Wherever they might be they 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.
While I am not normally one to appreciate a book amounting to a catalogue of woe, a pardon can be granted on the basis of extreme beauty in composition. For me, the classic woeful novel is probably Scottish
. The Country Girls
and No Great Mischief
come instantly to mind. Other examples of beautiful melancholy include Snow Falling on Cedars
and Anil's Ghost
. The oftentimes spartan style of One Hundred Years of Solitude
doesn't make it an obvious member of that grouping. While there are certainly compelling images and clever similes, the book plays more like a forceful waltz than a playful piano sonata.
The overall sweep of the book is badly confused by the identical names of so many characters. Clearly, Marquez is trying to demonstrate the cyclical nature of the family history - though underscored by a long-term decline. Marquez explains that:
The history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spilling into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.
While clearly intentional, the repetition becomes grating. Ultimately, Marquez presents you with a long series of character vignette
s that play with similarity and difference like a piece of music alternating between repetition and invention. The most notable sections of the book are surely the snippets where Marquez conveys a wonderful image of a person with so few words as to be amazing.
The setting of the book, somewhere in Latin America, was off-putting for me. It's a place that repels me by being alien, without seeming exotic. It's the kind of place that feels dusty in the mind. Despite that sense, there are many truths presented about human relationships. I can't help thinking of my own life when I read about how:
Aureliano Segundo had the impression that no link existed between them anymore, that the comradeship and the complicity were nothing but an illusion of the past.
Then he thought that Gaston was not as foolish as he appeared, but, quite the contrary, was a man of infinite steadiness, ability, and patience who had set about to conquer his wife with the weariness of eternal agreement, of never saying no, of simulating a limitless conformity, letting her become enmeshed in her own web until she could no longer bear the tedium of the illusions close at hand.
The story of Ursula I found most compelling, probably because it was told in the most comprehensible and uninterrupted arc.
In the end, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a swarm of brilliant fragments that do not assemble into a particularly sensical whole. The story is almost maniacally anti-epic, with everything promising ending in failure and everything beautiful ending in ruin. Disaster piles on disaster and makes the reader wary to enjoy anything read, due to the knowledge that it will be unravelled by Marquez in the space of one hundred pages.