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Friday, February 15, 2019

Reading the Unreadable # 4: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is one book that probably does not belong on the list of difficult to read books.  I can understand why it's there, given that keeping the generations of characters straight when so many of them have the same or similar names is a daunting task for the close reader.
However, when reading for the numinous enjoyment of the book itself, without any expectation of fully grasping every aspect, this book is quite enjoyable and often beautiful, with nuanced characters, strong visual imagery and lyric language.
I have been looking forward to reading this one for a while, having been inspired to seek it out by reading the "Love and Rockets" collections.  I don't have much experience with magic realism, and actually tend to shy away from books involving magic, as it tends to be an easy out for lazy writers.  Yet it is the mundanity of magic in this book that partly makes this book so appealing; magic is not a cure-all for the problems of the characters; rather, it is just a fact of existence, like the cycles of sun, earth and moon, and almost invisible when it appears.  The lives of the characters do not depend on the magic; they just accept it.
This book is about character, and situation, idealism and romance, the absurdity of existence, in both the meaning of things very small and the meaninglessness of things very large.  It is about the continuity and fluidity of time and existence, in how lives overlap and intersect and inform each other, often in unexpected ways.  It is about the richness and beauty to be found in those intersections, in how the unforeseen turns of life produce their own kind of magic that can be as strange as that other "magic".  This is all told as a sort of historical narrative that gives each of the characters their turn on stage with nearly equal weight, drawing out those moments or features that are distinctive about each of them, despite their recurring nomenclature.  The language is poetic to the degree that there are individual sentences that make you want to go back and experience them again, sentences like,
"With her waiting she had lost the strength of her thighs, the firmness of her breasts, her habit of tenderness, but she kept the madness of her heart intact."

or

"He did not feel fear of nostalgia, but an intestinal rage at the idea that this artificial death would not let him see the end of so many things that he had left unfinished."

or perhaps most tellingly,

"Always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end."

In the end, too, the book is meta-textual, in a way to rival Jorge Luis Borges.  It ends in a way that reminds the reader of the literary reality of the entire story while inspiring metaphysical questions about our own authorship.  Who is reading, and what is read?  I can't explain it better than that...you'll have to read it for yourself.

Up next, one of the books that supposedly every literate person loves but no one has finished..."Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon.  As always, follow along on Twitter and see if I survive the experience.

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