Saturday, December 03, 2005

Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Written by
: Gabriel García Márquez
Translated by: Edith Grossman
(Latin-American, Magic Realism)
Published: Knopf, October 2005

#12 on the Globe and Mail top 100 books of 2005

Today, I place into your cupped hands, this beautifully crafted book by Gabriel García Márquez, his first after a 10-year long hiatus. Reviews for this book in the media weren't so favorable; the opening salvo from Michiko Kakutani's review in the NY Times, 22 Nov goes like this:
"Memories of My Melancholy Whores" is ballyhooed by its publishers as the first
work of fiction by Gabriel García Márquez in 10 years. It turns out not to have
been worth the wait."

Can you say "ouch"? I think however, the stinging review had more to do with the subject matter the book covered, rather than the writing, which in my opinion is impeccable and very much in the style that the nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez is so revered for. This is my first "Márquez", but people I have spoken to say few have written about the essence of life, love and death nearly as well as he.

The book opens with the 89-year old narrator contemplating how he should spend his 90th birthday and he decides that he wants to spend it with a 14-year old virgin, not just any virgin, but one that comes highly recommend by the owner of the whorehouse that he frequents.

"The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin," this miniscule gem begins. When he shows up at the brothel, he finds the girl naked and doped up with bromide and valerian sedatives; he’s unable to wake her and spends his birthday evening sleeping naked next to her.

I think the subject matter touches a very sensitive chord with some because lately, pedophilia has been on the rise. I am sure Márquez only wished that the reader would see the romantic and erotic allure of his story, but unfortunately, the only emotion it creates in some people is disgust. The Miami Herald describes the narrator as thus: The protagonist is a loathsome, unnamed character, a washed-up journalist in a nameless city, a bachelor -- ''ugly, shy and anachronistic'' -- who has always paid for his sexual experiences "

But truth be told, our narrator resides in a lonely ancestral mansion, has no children or any dependents and, save for the family maid (who once harbored an unrequited passion for him), no companionship at home. His pastimes include dipping into Greco-Roman literature, tuning into the classical music station on the radio, writing for the newspaper, and on occasion, visiting a brothel. I see him as a lonely, harmless old man who deludes himself into thinking that just because he can buy this girl, he can also buy her love. Also, he doesn't seem to be looking so much for sex as he is, companionship. This girl gives him something to look forward to, something to live for, something to hope for. He builds a fantasy world around her and names her Delgadina, the heroine of a medieval ballad that tells the story of the incestuous love of a king for his youngest daughter. Our narrator never speaks to the girl nor seeks to know anything about her. She is a blank, faceless, history-less, voiceless landscape, and he prefers her that way because it is the only way he can keep her virginal in his mind. He imagines her to be his first true love, uncorrupted by the world. In somebody else's hands this might have been a sordid story of a dirty old man, but in Márquez's hands, this becomes a celebration of amorous passion in one's twilight years---a love story.

To summerize: I loved the prose, I loved the reminisces, I loved the silent courtship between the two; I am overjoyed to think that you can live well into your nineties and still experience love like an adolescent...this was magic realism in all its glory and it appealed to my senses.