The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel García Márquez

March 24, 2012 at 22:41 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Highly Rated Books, Historical Fiction, Literature, Magic Realism) (, , )


Experimental literature is all very impressive, but seldom is it quite this good. If any readers doubted the abilities of Gabriel García Márquez to stretch himself further than the limits explored in his opuses, to revisit the brave and elaborate narrative structure of One Hundred Years of Solitude, with the constant and overlapping shifts in time and reality, this book will be more than sufficient as an answer. The Patriarch might be dead, to begin with, but Márquez thrusts himself deeply into the old man’s past and tangles himself so far into his life that when his death is reiterated at the end, it comes with a real pang of nostalgia and even surprise.

“…and then he half-opened the bedroom door and peeped into the audience room and saw himself laid out more dead and more decorated than all the dead popes of Christendom, wounded by the horror and the shame of his own body of a military stud lying among the flowers, his face pale with powder, his lips painted, the hard hands of a dauntless young lady crossed over the chest armored with military decorations, the showy dress uniform with the ten pips of general of the universe, a rank someone had invented for him after death, the king-of-spades saber he never used…”

-The Autumn of the Patriarch

The experimental sentence structure must be mentioned, if only to acknowledge its overwhelming success. Some of the sentences in this book stretch on for more than three or four pages, piling on commas (or ignoring them entirely) in a decidedly stream-of-consciousness style that still manages to move the narrative along, and still envelopes the reader in the storyline. Márquez is writing expansively, and probably even showing off a little, but he remains aware of his reader and never bloats his work with self-indulgent piffle.

Otherwise, what can be said? What can be expected? The story is as tragically sweet and delightful as anything else he has written. The focus does go beyond the Patriarch himself, but stays much closer to the one central character than in some of his other books that ostensibly centre around elderly men. Intricate character study, celebration of a villainous and heroic legend, deeply intriguing political commentary and sociological hypothesis, and most importantly, a thrilling and moving story. Its narrative scheme is obviously more pronounced than some of Márquez‘s other books, and has the potential to irritate, but considerably more potential to excite and delight. This book could be recommended to anybody, but certainly to anyone who has already fallen in love with the style of this master author.


  1. Joachim Boaz said,

    A read A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings so very long ago and have been addicted ever since…. The only work of his (which I’ve read) that I didn’t really care for was The General in his Labyrinth. I just picked up a copy of this for my father and I plan on reading it when he finishes…

    • J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

      I think any writer would give his right hand to claim this one as his magnum opus; and yet Márquez has at least a couple of books that are clearly much better. I’ve not read A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings yet. Thanks for the tip!

      • Joachim Boaz said,

        It’s a wonderful short story — I bet you can find it for free online somewhere.

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