Books of 2014, #10: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Honestly, it’s sort of surprising that I had never read this before. My literary reading has been, for decades, focussed primarily on postwar American works, with only occasional forays elsewhere, and that’s probably something I should address. On the other hand, there’s a lot of great stuff in that category, and there’s only time for so many books (especially this year, with my reading time severely curtailed by the new Less Chet is More Chet program).

Anyway, there it is: I’m new to Marquez. The book itself is hard to read in 2014 the same way it was read in 1967; the literary world has moved quite a bit since then, and this book is part of that movement. It’s obviously a titanic novel, rich in nuance and depth, but it’s also of a piece with its time, and it’s only in reading commentaries after I finished the book that I realized how many plot points in it were taken from actual historical events.

It’s also the sort of book that washes over you like an unrelenting wave; it’s clear that there are aspects to this work that will only become clear on repeated exposure, as with something like Ulysses or Infinite Jest.

Honestly, there’s just SO MUCH going on here, and it’s written so well, that it’s almost overwhelming; Harold Bloom said of it “My primary impression, in the act of rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a kind of aesthetic battle fatigue, since every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb… There are no wasted sentences, no mere transitions, in this novel, and you must notice everything at the moment you read it”, and he’s not kidding. Marquez is harsh about some aspects of this world (like Faulkner’s treatment of Mississippi), but there’s also a love here that you don’t normally see in a Yoknapatawpha story. Surprisingly (post)modern techniques surface here, too — intertextuality, for sure, but that’s not the end of it. One gets a very “all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” feeling upon its completion.

Am I not saying enough? Well, it’s probably because even nearly a month later — I finished it in mid-May — I’m still turning it over in my head. But that’s a good thing.

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