The World Was Reduced to the Surface of Her Skin

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Art is an old language with a great many artificial affected styles, and sometimes the chief pleasure one gets out of knowing them is the mere sense of knowing. I enjoy the art of all sorts here immensely; but I suppose if I could pick my enjoyment to pieces I should find it made up of many different threads.

I love this quite from Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch and it is particularly handy when I want to write about an author with a very specific style. This is a writer who is so refreshingly original that it is a pleasure to read his books solely for the pleasure of knowing them.

There is no way you could read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and mistake his writing for anyone else. One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in the fictional village of Macondo, in a typical (if there can be such a thing) Latin American country. The things Macondo faces are things that Marquez would have experienced during his childhood in Columbia: civil war, fruit plantations, small villages transitioning into modernity. Whilst the story is of its place, there are plenty of universal themes here; life, love, sadness, loneliness, tradition and family.

Marquez once said that “[a]fter the death of my grandfather, nothing really happened to me any more”. This happened when he was eight. In many ways people read his signature style of magical realism as the world seen through the eyes of a child. This novel is certainly full of that sort of imaginative power.

At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Firstly, Marquez is king of beautiful sentences. Just read it! The village is founded by the family and has a real Garden of Eden sort of vibe. The Bible here is the magical element mixed with the reality of evolution (‘prehistoric eggs’). This immediately sets the tone for the kind of storytelling that follows. This is a story of a town who suffers from insomnia, of alchemy, gypsies and revolution. Family history becomes myth and legend, and the imagery is outstanding.

The only problem I had whilst reading One Hundred Years of Solitude was that I found it hard to keep all the characters straight – there are about twenty-five Aurelianos! However, even this has a poetic explanation: Time in this novel is not linear and generations of family history is told as though it was happening all at once. Plenty of characters live until well over a hundred, and even the dead don’t always keep quiet.

People say Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing is like a carnival and I would agree. It is colourful, always moving, vibrant, strange and foreign. A wonderful combination.

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