It was an absolute pleasure to read a novel that is so fascinating for so many different reasons, but it is such a shame that I only finally got round to reading it (properly) very recently, and I shall explain why. This post will be split into three different parts because I say so:
1. Why Speed Reading is Terrible
2. García Márquez and the Latin American Boom
3. Magical Realism and Solitude
1. Why Speed Reading is Terrible
OK, speed reading isn’t terrible but it is certainly detrimental for reading anything that is meant to be read to be enjoyed. Back in my uni days of undertaking mountains of prescribed reading, I was trying to maximise my work efficiency by using measures that would allow me to get through a lot of work in short amounts of time. I ordered a cheap book online about speed reading and began to put my newly learned skills to play. As you become better and better at speed reading, you basically train yourself to read larger and larger blocks of words at a time until you are able to merely glance at a page in a book and “absorb” everything you read effortlessly without actually “reading” it in the conventional way. Therefore, studying is more efficient as well as faster and your life is changed for it… Right.
Some people may disagree, but I think speed reading is a hack. Maybe it was down to not enough practice, not enough patience… but I don’t think that it is a viable way of ploughing through work, particularly a fictional novel. The rewards are certainly short-term because while you may absorb what you read very quickly, you will not retain much of it. This is what I experienced upon reading One Hundred Years of Solitude for the first time on a flight on holiday. I raced through it at a relentless pace using my speed reading abilities and, as a result, I couldn’t recall what had happened. It didn’t help that on the journey I was next to a two-year-old who wouldn’t stop kicking the person in front of him’s chair and undoing his seatbelt, so my attention was marred.
I dunno, speed reading’s not for me. The second time round, I read the novel again, this time at a leisurely pace and I enjoyed it all the more. I could tell characters apart!
2. García Márquez and the Latin American Boom
One Hundred Years of Solitude is revered as one of the best books of the twentieth century. Neat. But how?
The Latin American Boom was a movement in the 60s and 70s whose poetry and literature, with its own stylistic innovations and aesthetics, paved the way for its writers to explode into international fame. Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes and various others all constitute representatives of this movement. Both the turmoil of the Cold War and Latin America’s tabula rasa culture (arguably) contributed to these innovations. Figureheads such as Ernesto Sabato, Miguel Angel Asturias and Jorge Luis Borges are said to precede the boom in terms of influence while other writers like Roberto Bolaño and Isabel Allende constitute those who have in turn been influenced by the Latin American Boom. Both Márquez and Vargas Llosa have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for their efforts shaping world literature thanks to the Boom.
I dunno what else to say here really. One time Vargas Llosa, who did his dissertation on Márquez, punched him in the face during a public argument. Wow!
3. Magical Realism and Solitude.
Gabo (as he is affectionally known) is recognised as the granddaddy of magical realism. Magical realism is when fantastical or magical elements come into a realist narrative. The difference between this and fantasy is that for magical realism, both reality and magic combine unflinchingly. This is achieved in many ways, usually through “authorial reticence” where the author simply doesn’t say why all this mad and crazy stuff is happening, or via their characters who similarly don’t care either. Note how nobody really bats an eyelid when it rains tiny yellow flowers, or questions why one of the characters ascends to heaven, or how everyone just accepts that Colonel Aureliano Buendia casually has 17+ children who all come to stay with him one time. Fantasy, in contrast, tries to explain or elaborate or justify how/why certain fantastical things are the way they are to make them seem more believable. As is my understanding.
Examples of influenced magical realist writers include Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie and Angela Carter. Whether they are writing about recurring ghosts, surviving plane crashes unscathed, or sprouting wings, they do so with the delicacies that render their works magical realist rather than fantasy. One could argue that even the cult classic World War Z could be magical realist purely for the way its characters put their heads down and deal with the zombie uprising(!)
And so, magical realism became an innovation that went on to influence writers to come. Hooray. Another unique thing of One Hundred Years of Solitude is the way that the narrative deals with conceptions of time. It is significant that the novel itself does not really have a linear plot as it jumps about between little vignettes and analepses and character developments. Similarly, time itself is not traditional, it would seem. Characters live to extraordinary ages, and one even gets younger. Certain attributes such as names, idiosyncrasies, political schema, even biological deformities, come and go throughout the seven generations of the Buendia family to suggest that there is nothing to outlive or escape from, that time has a certain circularity to it so that everything is essentially timeless.
But what has magical realism got to do with solitude? Characters fall in love, die in spectacular ways, and father inappropriate numbers of children in inappropriate ways with inappropriate people, but their actions are marked with a certain solitariness. Unrequited love, familial death, or madness, or victory, are all depicted to have a ring of loneliness to it, particularly when characters decide to shut themselves up in rooms for years on end or endure their problems alone without telling anyone. In his Nobel Prize speech, Márquez elaborates on what he means by solitude in relation to the human condition:
Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude […] The interpretation of our reality through patterns not our own, serves only to make us ever more unknown, ever less free, ever more solitary.
Márquez uses magical realism as an attempt to qualify individual experience. It is exactly imagination and the limitless potential of magic and the extraordinary by which man can make life endurable and believable, as it were, rather than accepting the other narratives that reality forces us to deal with… I reckon.
So, in all, fantastic book. I’m going to finish with the ending to the novel which is written as such a beautiful mindfuck:
Macondo was already a fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble being spun about by the wrath of the biblical hurricane when Aureliano skipped eleven pages or so as not to lose time with facts he knew only too well, and he began to decipher the instant that he was living, deciphering it as he was living it, prophesying himself in the act of deciphering the last page of the parchments, as if he were looking into a speaking mirror. Then he skipped again to ascertain the date and circumstances of his death. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wipe out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and for ever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.