One Hundred Years of Solitude


Well, I'm sad to report that it took everything I had for me to finish this book. Honestly, I haven't had such a hard time reaching the end of a book since David Bilsborough's The Wanderer's Tale. I kid you not. . .

As was the case with Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash a few weeks back, Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude had been siting on my shelf for well over a decade, awaiting my attention. Yet every time I decided that the time had come to finally read it, for some reason in the end I would hold back. One Hundred Years of Solitude has become such a classic and is considered a literary masterpiece, and hence is raised my expectations to what I felt was an impossible level to reach. To put it simply, Márquez's signature work had to be the very best novel I had ever read. Anything else would be a disappointment. . .

And what a major disappointment it was. The only reason I finished the book was because two people close to me loved it to such a degree that I felt it would be like letting them down if I didn't read it from one end to the other. One of them called Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind "vulgar fluff" compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude. Sorry, but I get to differ. . .

Here's the blurb:

One of the 20th century's enduring works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a widely beloved and acclaimed novel known throughout the world, and the ultimate achievement in a Nobel Prize–winning career.

The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. It is a rich and brilliant chronicle of life and death, and the tragicomedy of humankind. In the noble, ridiculous, beautiful, and tawdry story of the Buendía family, one sees all of humanity, just as in the history, myths, growth, and decay of Macondo, one sees all of Latin America.

Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility -- the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth -- these universal themes dominate the novel. Whether he is describing an affair of passion or the voracity of capitalism and the corruption of government, Gabriel García Márquez always writes with the simplicity, ease, and purity that are the mark of a master.

Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude weaves the political, personal, and spiritual to bring a new consciousness to storytelling. Translated into dozens of languages, this stunning work is no less than an accounting of the history of the human race.

As you undoubtedly know by now, I'm a plot kind of guy. Always have been and always will be. And since Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is a meandering book following the random tribulations of generations of the Buendía family with no plot to speak of, it was impossible for me to get into it.

Yes, I understand that Macondo is a metaphor for Colombia, and the entire novel is sort of a metaphor for Latin America history. I get all that. But Marquez is all over the place, with storylines going everywhere and nowhere, which prevented me from getting into it. Also, the non-linear narrative spanning a number of generations precludes any sort of depth in terms of characterization.

Gabriel García Márquez's prose is awesome, though. The narrative is smart, witty, humorous, and you find yourself chuckling all the time by various turn of phrases he uses. At the beginning, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. And then I started reading Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie (Canada, USA, Europe), which is one of the most touching and rewarding books I have ever read. Problem is, for years I had been told that One Hundred Years of Solitude was so touching and rewarding. For all its wit and humor and the metaphoric aspect of the underlying Latin America history, the plot itself was so much fluff that Albom's heartwarming work totally killed Márquez's classic for me. Still, I plowed on, hoping to encounter what made countless people fall in love with One Hundred Years of Solitude. Unfortunately, the narrative remains the same as it focuses on various members of the Buendía family at different points in history.

At one point the whole thing became so pointless that it took me over two weeks to read the last 200 pages or so. The narrative was as fun to read as it had been in the beginning, but the total absence of plot meant that I was just going through the motions, hoping to reach the end without giving up.

I'm aware that my lofty expectations were so high that One Hundred Years of Solitude had no chance of satisfying me. Yet I never expected such a renowned work to be such an epic fail for me. For all of its metaphors, I found the book to be more or less meaningless and impossible to get into. Is Love in the Time of Cholera like this? If so, I'm throwing it into the box of book I donate to libraries immediately.

Incredible prose, but no plot to speak of. Sadly, this one wasn't for me. . .

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

13 commentaires:

WEW said...

[possible spoiler I guess] While much of the novel drug for me as well, I found the last chapter or so fascinating.

I once described it to someone as like a whirlpool, in that the spiral into oblivion started slowly, but then rapidly accelerated at the end to surreal proportions.

Anonymous said...

I tried to read "Love in the Time of Cholera" and gave up after about 20 pages. Which I realize isn't a lot, and I keep telling myself I'm going to try again, but I suspect it's going to sit on my shelf for many years to come.

Kirshy said...

I'm with you on this Pat. My ex-girl friend tried to get me to read it. I think I got about 50-60 pages into it before putting it down. Maybe I've gotten used to stories with plot and characters written in the "modern" form that I just can't take his wandering prose. Oh well. Other people can enjoy it, I'll stick with GRRM and his ilk.

AJ said...

I really disliked 100 Years of Solitude as well. While I can appreciate everything that Marquez does in the work (Macondo as metaphor for Latin American History), I found it excessively longwinded, and almost impossible to keep the characters straight as Marquez basically uses the same 3 names for everyone.

My Master's Degree is in Spanish - more speficially Latin American Literature. I know that this book is "canon" and it's supposedly one of the best books ever. I beg to differ. Marquez could have easily achieved the same effect and impact with a novella, instead of this bloated monster. Of course, I also hated Don Quixote ... yet another overhyped boring longwinded piece of drivel. I guess I'm a strange one in that I love Latin American (and Spanish) lit, but I have no use for 2 of the best "exemplars" of it.

Finally, if you disliked 100 Years, you're probably not going to like Cholera. I've read it and found it creepy. It's supposedly the tale of one man's undying love for a woman whom he's fated never to be with. Instead of coming of as romantic, it reads as a double standard of an obsessed stalker tale (i.e., he sees no problem calling himself pure and utterly devoted to his ladylove, but he has strings of affairs, even with a minor, yet he's kind of put off that his ladylove isn't as pure as he would like her to be.) I say skip it and throw it in the trash. Marquez is mostly horrible as a novelist, but excels in short stories. Finally, for the record, I recommend Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same and could not finish it as well.

The short stories are excellent though.
Try:

Story of a shipwrecked sailor

Leaf Storm

No one writes to the colonel

They are quick, easy to follow and all are top notch reads

Anonymous said...

Wow, this must GREAT

Phillip said...

I whole heartedly agree; this book wasn't for me either.

Xenophon said...

It's good to see someone's honest opinion/review of a critically acclaimed novel.

Literature is not intended for all audiences. Just because critics and the pseudo-sophisticaes rave about something, doesn't necessarily mean it's good or will appeal to everyone. It seems most will go with the herd rather than admit they didn't understand or hated an acclaimed work.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. How many pseudo-sophisticates bought a copy of A Brief History of Time? How many actually read it? How many had a clue what Hawking was talking about? Very few I suspect.

Anonymous said...

"How many pseudo-sophisticates bought a copy of A Brief History of Time? How many actually read it?"

Brought it, tried to read it and agreed, I didn't have the foggiest clue what he was going on about half the time, the other half was spent sleeping and having nightmares of being sucked into black holes and getting chased by red dwarfs.

ScriboErgoSum said...

I had the exact same feeling when I read Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez. I had intended to dive right into One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I think I'm forever done with Mr. Marquez. He is definitely a talented writer, but he is not a master storyteller.

asx said...

It is a very hard book to read and enjoy, if you are expecting a story to keep you involved.

But not all books are about a great story and that is where you missed the point.

What this book tries to do is:
a) present the way of life in Columbia at that time.
b) present and communicate the feeling of solitude.

I dont really know about point a, but, for me, it had great success on passing point b.
I still remember how alone i felt, without even liking the characters or identifying with them.

---

"Finally, if you disliked 100 Years, you're probably not going to like Cholera. I've read it and found it creepy."
Guess what? undying and unfulfilled love can be creepy outside a fairytale.

Phillip said...

I can't disagree with your assessment of "100 Years of Solitude." My experience with it was nearly identical. However, I also read "Love in The Time of Cholera" a few years back and loved it. It's a slightly twisted love story that may not appeal to everyone's idea of romance, but it has a plot with plenty of character development and moving moments that stayed with me for weeks afterwards. "100 Years" was the opposite, an historical outline with no soul or feeling or inner struggle. It felt cold and distant, as if Marquez himself didn't even care about the people in the story.