To say that Venice is an interior is a possible summation of everything I have said so far. It means that it is self-sufficient, that it has no need of anything outside itself and this same self-sufficiency is what creates that 'endless imaginary fragmentation': the narrow becomes wide, the near becomes far, the limited becomes infinite, the identical becomes distinct, the timeless becomes transient.--Javiar Marías Venice, An Interior, Translated by Margaret Jull Costa p. 49.
To be self-sufficient, without (external) need, and a source of endless imaginary fragmentation is to be a Spinozistic substance. This Spinozism is marked by a few familiar tropes: the absence of chance (49), and the co-existence of homogeneity (31; 41) and fragmentation (42). (I am not the first to note the Spinozistic resonances; see here.) The reader is prepared for such Spinozism a bit earlier in the text:
I have always had the sense that the threat of catastrophe, of irremediable calamity or total annihilation, was less a genuine fear among its inhabitants and more of a necessity. This deliberate feeling of dread -- artificially created, in my view -- immediately infects visitors too, probably even the most ephemeral ones, who have only to set foot on a bridge to feel that this could well be the city's final day.
Venice is the most protected and studied city in the world, the most closely monitored and watched. The universal desire is not only to preserve it, but to preserve it exactly as it is now. We know that it cannot cease to exist, that it cannot be lost. The terrible certainty that something we can actually see will always be there and will always remain the same, without the admixture of unease and uncertainty inherent in all human enterprises and communities, without the possibility of a new life or of an unprecedented rebirth, of growth or expansion, without the possibility, in short, of any surprise or change, means that the Venetians see life from the 'viewpoint of eternity'*...The viewpoint of eternity! The words froze my blood, while we were having supper together: I was eating sole, and he salmon. Can there be a more frightening, unbearable, less human point of view? (26-27)
Marías wouldn't be Marías if he didn't inject -- cf. knowing echoes to Aristophanes's hiccup -- some comic dissonance (sole vs he salmon) while engaging in the hyperborean flights of metaphysics.
What to make of all of this? Is Venice, An Interior more than the expression of a weird, kind of artistic, competitive emulation with Thomas Mann? [One may say that Mann:::Plato's Phaedrus :: Marías :: Spinoza's Ethics.] Mann's Death is explicitly mentioned, in a comically dismissive aside (12), about the inferiority of the beach at the Hotel des Bains to the beach at Hotel Excelsior (on The Lido).
As an autobiographical aside, the only time I was on the Lido, I stayed at the Excelsior with my dad. I do not recall the beach especially well. But I was rather sick -- I only recovered once we made it to the opera in Verona -- and shunned the sun. (I started wearing sun-glasses at a later date.) My most vivid memory of the Lido was being offered huge bowls of chamomile tea by the immaculately dressed, Excelsior's staff. Since then, whenever I smell chamomile, I remember these huge bowls.
I do not want to deny that Venice, An Interior is primarily a shameless attempt by a publisher to cash in on Marías's sudden commercial success in the English speaking world. (It's short and per word probably hugely overpriced.) Others have suggested that Venice, An Interior is a kind of extended metaphor for the writing life (creativity, imaginary fragmentation, etc.). I wouldn't deny it. But this understates the story's ambition; Venice is treated as a metaphor for our age with its many threats of man-made catastrophes (produced by terrorists, ecological disaster, or bankers who rely on models of randomness that fail to grasp all genuine possibility, etc.). To say that the threat is manufactured, it does not follow it is not real. (I honestly believe it is possible that Donald Trump will accidentally blunder us into WWIII.)
And Marías puts his finger on the oddity of our hyper-connected times in which we all seem to get infected with a certain, pervasive dread; this dread entails that we have more confidence in the unfolding of necessity than the more familiar, uncertainty inherent in all human enterprises. That is, we are all weak-willed Spinozists now, without the love of fate.