he wrote about in All Souls, though considered by most readers to be an invention, was the alcoholic poet John Gawsworth, who was often seen pushing empty buggies around Piccadilly. As a result, Marías was invited in 1997 to take on a position that Gawsworth had once held – that of “king” of Redonda, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean.
Writer MP Shiel had been the first person to declare himself monarch of this piece of rock in 1929, and Marías eagerly joined the line of literary pranksters who had succeeded him, awarding dukedoms to deserving figures such as WG Sebald, AS Byatt and Francis Ford. Coppola.
His last major work was a pair of linked novels, Berta Isla (2017) and Tomás Nevinson (2021), which saw him return once more to Oxford – there was even an appearance by Inspector Morse – and the spy genre, in the business of many of its regular characters.
He wrote all his works on an electric typewriter, claimed to consider himself a lucky impostor. “It still surprises me, and to some extent bothers me, that I still have no idea what I’m doing,” he told The Telegraph in 2012.
Javier Marías married his longtime partner Carme López Mercader in 2018. She continued to live mainly in Barcelona, while he lived in an apartment, stuffed with books and toy soldiers, in Madrid’s main square, in in front of the town hall – “which often makes me want to have a gun: the mayors here are awful”.
A passionate Real Madrid supporter, he has written superbly about football. Lately, he’s ditched his regular visits to Britain, horrified in equal parts by Brexit and smoke-free regulations. He had been hospitalized for several months after contracting Covid-19 and died of pneumonia.
Javier Marías, born September 20, 1951, died September 11, 2022