Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Book-A-Day #93 (10/18): Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The only Marquez I've read before this was One Hundred Years of Solitude, in what I puckishly called my "wetback" class at college (the real title was something like "The Latin American Novel in Translation," but I was being aggressively un-PC in those days). Solitude was long and dense and repaid close reading, but it didn't exactly make me eager to run out and read more Marquez.

But, fifteen years later, when a sister club did this very slim book, I grabbed a copy of it. And now, a year after that, I've read it, mostly because it's so short that it was an easy Book-A-Day pick.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores reads like a book from a time capsule (or just from a part of the world feminism hasn't affected much yet); the narrator (an unnamed man in an unnamed city in an unnamed country) has just turned ninety as the book opens and decides to "give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." So, being as he's a guy who's never not paid for it in his life (and he's proud of that, for Latin American reasons inscrutable to me), he rings up his favorite madam and orders up a fourteen-year-old girl. (She doesn't have a name, either. What's the deal with literary types not wanting to name their characters?)

Yes, yes, I know. I was cringing, too. Does it make it any better if I say that he doesn't actually sleep with her?

When he gets to the brothel, she's asleep (naked, of course), so he just watches her, and muses on various topics of interest to old lechers. And since, by an iron law of the universe, men must leave brothels at dawn, he leaves before she wakes and she is left undeflowered. But, of course, he has somehow along the way found a new zest for life, and...come on, you can fill in the rest, right?

This scenario repeats itself a couple of times -- he never sees her awake -- and our narrator also talks about true love, his long life, and the other sorts of things tedious old men drone on about. (That's not quite fair; Marquez is a pleasing writer, so it's mildly interesting, but the narrator himself is, at the very best, a disgusting old humbug.) He has a mild renaissance in his professional life (as a newspaper columnist), because, Marquez says, he is in love for the first time ever.

In typical literary-novel style, the novel (really a novella) ends just before the real event happens -- I think he either marries the girl, screws her, or keels over dead right after the last page. (But it's hard to be sure which, or if it's actually all three.)

I imagine people who've read more Marquez than I have will get more out of this. For the rest of us, well, Solitude is quite good, and I've heard good things about The General in His Labyrinth and Love in the Time of Cholera. This book's major virtues are that it is short, a pleasant read, and has "Whores" in the title.

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