So this will not be a usual blog, mostly because I have several secrets to reveal. For somebody who pretends to be a novelist – and a novelist of magical realism to boot – they are probably things that should remain unsaid. However, I have never been accused of being able to hold my tongue, so here goes…
After the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I decided it was high time to read (and finish) “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It’s one of those books that people talk about with almost religious deference; so my first secret is that I had made it well into my thirties without reading it. Not that I have not tried, almost a decade ago I purchased a copy and began to read but was unable to complete it (though I told no one). As the years went by and my literary taste became perhaps more sophisticated, I chocked up my abandoning this particular book as a demonstration of youthful immaturity and committed to reading it through, certain this time it would sing to me.
I ordered the book and waited anxiously (I only read books on paper, Kindle just feels to me like a really long email).
It finally arrived, and I carved some time away from family and after work to begin anew what I was sure would be a rewarding literary experience. For months I attempted, as Simon Bolivar once said, to “plow the sea”. Word by word, page by page I tried to find meaning. At first I assumed it was a slow starting book, but as the page numbers climbed like an endless stairway into oblivion I began to doubt. Characters were thrown at me willy-nilly; the plot waxed and waned without meaning, often fading like the jungle morning mist surrounding Macondo. The magical realism appeared only to accentuate the irrational, not deliver any specific message. All the tricks of the trade I had learned over the last years were glaring for their absence; no beats, no dialogue, Gabo does not resist any urges, least of all the urge to explain and while there is plenty of conflict in the story, none of the characters inspired even mild interest, much less passion and sympathy. I harbored the thought that perhaps it was because I was reading it in English; but I enjoy the translations of Eva Luna, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Shadow of the Wind; all books written in Spanish. I became baffled. It was like somebody had taken a wonderful novel, ripped out each page and placed the papers in a food processor – gluing each word after the next in the order they emerged. I began to entertain the notion that – perhaps – this book is what I thought it was a decade ago.
Is it possible that “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the greatest work of Gabo, is gibberish?
It is of course, and quite naturally hard for me to reach this conclusion, because for so many people out there (not to mention for myself) I’m sure it is a final confirmation of my own sub-par talent as a writer. I had committed to keeping this dark secret of mine well under wraps for the rest of my life – even perhaps writing a glowing book review that revealed to everybody that I “got it”, thereby purchasing my membership in the list of literary greats. However last night as I picked up the novel for the umpteenth time, agonizing over each tortured word and line – trying to make sense of the madness – I lasted only a short time. As I threw down the book in frustration, I made the decision at last to reveal my secret with the hopes that perhaps there are others out there who feel the same way, thereby rescuing myself from the panic that there is something wrong with me.
So I leave it to you, my (admittedly very few) readers. Is there a special code which I have missed? Was there a class I should have taken that would have thrown open the doors to Garcia Marquez’s magical world? Is there a special cabal of people who judge each other on their understanding of Gabo’s great work – leaving the rest of us in the dark? Or – dare I even ask it – is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” nonsense?