Last night I finished Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. While in New York last weekend, I witnessed a brief conversation about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which on Sunday prompted me to wander to his section of the bookstore to see what I was missing.
I've read One Hundred Years of Solitude several times. The first time in the summer of my senior year in high school, when I felt it would take me nearly the number of years in the title to complete my reading requirements. Several years later I reread the book, and to my delight, I had matured enough to enjoy the magical realism I had dismissed so easily a few years before.
Perhaps it's my status as a reluctantly chaste, single woman, but I was so intrigued by the title that I decided to buy it- sight unseen.
It's a brief, little book about a man who on his ninetieth birthday decides that he will return to the brothel he has not frequented in nearly twenty years. Such great care is taken with describing the man from nearly every angle that one feels the effects of age on him physically, emotionally, and societally.
This is a book written by a man about a man, written by a writer about a writer. Marquez seems to truly understand his character, making one wonder if he is this character to a large extent. From his jealous rage to his burning anus, you feel his losses: his loss of station, his loss of perspective, and particularly his loss of virility. The pity that descends during the story is not caused by this man's age. It is a direct reflection of his lack of love.
He has made it to 90 years old, and has never made love to someone he loves.
While the story is quick and entertaining, the moments of brilliance are quick flashes. Not the slow building of a complicated and earthshaking denouement like in ...Solitude, but instead great images, and wonderful quotes that seem to have been admired by this man - or by Marquez - for some time. Like the staggering Leopardi quote: "Ah me, if this is love, then how it torments."
Perhaps my favorite moment is in the beginning. The reader is just beginning to get a sense of this character: a self-obsessed, whore-monger - but in the best possible way. He is describing his life, in which he had few intimate friends, "... and the few who came close are in New York. By which I mean they're dead, because that's where I suppose condemned souls go in order not to endure the truth of their past lives." (Ah, perhaps this is where my overwhelming desire to move to New York comes from - am I trying to escape my tortured past?)
I was struck by the similarity of the protagonist in this book to the one in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. Both books very eloquently describe the humiliation of moving from virility and conquest - to isolation and age. Both authors seem to imply that the mortal wound of no longer being desired far out-ways any affliction of impotence. These men are forced, after long lives of degrading women, or at the very least taking them for granted, into a cold, lonely, and confusing existence that makes old age seem more like a sentence in a cold prison than a revered state to be respected.
Thinking of this view of old age reminds me of a trip I took to a retirement community several years ago. A woman pulled me aside and said, "Have lots of children, when you become my age, that's all you'll have."
Haunting. Truly haunting.