One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

October 18, 2011 at 15:01 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Literature, Magic Realism, Romantic Fiction) (, , , , )

10/10

The worst news for writers in the world everywhere is that they almost certainly will never write a book as good as this one. One of the most marvellous things about One Hundred Years of Solitude is that after reading it, the world seems slightly grey and pale, like waking up from the most vivid of dreams. This is the sort of book that readers will stay up all night reading. This is the sort of book that will give readers the same dreams that the characters dream. This is the sort of book that readers will sit silently and think about after finishing. This is the sort of book that readers will begin all over again because of the wistfulness and the delight in memory and the staggering sense of a full and rich chronicle. This is the sort of book that readers will feel they have lived, and it will be a surprise to look up from the pages and realise that a hundred and twenty years have not, in fact, gone by since starting it.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

-One Hundred Years of Solitude

It would be immature and churlish to say that this is the best book ever written, and certainly there are parts of it that are dimmer by comparison than the others. The story of Remedios the Beauty is somewhat palid compared to (for instance) the stories of Amaranta or Aureliano Buendia, and Gabriel García Márquez relies on sensuality a little too much (particularly with the story of José Arcadio), which is one of his enduring faults. The politics of the book are rather lofty, but readers do not need intimate familiarity with the Liberals and Conservatives and their bloody ravening of South America in order to enjoy this book.

García Márquez betrays himself as a mystic more in this story than in many of his other classic works, and it is this sense of a century- (or centuries-) long dream drifting past and ebbing and flowing back and forth in time itself that emerges as a principal flavour. He fixes upon certain words and motifs so regularly that they gradually become redefined according to his story (the eponymous “solitude”, for instance, or the cruel rains). His ability to subvert even the simple meaning of words, to take them and make them so intractably a part of his narrative, is astonishing. His characters are at once believable and multifaceted, even when they take the most fantastical and grotesque forms. Truly a master of the ensemble writing, there are at least a dozen characters who might be said to be the chief focus of this book, and two dozen more who will surely win fans, who will fight for them as personal favourites. As in the later work, Love in the Time of Cholera, his creations are shown aging and loving, dying and hating, evolving from young children to decaying patriarchs and matriarchs with a kind of graciousness and sweetness fascinating to behold. The author has utterly mastered the art of making a sad or even an unpleasant or devastating thing beautiful, and of making a lovely thing bittersweet.

This book ought to be recommended reading everywhere.

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