One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

As someone who likes to indulge quite a bit in the literature of Latin America, perhaps it’s surprising I’ve never until now actually read García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude – long regarded as the key text of the continent’s output. In my defence, I have read pretty much everything else of García Márquez.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of those novels whose expectations have become so built-up in my mind that it is almost bound to disappoint; and to an extent it does. I expected it to be the exemplary magic realist novel: and perhaps it is; perhaps it does better balance the magic with the realism than its forebears and its descendents. It is far less extreme in its weirdness than Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma and Miguel Ángel Asturias’s The Mulatta and Mister Fly; indeed, I found it throughout more or less normal – perhaps, at most, an exaggerated realism: if it rains a lot, then it rains for four years continuously etc.

I’d heard rumours it was a difficult novel; people say they’ve found it hard to get through. I didn’t find anything difficult in it at all. Long paragraphs and long sentences, describing stuff – very little dialogue: it’s exactly the kind of thing I enjoy. I suspect these people are too used to the inanely short paragraphs of our most up-to-date writers.

Perhaps what I have against the novel is its family saganess, its aimless amiable ambling along. Yes, it could all be seen as a history of South America, I suppose; it has all the hallmarks: government intervention into age-old communities; revolution against said intervention; torture and mass killings; American capitalist exploitation – it’s all there, mixed in with the characters surrounded by butterflies (see Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses for a rip-off of post-modern homage to this) and the endless incestuous relationships. I dont know, maybe it will come to grow on me in retrospect. (I’d like actually to re-read Love in the Time of Cholera, and compare them). But it seemed somehow to lack substance, just to be – in the end – a list of curious events.

[I know, I’ve only read 2 out of 5 so far in my Latin-American challenge. For various reasons, I’ll catch up next month (by which I mean merely read May and June’s books) and then be back on schedule. Other Latin American books may be read in the month of July, as part of the Spanish-Lit Month – I have laid aside thirteen possibilities].

10 thoughts on “One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

  1. I really loved this. I’m one of those people who get slightly depressed when it doesn’t rain, so the four years of raind and many other things appealed to me a lot. I didn’t think it was difficult at all. Long sentneces do not make something difficult. Wittgenstein is difficult and the sentences are not very long.
    The magic realism thing… I think it is constantly abused these days and used for books that are far more fantastic than this or Alejo Carpentier who – I thought – sort of invented the concept.
    Maybe it’s not a bad thing to read this last. i always felt that everything he wrote before this was building up towards it and what came after was a variation of it. Which is the one you like best?

  2. It recently rained for four years in this country – four García Márquez years, that is (which was probably about 20 days in real-time). – I certainly prefer the fact that the magic is largely down-played.

    I think probably I liked Love in the Time of Cholera best, but it was so long ago that I read it – I’ve actually bought it again since, to re-read, but not got around to it yet. I’ve always rather liked the short story Innocent Eréndira, too (which I think is also Macondo-based). And I enjoyed his Escobar/kidnapping piece of reportage, News of a Kipnapping, which no one else seems to like much.

    He’s never written much actually, looking at his Wikipedia page. I’d have thought he wrote more. I still have to read Living To Tell The Tale, which I think is a sort of magic realist autobiography.

  3. Those butterflies are actually visitors from Carpentier – they are in The Lost Steps in their natural Venezuelan setting.

  4. That’s interesting. Haven’t got around yet to reading The Lost Steps. Perhaps Carpentier stole it from somewhere else too. I must re-read Andrade – there must be a bit with butterflies in it. – Another character in 100 Years just wanders in off the set of Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz.

  5. I enjoyed this post quite a bit (it has me thinking of several dozen other “masterpieces of 20th century world literature” that I’m supposed to have read but have yet to get around to reading). I read One Hundred Years many years ago, and while it’s not one of my favorite books, it contains a handful of scenes that have lodged themselves more or less permanently in my head. It’s a novel that seems to have been done few favors by the unruly children that it spawned.

  6. It is quite pernicious in its influence, but less so than say Dubliners or the work of Raymond Carver.

  7. I’ve read other García Márquez works which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit, but this novel has just failed to grab me on two separate attempts. Your comments and Scott’s are pretty much how I think I’ll react to the work when I eventually finish it, but there are just so many other Latin American works I’d rather be reading at any one point in time. Grr…

  8. I can see how you might get bogged down in it. (Perhaps it was just that it seemed easier-going than Auto de Fe). Still, as you say, there are other Latin-American books.

  9. I have never understood “magic realism”. When a character is carried off by ants, my reaction is not a sense of wonder (as I think it is meant to be), but merely an inarticulate “Eh?” No, it’s not that I expect the author necessarily to mimic the real world: but the internal rules governing the fictional world appear never to be clear. Not to me, at any rate. I can never follow the internal logic of a work in which anything is possible. The fault, I am sure, is mine.

  10. Hmm, you wouldn’t like the book I’m reading now then.

    I never think GGM is, after all, that magic realist; or perhaps I’m too inured to the fantastical these days to notice it.

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