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22 Feb 2011

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Here's the thing with Marquez, he's been gifted with a gilded imagination and a turn of phrase that transports the reader into whirlpools of delirium. A genius.

However, after two of his novels, I'm left unsatisfied. I admire him, I'm in awe of his craftsmanship, I wanted to like him, I love magical-realism, but alas, I didn't fall in love.

Marquez strings together his characters and events in such a way as to make me feel like I'm sitting on the precipice of a steel chair, waiting for a gun to go off, for heaven-only-knows what. When I read fiction, I want to feel like I've sunk into a cushy armchair. Even if it's in a fetal position and watching over my shoulder. I want to sink into the characters and their story.

Marquez just won't let me do so. He shoves events and thoughts and motivations and ideas down my mental throat until I'm gagging.

This phrase in One Hundred Years of Solitude sums up how he writes;

"... [he] had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant."

Exactly. And I get that, I really do. Yet I prefer it used as a sparse tactic rather than the pervading style. I want a chance to care, so the author needs to leave me guessing and yearning. Instead, a character is introduced and killed off within a paragraph.

I also need emotions, and lots of them. Marquez's I'm-on-speed style skips over heart and soul and goes straight for the jugular. He'd make an amazing journalist - a detached recording of tragedy, joy, and people's behaviours that passes on to the reader. The book gasps and writhes and yet never comes alive for me.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

At a much lesser level of grievance, is his obsession with incestuous and pre-pubescent lust. A teeny bit here and there is enough. But both novels are drenched in that murkiness and it doesn't do it for me. It has no real point.

I will remain an admirer, but not a fan.


  1. Wonderful review, Monica! I have to say that this is one of the most beautiful reviews that I have read recently! I loved your observation - "he's been gifted with a gilded imagination and a turn of phrase that transports the reader into whirlpools of delirium."! I also loved your observation - "I prefer it used as a sparse tactic rather than the pervading style. I want a chance to care, so the author needs to leave me guessing and yearning"! So beautifully written! (How do you write like this? :))

    I have never read a Marquez book till now, but I was hoping to read 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' one day. But after reading your review, I am thinking whether I should really attempt it.

  2. Your review is so well written. I haven't read anything by Marquez, but based on your review, I'm not sure it would work for me. I need emotions to really connect to a book.

    "I will remain an admirer, but not a fan." There are a few writers of whom I have similar feelings. They're amazing writers, but their books just don't work for me.

  3. Whenever I read Marquez I always wonder what it would be like to read him in his native language. Even when the translations are excellent, I always feel as though I am missing something - lost in the spaces in between. Yet I don't always feel this about other (non-english) writers.

    100 yrs is my favourite of his, because I think his style suits the epic/historical landscape of the story. But it's just as you say, there is such a strong sense of detachment. Part of me longs for something more impassioned, and another part of me admires his humility, and ability to set aside emotion. I don't feel manipulated, but neither do I feel swept away with the story. I agree he'd make a good journo - and maybe also a cinematographer.

  4. I have not read him in awhile, but this brought back exactly how I remember feeling at the time. I felt like I was admiring the artistry all the way through, but I would rather be swept away on a journey. I don't want to notice the writing that much. I prefer mediocre writing and a great tale:-) Very bourgeois of me, I know.
    On another note, what is inknchai?? I guess I am behind the curve, haven't been in my reader in awhile to catch up on my favorite blogs:-)

  5. I love your phrase about Marquez shoving things down your mental throat until you gag. I read this book for senior year English in high school and had NO idea what was going on until my teacher gave me a little (ok, big) hint.

  6. Marquez actually started out as a journalist, so you're not wrong there! I used to really like him and didn't find his style to be a problem, but the endings of both Love in a Time of Cholera and 100 Years of Solitude did me in, plus as you say, the pre-pubescent lust. (More like gross old men preying on young girls and in some cases, ruining their lives.) It's just gratitiously there and that really bothered me, especially in Love in the Time of Cholera, it didn't seem at all necessary. Some people say it's just his culture, but to my mind, it's not a cultural thing to celebrate, like in Memories of my Melancholy Whores. At least in a book like Lolita, Nabokov makes it clear that it has ruined this girl's childhood and that Humbert's behaviour is clearly not right and he only writes about it once, not all the time. Yes, lust for inappropriate people is part of the human condition, but do I need more stories about gross old men, no. If it were about the sexual desires of an older woman, that would be an interesting change! But as it is, this just continues to perpetrate our sexist culture, where men, no matter how old they are, can still fulfill whatever harmful desires they may have. Sorry for the rant (and hi back!), it's just something that bothers me about such a famous author.

  7. I had a similar reaction to this book, but did enjoy Love in the Time of Cholera much more. I think it's because there's more of a linear story to that one. I had been really looking forward to reading OHYOS, but in the end was very disappointed.

  8. The thing about Lolita is that it has incandescent prose (and that's the first time I've said that about a book!) and Humbert Humbert is clearly an unreliable first person narrator, who is writing this narrative as a defense against a murder charge, so you know from the start that he has a self-justifying agenda. Some people somehow see it as a twisted love story (and keep saying but Lolita seduced him, so she must be a little tramp who deserves everything she gets... hm. 'She was asking for it' is a sexist cop-out which I don't think Nabokov indulges in), but I read it more the way it's discussed in Reading Lolita in Tehran (which could be helpful and covers other classics too), that it shows how this girl is imprisoned in this life. I don't think it's just lust that Nabokov is writing about, let alone celebrating, he portrays an unequal power relationship between an older man and a young girl, showing how she's trapped with him. And that's something that happens to women and it's not portrayed gratitiously, as an ok part of life, as it is in Marquez's books. But I'm not an expert on it, it's just my interpretation of it. It's not written pornographically and there's such joy in the language that you can hardly find anywhere else.

    Here's a quote to perhaps interest you: "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art." That's what I remember from this book.

  9. Thank you Carolyn, wonderful. It's now on my tbr list.