The ungodly cold here (-23C! Wow!) has turned me into a total slug. So I selfishly decided to spend the late afternoon curled up in bed in a patch of sunlight reading this novel. It's quite short, which makes it well suited for such escapism, but alas, it's not really the delightful experience that one would hope for. As Marquez works go, it's pretty tepid.
Written as the memoirs of a 90 year old man, the novel begins with the racy plan of spending a night of pleasure with a young virgin. We're then given some background about our protagonist, which initially paints him as a mild-mannered and upright citizen, and implies that he's a bit of a prude, making the resolution to deflower an adolescent all the more delicious, but then it turns out that in fact, he's been regularly frequenting prostitutes for decades, and in fact, he's quite the Casanova. This, unfortunately, makes his character a lot less interesting. His exploits are of course rendered quite lyrically, but all the same, the beautiful descriptions and the protagonist's own self-loathing and shame don't really redeem him.
So he secures himself this young virgin, but in order to quell her anxieties, the madam has given her a sleeping draught that renders her unconscious. And our protagonist can't bring himself to wake her up. But falls in love with her anyhow. This would perhaps be marvelous if not for the fact that it's been done before, and far better, by Marquez himself. I don't remember the name of the story at the moment, but it's actually one of my favorites by him. Anyhow, he falls in love, and the story explores this idea of a 90 year old man coping with thoughts of impending death and falling in love at the same time. And it's all lovely and poetic and grand, but still, the narrative sort of meanders around and blends these lovely reflections with somewhat uninteresting plot fluff, so the ultimate effect is just not that satisfying. Then there's some calamity, meant to heighten the tension and suspense before the blithely inevitable über happy ending. The novel has this weird blend of somewhat striking, lovely juxtapositions, and tired cliche (albeit fairly well-rendered) - on the whole, it's incredibly uneven. Also on the level of content, the beautiful descriptions work well for women's bodies, but not quite as well for burning assholes. Why does he keep harping about his burning asshole? Is it a nod to Beckett? Is it meant to reiterate the guy's age, and point to the indignities inherent in growing old? Is it supposed to be funny? It just didn't really work for me.
What I mainly noticed, sad to say, is that while Marquez is a master of these incredibly gorgeous descriptions of women, their bodies and beauty, he doesn't actually _know_ them. I mean, they're always these exalted objects of idolatry, and lovely as they are, they're never real. And the narrative doesn't seem to have any awareness of this; that these women are all basically fantasies projected onto beautiful bodies. There seems to be some acknowledgement of this in the work, when the narrator realizes that he much prefers his lover when she is sleeping, but it ultimately doesn't seem to matter. And at the end of the book there's this whitewashing move that declares her madly in love with him as well. But you only know this because someone else tells you so - at no point do you get any kind of glimpse into the girl's consciousness. I mean, the story is after all the memoir of the protagonist, so one could argue that the author is subtly critiquing his own main character, but honestly, I feel like this is the case in Marquez's oeuvre in general - he has absolutely no idea what goes on in women's heads, but he assumes that it's NOT like what goes on in men's. And that just irks me. Which isn't to say that I don't appreciate his work, because I adore his use of language, but still, I can't help but feel a bit estranged from it, or rather, excluded.