By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Published October 2005
Date reviewed: February 10, 2006
Originally published in: The Daily Cardinal
The world of fiction has been a lot darker of a place over the last decade without the presence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Author of the epic “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and dozens of compelling short stories, Marquez was absent from his most famous medium in his recent career and focused instead on journalism and his autobiography.
Fortunately, Marquez was nowhere near done with the style that earned him a Nobel Prize in literature, returning to form with his new novel “Memories of My Melancholy Whores.” A compelling and concise piece of work, Marquez proves even after 15 books he still has the skill and the spirit to tell an unforgettable story.
Marquez doesn’t waste any time in his new work, summarizing all the action in the first sentence: “The year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” His main character, a journalist and composer who has found little success in either profession, finds himself seeking one simple pleasure only to find himself so stunned by her beauty as she sleeps he cannot bring himself to wake her.
The book proceeds to chart the year following his birthday as he revisits his life, thinking about his writing, relationships with women (all paid for) and the reality of living his life completely alone. All through the year he continues a relationship with the nameless girl, where by never speaking or touching him she becomes the love of his life.
In all of his short stories Marquez feels like he uses fiction to cloak his poetic urges, and “Melancholy Whores” is no different, calling up multiple observations and tying them together with his fluid prose. With a main character suffering from an onset of senility Marquez is able to elaborate on any thought, as a character who feels “well compensated by the miracle of still being alive at my age” is inclined to drift on his own thoughts.
“Melancholy Whores” is not a supernatural story like Marquez’s earlier works “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” or “Sea of Lost Time,” but he still manages to fill it with the same magical sense. His relationship with the girl is one of the most touching romances in recent print, as by leaving her untouched he has elevated her to the role of a spirit. She exists more in his imagination than in real life, and his romance exists somewhere between dreams and reality.
Marquez may be 10 years younger than his nameless narrator, but there are clearly some autobiographical details worked into the story. His slight disdain for the younger staff at the newspaper he writes for likely displays some of his own attitudes, and his resigned comments about the effects of aging are too direct to not come from experience.
This connection, almost more than his other works, makes “Melancholy Whores” strike a personal chord with readers. By the time the novel winds to a close Marquez has formed a character who seems completely real, and whose regrets are ones that anyone approaching the end must feel. Marquez may have left a better legacy than his protagonist, but in his golden years he must certainly be sharing the same concerns.
“Melancholy Whores” is closer to his short stories than his novels in length – only 115 pages – but it is still a triumphant return for the master. Like a rare wine Marquez’s writing appears to get even better as the years go on, weaving a straight and detailed path towards one final satisfying breath. Hopefully, readers won’t have to wait until Marquez himself turns 90 for his next work.