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?
There is no secret club, nor is it gibberish. A book/story either connects with you, or it doesn’t.
I just finished re-reading 100 Years, for the second time in about 5 years. The first was a well-read library book. This time it was a illustrated edition in a special decorated-box, that a friend had found in a second hand shop – and gifted it to me.
I discovered so much more this time around – I came away with a deeper understanding of some of the minor characters, understood some of the imagery more, and loved the rhythm of words. And I’m sure when I read it in a few more years, I will enjoy it even more. I can’t say the same of every book – some of my childhood favourites have been ruined with a re-read.
Wish I could write such beautiful, wise and ageless ‘nonsense’.
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I just happened upon your site and I’m going to write two responses to posts today: one in solidarity with you, the other in vehement, but respectful, disagreement. Here is the solidarity post:
I also hated A Hundred Years of Solitude, and yes, “gibberish” is an apt word. Here is the review I left for it on Amazon:
“It seems to me that only those with a very limited experience with novels would find this book enthralling in the modern day. Its “storytelling” is so poor that I could barely get through it.
It started out okay, with a plot hook of a first sentence that would be hard to forgive nowadays, but was fine for when the book was written: “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.”
This plothook is occasionally mentioned for awhile as we go over not just Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s childhood, but also the lives of his parents and the way they formed the town he grew up in. Okay, great. I’m all for inter-generational stories and settings.
But the plot never truly coalesces, and it soon becomes obvious there IS none other than tracking this one family and the town’s history. And while this might be done in a truly engaging way by some authors, it’s not by this one. The sheer amount of random, pointless, and mundane details that fill the pages and pages and pages of this book can be described as nothing less than filler, to me… and I don’t necessarily think filler is a bad thing. Hell, I love the King of filler, Stephen King.
The difference is, when Stephen King spends ten pages detailing a minor character’s formative years, it’s engaging and serves to give you insight in the character. It makes you empathize or feel close to them.
None of that ever happens in this book. It’s just random details about people’s random quirks, all written in a distant, third-person-omniscient writing style that makes it sound like a history book, with all the captivation that implies. There are perhaps a dozen scenes in the entire book that last longer than half a page… it’s a nightmare of “tell, don’t show” that makes it hard to care about any of the characters, even without their actions making them so utterly hard to empathize with or like.
And the “magical realism” was perhaps the most disappointing part. I love magical realism, but not when it’s done like this: not when it means nothing, *nothing,* to the story or characters. We hear about how flying carpets are real a few chapters into the story, and no mention is ever made of what world-shattering changes the existence of such a thing would have on history. Aureliano Buendia’s father, who was captivated by the gypsies’ magic inventions like magnets and magnifying glasses and potential alchemy, *utterly ignored the power of a flying carpet* and what he could do with it. To take this idiocy to the ultimate level, he later tries to search for the ocean near the town, slogging through swamps, over mountains, etc… and never once is any mention made of even considering using a flying carpet to do it.
This is not magical realism by my standards. Magical realism treats the magic as *real,* as an affecting part of the story. Not as blatant as a fantasy story would, but still an intrinsic part of the tale. This book is magical unrealism, because it *describes* the magic as if it’s real, but it has absolutely *no* discernible consequence. None of the characters act in a realistic fashion when confronted with the magic. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, as pretty much admitted by the author himself, just a style of storytelling his grandmother would engage in when he was young. You could take out all of the magic in the book and absolutely nothing would change.
On top of all that, it’s incredibly frustrating to read about so many unlikable characters without even a basic plot to string them together… and as if actively trying to break his readers’ immersion, the author continuously drops little bits of future events carelessly into the narrative, so that you might sometimes just meet a new character and within a few lines find out how they die. It’s immensely hard to form an any kind of attachment to these characters or the story of the town as a whole… I can count on one hand the times I felt some true sense of immersion or interest in the novel, and then things went back normal.
Overall I grew quickly disillusioned with all the praise heaped on the book. Back when it first got published, maybe it was seen as “innovative” and “groundbreaking” and “transformative,” but I’ve read more engaging, more educational, more IMPACTING stories that took a quarter of the time to read as this lump of bland, flavorless drivel.
I could rant for hours about this thing, so I’ll stop there.
TL;DR: Don’t buy this book. Find a copy to read first and decide if you like it based off the first few couple chapters: it doesn’t get any better past that,”
Somehow I missed this comment. I do try to respond to thoughtful comments. I’d like to respond to the “magic realism” comment. So there’s a lot of debate whether magical realism is a genre, or a plot device, fantasy – or exactly what it is. The best description I’ve read (though I can’t remember where) is, “you know its magical realism if you can remove the magic and the storyline remains the same.” That is to say, it serves to accentuate the bizarre; to highlight the absurd; or as an exclamation point in a story which is a realist story. This is why the “realism” part is so important; and thats why the best (I would say only but there are people who disagree with me) use of magical realism is in political fiction, and comes from Latin America. When the dictator says he was spoken to by Hugo Chavez’s spirit in the form of a little bird, that is real life magical realism but also Venezuelan realpolitik. Others say that, for example, Gulliver’s Travels is magical realism – to which I respond, “its either allegory or fantasy.” My own magical realism (in all 4 of my novels, although only 2 are about Latin America) seek to do this, to drive home political points or make reference to the mind control exerted by people who use magical in a world that is not totally rational to lock down their power.
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I completely agree with DaystarEld and I wish I could write such an eloquent review. I agree that the book is full of pointless, albeit imaginative, details. I found this extremely annoying. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters because there was very little character development. I wished he described what some of the main characters looked like, or maybe done a slow scene between them with dialogue, so that I could get a sense of how they really spoke to each other, and get a sense of their nature through their dialect etc..
The flying carpet example is a good example of how the magic in the book if nonsensical. If Buendia was so enamored with ice, why wouldn’t he be with the flying carpet.
The book read like one long rambling incoherent story. I give the author a lot of credit for the sheer amount of imagination it must have taken to write this book. But that wasn’t enough for me. In fact, the sheer amount became annoying because all those tiny imaginative details didn’t add up to anything.
Its nice to know there are other heretics like me out there 🙂
I assure with everything you said…i read to the end out of stubborness… hated this book. Don’t get it at all.. utter gibberish
Nice to know I’m not alone 🙂
Yay – I have fond my tribe! I got the Audible version after my book club decided to read it. After all, someone important called it the greatest book after the Bible! 4.5 hours in, I have given up. I kept waiting to care about the million characters, waiting for any of the million things that happened to MEAN something. And the magical realism didn’t work for me here, because it gave everything a more light-hearted air, like anything could happen and therefore nothing is important.
I have often said, “Not every book is for every person.” I have a degree with honors in creative writing, so it’s not like I’m just too dense to “get it.” I read a review of this book that said the author was trying to include everything that had ever influenced him and to write a history of South America by using the conceit of following one family. I even read a synopsis of the plot to see if I should force myself to keep listening. But when I learned how it ended, I gave myself permission to abandon this book. The author had what I think is a valiant intention; I just think the execution was poor.
The review I read spoke of alternative narratives and a Colombian way of perceiving the world. Yet that doesn’t explain why so many Anglos love this book and I don’t. I must come to the conclusion that, like you and others who’ve left comments, this is not a book for me. My time is precious, and if I’m going to commit time to a book, I want it to mean something. After 4.5 hours of what seems like meaninglessness, I’m moving on. THANK YOU for breaking your silence!
Ha – welcome!! ya, best I can figure he wrote it sort of as his own Silmarillion (also difficult to read) but then did not consolidated it like Tolkien did – just left us with a mind numbing 100 year jaunt through too many characters than I cared to care about. I enjoyed Love in the time of Cholera – though it was quite vulgar. So I know he can be concise. Oh well – not all the critics are right all the time.
Someone wrote that reading the book is like asking the drunk guy on the corner to repeat the history of the town. I feel the same way. I am halfway through and I am going to force myself to finish, but I just don’t see the “beauty” everyone talks about. It is spastic. He does not give you enough to really love or hate anyone in the story, so it is hard to care what happens to them. Ursela is the only character that the book seems to have a firm grasp on so far. Everyone else seems thrown together and sloppy. Which is strange, because it is not a short book. Anytime I think something is kind of interesting, it appears for a page or two and never comes back again. But some of the things that were annoying come back again and again.
Hi Heather. Yup, that about covers it. I would say its like reading the Silmarillion, but the silmarillion is brilliant. An ancient mythology invented by one man. “One hundred years” is the sort of story you’d find maybe etched into the back of a family bible by an illiterate aunt who drinks to much but wants to ‘get it all down’ before she dies.
I certainly can’t believe this!
each and every word you said is just exactly what i feel about this book!
as a matter of fact, i’ve been such frustrated with the subject, that i had too google: «is there anyone who hates One Hundred Years of Solitude?» and that’s how i got here.
man this so-called Magical Realism creeps me out! i mean how can anyone possibly enjoy this JUNK after reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Sartre and other great writers.
i just wanted to share with you that i’ve had struggled with this book for a long time, wondering what’s in it that i can’t see and everyone can! just like you did my friend.
Ja – thats funny. Ya, its basically unreadable. Ive equated it to trying to read Silmarillion from Tolkien – a novel meant solely to organize the author’s thoughts and not really meant to be read. For Gabo, “Love in the time of Cholera” is quite good, if somewhat vulgar unnecessarily. I’d stick with that one.
I agree, i haven’t read “Silmarillion” – since i’m not a fan of Tolkien(after watching those Ring movies) or “Love in the time of Cholera” for that matter, but i see your point, Marquez surely has some thoughts and ideas to offer in “One Hundred…” but the art of writing goes far far away from simply collecting some ideas and call it a novel! i mean, it seems to me a little lazy! no offence to his fans.
anyway, good talking to you, i checked out some of your other articles too, and i was interested to get to know your writings more(since i myself have interests in writing) but i live in Iran, therefore there is no access to amazon or any other international payments system. it’s crazy!
You should read Tolkien – don’t let what Peter Jackson did to the movies ruin you for great literature. An epic, as amazing as possible. And ya, you’re right One Hundred needed a good editor. People call it a masterpiece because they can’t understand it – but the reality is it needs a good editor. Because editors are the defenders of the reader, not the writer. If you want I can email you a PDF of one or two of my novels. Which ones interest you? And what is your email?
honestly, i tried to reach a state where i would be able to make some kind of connection with the world of “Fantasy”, but every time i failed! i guess it’s just not my thing. when it comes to moving away from reality to another set, i’m more of a Surreal guy, and that’s why i love Kafka or Sadegh Hedayat (Iranian Writer). but maybe someday i would try that again with Tolkien, i never say never.
that’s nice of you to offer something like that, i think “Dreams of the Defeated”
if there is no trouble.
this is my email:
I never had such a strong feeling about Truman Capote’s truthfull saying “that’s not writing, that’s typing” than in reading One hundred years of solitude and, to an extent, Ulysses.
Take the last phrase, “races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth”, is such a pretentious crap, turn it each way you want, still you cannot squeeze any real meaning.
At least in the case of Ulysses, there is some meaning there, several themes, although artistically I find the book very immaturely written and rather weak in substance.
But One hundred years of solitude is an empty book, devoid of sense, boring, a mediocre phantasy which leaves you perplexed.
The so called magical realism is an embarrassing example of a very confused mind. Did the author have any clear idea of what he was writing about or he was just desperately typing?..
Take the short novel “The portrait”, by Gogol, that’s a superb piece of magical realism if you’re looking for one, Marquez is one big disappointment.
Just read the magnificent “The plague” by Camus, which rings so many bells in today’s pandemic, so rich, so thoughtful, and compare it with the pretentious emptiness of Marquez…
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Hey Nick. So, took all the words right out of my mouth 🙂 Great minds, I guess jaja. For Gabo I thought “Love in the time of cholera” was well done if somewhat graphic, for a good Gabo book. But “100 years” was pure torture. I also tried my hand at Ulysses – I’ll be honest I could not even get very far. “Stream of consciousness” is not a defense of bad writing, its just laziness. For magical realism, I though “The war of don emanuel’s nether parts” was pretty funny, sort of Gabo without the attempt to be pretentious as you say. Others might include Allende “City of the Beasts” which was also a good read. On Camus, I enjoyed the plague too, and like you say prescient for our times. But have you read “The rebel”? Absolutely brilliant. Not fiction, not a story, but just extraordinary. Never thought I’d find a book about “joyful nihilism” but there it is! Thanks for stopping by my blog!!
Got to an age of guilt where I confess I have not read many classics and am fixing it having removed all the reasons why not.
This book is utter bollocks. It IS a matter of connection. It is a hard read as there is no real point of reference, nothing is being built, nothing being destroyed, and no consistency for process of thought. Deviations in art are all good, but when you go too far out you lose the audience. It would be good to understand why I should work so hard to get what the author is driving towards. It does feel like an interesting novel recombined in a disordered rush and I do not get it. I feel that I will henceforth admit to the literati I meet at parties that I never understood the reason why this book was perceived as so great, and it reads to the simple man as gibberish. I the average man- admit to being simple. The reverence for this book smacks of feeding time at the zoo for the pretentious. Total waste of my time, but I will finish it, and I am certain I will remember naught. Applying the principles of simplicity, if it looks like a pig- it is a pig. This book is a turd and not even a polished turd.
All I can say is thank you. I’ve been trying to slog through this book for months, thinking that there’s something wrong with me because I can’t grasp the point of this rambling mess of a book that is apparently so well regarded. You have given me permission to stop trying!
Jaja – you’re not the first person to write that to me. If you want to read GABO Love in the Time of Cholera is much better, but it is a little bit rough in parts.
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Never read this book, and probably won’t try after reading your review and the other comments here. I tried magical realism in the form of “The Satanic Verses”…. gave up after 100 pages. Not my thing.
I also tried Ulysses and got to page 114….I give myself a pass on this one because Virginia Wolff felt the same way. My review included something like this….”recondite – a novel written in a language that only Joyce understands.”
David Foster Wallace??? Love to hear his interviews but the style of “Infinite Jest” left me in no mood for laughter.
Point is – there are many literary styles, others may not like my top recommendations which would include Pessoa – “The Book of Disquiet,” Rilke – “The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge,” Carlyle – “Sartor Resartus,” and Proust – “In Search of Lost Time.”
For those compelled to finish what they’ve started: STOP! Life is short and there are too many good books to read.
Its good advice. I’m one of those who tries to see the book through. I’m always disappointed. I’ll try Book of Disquiet
I did not even mention the Russians in my list….that’s a given! We all should start there.
There was something extraordinary about the Russian masters which I still don’t quite understand.
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