paradise of solitude

What a good start to the year – my first novel of 2015 is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. Well, I started reading it last year, and read most of it in 2014, but I just finished it today, so I’m counting it in my 2015 tally.

I think I wanted to read a Marquez novel ever since I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘The Angel’s Game’, and read on the back cover that it was comparable to Marquez’s writing. However, after having read OHYS, I’d say I much prefer Marquez. That could just be recency bias, though…

To be fair, about halfway through, or a bit over halfway through OHYS, I did contemplate not finishing it. I know, shock horror, right? It was around the time that I wrote this post about my epiphany-like realisation that I’m not obliged in any way to finish reading novels that I don’t find engaging/exciting/enthralling enough (gee, that’s a lot of E words). This day was also about a week away from the day that OHYS was due to be returned to the library, and I was having doubts about my ability to finish reading it in that small and crowded timeframe (remember: public holidays, festivities, etc tend to mean less reading time).

But I later realised that I actually have two weeks after the “due date” to return it before they start charging late fees… Yeah, I know, it’s one earth-shattering shock after another – OHYS is a bit overdue now, but I’ll return it tomorrow!

Ok, before this becomes a post about random confessions of various book and non-book related crimes, let’s talk about what I liked about OHYS. For a book that I almost resigned to the “too hard” shelf, I am so glad that I persisted and finished it. One way that I know that I’ve read a remarkable novel, something worth five stars, is that I feel immensely sad after I finish reading it because it means that there is no more of it to be read. This is generally accompanied by the feeling of urgently wanting to re-read it, and rediscover any small details that might have been overlooked along the way.

As with a lot of books I read these days (or so it seems), I didn’t really know what to expect when I started reading OHYS. The three things that struck me quite quickly were that Marquez wrote in really, really long paragraphs (I’m talking about four-page paragraphs at times); there’s very minimal dialogue or actual speech (preferring to describe what the characters are talking about rather than provide a script); and that the transitions between one scene and the next, or one concept and a completely different one were absolutely seamless.

Basically, in these gigantic paragraphs, Marquez might start off describing one particular point in someone’s life. Then he kind of comes across a bridging concept, and before you know it, you’re suddenly somewhere else or with someone else or at a different point in time (or maybe all three). On the surface, as I describe it, it might seem like something that would get annoying. For me, however, it was both unbelievable and impressive. It was also a bit confusing at times, but that sometimes also added to the appeal.

What was confusing, though, especially at the start and then toward the end of the book, was the repetition of names. Of the central characters, there was only a handful of names shared among them: Jose Arcadio, Aureliano, Remedios, Amaranta, etc. This Buendia family tradition of naming kids after their father/grandfather/etc necessitated the use of people’s surnames all throughout the book, which was not a terrible thing, but for a character with a name as long as “Santa Sofia de la Piedad”, I kind of wished Marquez could have used a short form now and then. But I don’t mind, really; it kind of has a nice ring to it. Fortunately as well, the copy I borrowed had a family tree at the start, so it was a bit easier to track how everyone was related.

For a novel with so many characters, and in which so much happens, I don’t think i could pick a favourite character. I found something almost admirable about Ursula, though, and Colonel Aureliano Buendia, for the most part, was likeable. OHYS is actually quite moving and poetic. I found myself pitying a lot of the characters. It is a book about solitude, though, so it would kind of be expected… The “solitude” in OHYS, however, is not just the usual physical solitude of being by oneself, but a kind of metaphorical solitude of being emotionally/spiritually shut-off from the world. Well, something like that; it’s hard to explain.

Would I read ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ again? 100% yes.

When I quickly came back to my senses after entertaining the idea of abandoning the book unfinished (man, it’s even hard to just write those words, let alone think that I thought of doing that), I had even considered buying a copy so that I could read it slowly, and then re-read it, and probably lend it to people to get them to read it. That’s another thing – I’m not sure if it’s just the way it was translated (excellent translation, by the way, Gregory Rabassa) but it was generally easier to understand the long sentences when I read faster than if I read slowly to try to absorb everything. Also, I feel like more commas in the right places might have helped.

Well, I didn’t end up buying a copy. Kind of need to clear up more bookshelf space first… It is definitely on the wish list, though (very subtle hint… too bad Christmas has just passed…)