'one of the cities in the world where the least work gets done'
The Oxford brought to life in Javier Marias novel All Souls is beautifully rich and bursting with interesting characters drawn from personal experience of the author as a visiting lecturer from Spain. This version of Oxford is Pan’s Labyrinth with academic gowns!
The theme of the story is an adulterous affair the narrator embarks on with young tutor Claire Bayes. The affair really serves as a metaphor for the way the narrator/Marias gets drawn deeper and deeper into collegiate life at All Souls college – a microcosm of intrigue and mystery occupied by larger than life intellectuals.
Fast pace this isn’t but where the novel succeeds is in weaving together memories and recollections of events and people around some clear set pieces such as the meeting at Didcot train station and the High Table dinner. Marias’ black comedy touches are excellent and his understanding of British quirks and eccentricities carries the narrative.
Well written and a fascinating insight into a world behind the closed doors of the learned institutions you so easily walk past in Oxford.