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Authors: Javier Marias

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All Souls

BOOK: All Souls
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Javier Marias


Translated From The Spanish By Margaret Jull Costa




The translator would like to thank Javier Marias, Guido

Waldman, Christopher MacLehose, Annella McDermott

and Faye Carney for all their help and advice. MJ.C.


Published by Vintage 2003

6 8 10 9 75

Copyright © Javier Marias, 1989

Copyright © Editorial Anagrama S. A., 1989

English translation © HarperCollins Publishers, 1992

This novel has  been translated with the financial  assistance

of the Spanish Direction General del Libro y Bibliotecas, Ministerio

de Cultura

Javier Marias has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated
without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published with the title
Todas las Almas
by Editorial Anagrama, Barcelona, 1989

First published in Great Britain in 1999 by The Harvill Press

Vintage Books

Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,

London SW1V2SA

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A OP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099448488

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Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading international forest

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For Eric Southworth,

for Vicente and Felix, my predecessors,

and for Elide





Given that both the author and narrator of this novel spent
two years in the same post at the University of Oxford,
some statement may be in order on the part of the former,
before he finally yields the floor to the latter, to the
effect that any resemblance between any character in the
novel (including the narrator, but excluding "John Gawsworth") and any other person living or dead (in
cluding the author, but excluding Terence Ian Fytton
Armstrong) is purely coincidental as is any resemblance
between any event in the story and any historical event
past or present.







, two have died since I left Oxford and the superstitious thought occurs to me that they were perhaps just waiting for me to arrive and live out my time there in order to give me the chance to know them and, now, to speak about them. In other words - and this is equally superstitious - I may be under an obligation to speak about them. They did not die until after I had ceased to have anything to do with them. Had I continued to figure in their lives (to figure in their daily lives there) and stayed on in Oxford perhaps they would not be dead. This thought is not only superstitious, it is also vain. But in order to speak of them, I must speak of myself and of my time in the city of Oxford, even though the person speaking is not the same person who was there. He seems to be, but he is not. If I call myself "I", or use a name which has accompanied me since birth and by which some will remember me, if I detail facts that coincide with facts others would attribute to my life, or if I use the term "my house" for the house inhabited by others before and after me but where I lived for two years, it is simply because I prefer to speak in the first person and not because I believe that the faculty of memory alone is any guarantee that a person remains the same in different times and different places. The person recounting here and now what he saw and what happened to him then is not the same person who saw those things and to whom those things happened; neither is he a prolongation of that person, his shadow, his heir or his usurper.

My house was a sort of three-storey pyramid and, since my duties in the city of Oxford were practically nil, even nonexistent, I spent a great deal of time there. Oxford is, without a doubt, one of the cities in the world where least work gets done, where simply being is much more important than doing or even acting. In Oxford just being requires such concentration and patience, such energy to battle against the natural lethargy of the spirit, that it would be too much to expect its inhabitants actually to stir themselves, especially in public, although in the breaks between classes some of my colleagues did make a point of rushing from one place to another just to create the impression of being in a state of the most constant and extreme haste and bustle. Their classes, however, would have been or would be conducted in the most absolute calm and tranquillity, since classes were part of being, not doing or acting. Both Cromer-Blake and the Inquisitor were like that (the Inquisitor was Alec Dewar, also known as the Butcher or the Ripper).

But the person who most clearly gave the lie to all these feigned attempts at activity, and who truly embodied the stasis or stability of the place, was Will, the ancient porter of the building (called, with due Latin pomp, the Institutio Tayloriana) where, with the requisite calm and tranquillity, I used to work. Never have I seen a more limpid gaze (certainly not in my native city of Madrid where the limpid gaze simply doesn't exist) than that of Will at nearly ninety, small and neat, dressed always in some kind of blue overall, who on many mornings would be allowed to remain in the glass-paned porter's lodge to greet the lecturers as they came in. Will literally did not know what day it was and spent each morning in a different year, travelling backwards and forwards in time according to his desires or, more likely, quite independently of any conscious desire on his part. No one could predict which date he would choose, far less why he chose it. It was not just that on certain days he believed it was 1947, for him it really was 1947 or 1914 or 1935 or 1960 or 1926 or any other year of his extremely long life. Sometimes you could tell if Will was living through a bad year by the slight look of dread on his face, though this was never enough to darken his cheerful, trusting gaze (he was too pure a soul to be capable of containing any anxiety, for he completely lacked the sense of futurity inseparable from that feeling). One could surmise that a morning in 1940 was dominated by his fear of the bombings of the previous night or the night to come, or that a morning in 1916 found him somewhat downcast by bad news of the Somme offensive, or that on a morning in 1930 he rose without a penny to his name and with the calculating, timid look in his eyes of a man who is going to have to ask someone for a loan but has not yet decided who. On other days, the touch of sadness that dimmed his huge smile and the brilliance of his ever friendly gaze was utterly indecipherable — beyond speculation even — because it was probably due to griefs and sorrows in his private life which had doubtless held not the slightest interest for students or lecturers. All that endless journeying through the length and breadth of his existence was almost impenetrable to other people (like portraits from past centuries or a photograph taken the day before yesterday). How were we to know in which painful day of his life Will was living when we noticed that he greeted us with only a half-smile instead of the enthusiastic wave he gave on cheerful or even neutral days? How were we to know what melancholy stretch of his unending journey he had reached when his "Good morning" to us was not accompanied by that childish wave? That hand raised aloft made you feel that in the inhospitable city of Oxford there was at least one person who was really pleased to see you, even if that person did not actually know who you were, or rather saw you each morning as someone quite different from the person you were yesterday. Only once, thanks to Cromer-Blake, did I find out exactly in which moment of his eventless life (much of which had been spent behind the glass panes of his lodge) Will found himself.

Cromer-Blake was waiting at the door of the building for me to arrive:

"Do say something to Will. You know, a few words of comfort or something. Apparently today he's in 1962, on the day his wife died, and he'll be awfully hurt if no one says anything to him on the way in. He can still manage a smile, mind you, not that he isn't genuinely sad, he's just too naturally good-humoured not to get some kind of enjoyment out of being in the limelight for a day. In an odd sort of way, he's in his element." Then, looking away and stroking his prematurely grey hair, Cromer-Blake added: "Let's just hope he doesn't decide to stick on this date; if he did, it would mean having to convey our deepest sympathies every single morning we crossed the threshold."

Will was wearing a black tie and a white shirt beneath his blue overalls and his clear, clear eyes seemed even more transparent and limpid than usual, perhaps the effects of a night spent in tears and in the presence of death. I approached the door of the lodge, which was open, and put a hand on his shoulder. I could feel his bones. I didn't quite know what to say.

"I'd wish you good morning, Will, only I know there's little good about it for you. I only just heard the news. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

Will smiled gently and once more his pink face, so pink it looked as if it had been polished, lit up. He placed a hand on mine and patted it lightly, as if I were the one in need of consolation. Cromer-Blake stood observing us, his gown over his shoulder (Cromer-Blake always carried his gown over his shoulder and spent his life observing others).

"Thank you, Mr Trevor. You're quite right, it couldn't be a worse day for me really. She died last night, you know, in the small hours. She'd been a bit off-colour for some time, but nothing serious. Then I woke up in the early hours and she was dying. She died sudden like, with no warning, just like that, probably didn't want to wake me. I told her to wait, but she couldn't. She didn't even give me time to get up." Will stopped a moment and asked: "How do I look in a tie, Mr Trevor? I don't usually wear one, you see." Then he smiled and added: "But she had a good life, I reckon, and a long one too. 'Cause she was five years older than me, you know. Five years older, it doesn't matter if people know that now. Perhaps I'll get to be older than her. I'll go on clocking up the years and maybe I'll end up older than she ever was." He tugged hesitantly at his tie. "Anyway, however bad a day it is for me, there's no reason I can't wish you a good morning, Mr Trevor."

His hand may not have left my own - which still rested on his shoulder - as lightly as on other occasions but he raised it all the same to give his customary vertical salute.

That particular morning it was 1962 and so he addressed me as Mr Trevor. Had Will found himself in the 1930s that morning, I would have been Dr Nott and, had he chosen the 1950s, he would have seen me as Mr Renner. During the First World War I would become Dr Ashmore-Jones, in the 1920s Mr Brome, in the 1940s Dr Myer and in the 1970s and 1980s Dr Magill, and that was the only indication one had of which decade Will the time-traveller inclined towards each morning. Each day I was a different faculty member from the past, although always the same faculty member from any one particular period, chosen by his spirit as its habitation for that day. And he never got it wrong. In me, and in his pure, atemporal eyes, Dr Magiil, Dr Myer, Mr Brome, Dr Ashmore-Jones, Mr Renner, Dr Nott and Mr Trevor all returned to live out again their own routine past; some were long dead, others retired, others had simply moved on or disappeared leaving behind them only their names, or had perhaps been expelled from the university for some serious misdemeanour of which Will, in his eternal porter's lodge, would never have had the slightest notion.

And, oddly enough, on some mornings I was a certain Mr Branshaw, about whom no one remembered or knew anything, and each morning that I heard his greeting - "Good morning, Mr Branshaw'' - it made me wonder whether Will's ability to travel in time might not also encompass the future (perhaps only the near future, the future that would cover the little that remained of his life) and whether, installed in the 1990s, he might not be greeting someone who had not yet arrived at Oxford and who, perhaps, wherever he might be now, was as yet unaware that he would one day live in that inhospitable city, a city preserved in syrup as one of my predecessors once described it. Someone whom Will's dreaming, diaphanous eyes would also fail to recognise and to whom, on greeting him with his customary festive wave at the entrance to the Taylorian, he would perhaps give my name, the name he had never pronounced in my presence.

BOOK: All Souls
8.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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