Javier Marias is one of my favorite contemporary writers of fiction. THE MAN OF FEELING is one of Marias's earliest novels (1986). It is evident that he had not yet hit his full stride as an author. If you are not familiar with Marias, I strongly recommend against making THE MAN OF FEELING your introduction to his work. And even if you have been captivated by Marias's more mature, and much better, novels, you can give THE MAN OF FEELING a pass without missing out on something truly significant.
THE MAN OF FEELING shares a distinct family resemblance with Marias's later novels, especially the prose style, which is marked by dense, meandering sentences, somewhat akin to the prose of W.G. Sebald or that of Henry James. Several themes or preoccupations are the same -- particularly, the blurring of fact and fiction (or imagination) in memory, and the finality of death -- although they are not explored as extensively or as deftly as in the later novels. Also the same is the oddly detached and somewhat melancholy tone of the narrative by the first-person narrator.
Here, that first-person narrator never reveals his name. He is a professional opera singer, and the story concerns the beginning and end of his relationship with Natalia. He first saw her on a train on the way to Madrid four years ago, as he was traveling there to begin an engagement to sing Cassio in Verdi's "Otello." She was traveling with her protective, wealthy husband and the male companion hired by her husband to entertain her (chastely) while he attended his business affairs. The three of them end up staying at the same hotel in Madrid as the narrator, and an odd competition over Natalia develops between the narrator and her businessman husband (who, curiously, turns out to be "the man of feeling"). In a brief epilogue, Marias states that THE MAN OF FEELING is a "love story," but I did not so regard it while reading the novel -- and I still don't.
That synopsis probably doesn't sound very exciting, and to be sure the novel is not exciting. Truth be told, none of the Marias that I have read is exciting. His hallmark is a minute examination of commonplace situations, raising and exploring seemingly all possible explanations, or implications, of an event or action. That simply does not lend itself to excitement. But the two later novels (of those I've read) most similar to this one -- "Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me" and "A Heart So White" -- begin with a death and surrounding mystery that provide for an atmosphere of suspense that propels the reader through the gradually unfolding musings of the narrator. Here, that suspense is missing, and the narrative suffers. Also missing, by and large, is the wit and humor found in the later fiction.
In sum, I can recommend THE MAN OF FEELING only to steadfast fans of Javier Marias, and then it is only a lukewarm recommendation. But I will commend this edition's cover illustration, "New York Restaurant" by Edward Hopper, which captures perfectly the ambiance of the novel.