Wednesday, July 02, 2014

100 Years of Reading

A review of a book first published in 1967 is, by any way of reckoning, late and so this is more about how reading it has felt.

It was Peter Carey who first introduced me to the concept of the unreliable narrator with his Herbert Badgery story-teller introducing 'Illywhacker' with the line that he was 134 years old and a habitual liar.

The narrator of 100 years is not a liar, but speaks of ordinary things and flying carpets as if they were both normal, telling the story of the village of Macondo dispassionately whether describing sex romps or massacres with a detailed and pathological gaze.

I rarely enjoyed the company of the compulsory books in English Literature. This felt like one. Paragraphs last three pages. Sentences are interminable. The dictionary was required on more than ten occasions. Get distracted by the conversation of the people in the seats behind on the train or plane, as I did, and you can accidentally read a page without registering it. Then you have no idea who is the subject of the lengthy paragraph any more. (It may have changed.)

The five generations of the founding families of Macondo often repeat names, with minor variations. I was constantly popping back to the family tree at the beginning of chapter one to get my bearings. Was that José Arcadio Buendia, José Arcadio, Arcadio or José Arcadio II? And time seems to pass weirdly. Some characters live to well into their second century, others die but you discover the book hasn't finished with them. How old are these folk? How are they counting?

It is hard to get your bearings. Where are we? The Caribbean, we learn late. When are we? There are pointers but it is not tight.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a Nobel laureate. He died recently.

It was mysterious, vaguely magical and the hardest book I have ever finished and just about enjoyed. I'm glad I did. I think.

On the jacket The New York Times says it should be required reading for the entire human race. How little that paper knows of humanity.

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