Friday, November 18, 2016

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

One Hundred Years of Solitude
This was an exhausting book to read.  I picked it up a while ago at Kramer's Books here in DC, and it sat on the shelf waiting for me to get to it, as many books do.  I'm one of those people who buys books and puts them aside and then never reads them because I'm too busy reading other things.  But I finally decided to go for it for my "A classic from the 20th century" category for my reading challenge, and so out it came.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the chronicle of the Buendia family over a period of about a hundred years, in the town of Macondo which was founded by one of the family members.  There's a family tree in the beginning of my edition, which was very helpful because the Buendias follow the tradition of using family names, so everyone seems to be called some variation of Arcadio or Aureliano, and I had to keep flipping back to the tree to check who was who and how they fit into the web.  Marquez does make light of this at several points, and the naming convention does fit into the plot, so this didn't annoy me as much as it would have otherwise.

There are two things that really stood out to me in the course of reading the book.  The first is all the magical realism--you know, magical acts that are just treated as matter-of-fact but in a book that doesn't really count as a true fantasy.  From flying carpets to girls ascending into the heavens to the mysterious fertility of the family livestock at one point, and with a dozen other strange things thrown in, there's a ton of it here.  Every time it seemed like things were going to settle down, something else strange would happen just as casually as if it had been someone selling bananas.  The second thing that stood out was the amount of incest in this book.  Dear lord, it's a lot.  It's rather the point of the book, of course--a family that's pretty much in love with itself and whose members keep getting caught up in various romantic entanglements--but it was a bit much for me at some times nevertheless.  I kept having moments of, "But she's your aunt!" and other such mental statements that made me shy away from it a bit.

But what is truly exhausting about this book is the writing style.  While Marquez can write absolutely beautifully, and has a real knack for imagery, what he apparently doesn't like is paragraph breaks.  The paragraphs in this book frequently last for pages, and so there's no sort of mental break as you change gears into the next paragraph.  It was very tiring, and it meant that I had to put the book down more frequently than I probably would have if those long paragraphs had just been broken up a bit more.  There were plenty of places to do it, so it seems like a stylistic choice not to have done so.

As I mentioned before, the writing is wonderful in this.  I could completely picture Macondo as it went through its various stages, from utopia to utter decay, and the people who came and went through it.  And what a start is has!  "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."  It's a very powerful beginning, hinting at both the wonder of things that happen in Macondo, and the tribulations of things to come.  It's an immediate indicator of what an amazing writer Marquez is.  His works have been overall hit or miss with me, but I did enjoy this overall despite the mental fatigue of reading it and the icki-ness of all the incest.  I see what the purpose was for it; Marquez wasn't trying to titillate (at least I don't think so) but show how these relationships led into the downward spiral of a prosperous, powerful family's ruin, and that I think he did wonderfully.

4 stars out of 5.

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