When Javier Marias wrote 'All Souls' (his "Oxford novel") he was unprepared for the way in which reality would begin to invade his fiction. Real people mistook themselves for his fictional characters, readers confused him with his narrator, and a minor English poet, whom he mentioned in passing, assumed such a large presence in his life that Marias ended up inheriting from him the Caribbean kingdom of Redonda.
In 'Dark Back Of Time', Marias uses the unsettling effects of 'All Souls' on his life to begin an extraordinary meditation on the transience, chance and fragility of life, and the way in which reality so easily blurs into fiction.
Perhaps the minor poet of the 1930s, John Gawsworth, or the ill-fated novelist, Wilfrid Ewart, are not as forgotten as Marias thought they were. After all, no one dies without leaving a small trace behind. But how do we know these traces tell us the reality of a person? And what of the small child who dies, like Marias's brother, at the age of three and lives on only in the memory of his parents, themselves mortal . . . ?
This brilliantly digressive, constantly surprising, funny book moves seamlessly from virtuoso storytelling to intimate autobiography, from the grand movements of history - the battlefields of the Somme, Spain under Franco - to the strange and moving patterns of small lives. In doing so, it shows us how everything is linked (or not), and how the writer is both a keeper of memories and, himself, destined to be lost in the dark back of time.