Monday, 30 June 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, would probably never be published today. The author would be told that it was too dense, too long and that it didn’t have enough plot. So we are very lucky that publishers of the past had a different take on literature: novels could just be a pleasure to read - as this one was.

There are three main characters in the novel and a host of others so colourful that they could have had a novel based on them alone. The story starts with the death of one, Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, who leaves a letter for one of the central characters, Dr Juvenal Urbino. Urbino finds the letter so disturbing that he does the unthinkable and changes the pattern of his day

Some critics wonder if this novel is tragedy or soap opera? It is both. Others describe it as tragic and magical, erotic and absurd. It certainly has some of this in it. But it is essentially a love story: married love, erotic love, yearning love and love that stands the test of time. And the three central characters, Urbino, his wife Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, all experience different forms of love.

Florentino Ariza is perhaps the main character: he is a dreamer, romantic, desperate in his search for closeness and love. He thinks love is all and falls deeply in love with Fermina when she is only a girl but is thwarted in his attempt to marry her. He spends his entire life waiting for the time when she will be his. Although in the meantime he experiences physical love – often carnal and erotic experiences – he never loses sight of the one he is ‘keeping’ himself for.

Unlike Florentino, Urbino appears to be rational but it turns out that his view of life and marriage is just as strange. He thinks that ‘the most important thing in a marriage is not happiness, but stability’. On their marriage, Fermina and Urbino do not love each other but Urbino thinks that in time ‘there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love”.

As a girl Fermina Daza enjoys the idea of being in love with Florentino: when she realises it was an infatuation she marries Urbino, who is everything Florentino is not. He has position, power, good looks, style and she enjoys what these benefits bring throughout her marriage and believes that they finally love each other. They certainly rely on each other. However, when her husband dies she wonders if she ever did love Urbino. And Florentino has his chance.

Our host – who chose this book – did a sizeable amount of research regarding the history of the setting and the author’s life: the former was fascinating, the latter illuminating. It would be very interesting to read about the history of Columbia before reading the book, because although we all know it is beset by drug dealing gangs, kidnappings and killings we were surprised to find that this has all been going on for hundreds of years!

But, it would probably not such a good idea to know all the personal life of the author beforehand as it might colour the reader’s view of the characters and their relationships too much. Marquez, born in 1928, started writing Love in the Time of Cholera in 1965. How come a guy, and one of only 37, knew so much about women and marriage? He was brought up by his grandmother and was surrounded by aunts which might explain it.

Marquez describes all the minutiae of married life brilliantly, often with humour. And he describes ageing in a very unsentimental way but so sympathetically. His observation is astute. He shows an understanding of the way that women tick which is not always the case in novels about women written by men.

Our groupies all loved the book but there were one or two question marks: we were not convinced of the need for the fleeting initial character, Jeremiah, nor do we ever get to hear what this letter contains, which annoyed some of us. Nor did we think that the introduction of the character, America, was necessary and most of us thought it introduced a jarring note. But, overall, those who had read it last twenty odd years ago, or those who were reading it for the first time, all thought it should definitely be on everyone’s Must Read list.


No comments: