Friday, August 07, 2009

Reading 100 years of solitude nearly ruined all literature for me.

The night I finished it, the summer of 2007, I lay on my stomach in bed and looked across the pillows at Jeremy and said, I don't think I'll ever read another novel again.

What shocked me, in the last 30 or so pages of the novel, was how perfectly and precisely plotted the whole book was. That what happens in those first few pages, first few chapters, sets into motion something cyclical and inescapable. Like "Love in the Time of Cholera" this novel is just as much about the inescapable realities we create for ourselves and others, and time, and its effects. Here, you'll find, there's a sense that time is more fluid. (In "Love", which I recommend, the construct is much more rigid.)

What I am reveling in, right now, is seeing it all set up so minutely and intently. It's all the stuff that hit me like a tsunami, the revelation, the oh-my-god-that's-what-this-is-all-about kind of thing.

Things I underlined and want to discuss, or return to: (all page numbers from my copy, an Avon books PB, which is probably a lot different than yours.)

"Things have a life of their own," the gypsy proclaimed with a harsh accent. "It's simply a matter of waking up their souls (11)."

The episode where young Aureliano, age 3, tells his mother the pot of water will spill (23). This certainty in seeing the future, a sort of fatalism that doesn't change a thing, is compelling. It's as though, looking forward or back, nothing can be changed. It's almost what Daniel Faraday and Eloise Hawking tell Desmond Hume in LOST; you can't change it, and the more you try, the stranger things are that happen to keep time in order.

This sense of the unchangeable future, and the completely tangible and present "past," is echoed in JAB's sort of disinterest in his sons. When Ursula tells him of Aureliano's psychic fit, UAB dismisses it as a "natural phenomenon."

Somehow, that seems to be the point, here: none of this is fantastic, none of this is strange. It is just natural.


Theresa said...

"Somehow, that seems to be the point, here: none of this is fantastic, none of this is strange. It is just natural."

That is magical realism. And why I love it.

angela said...

the irony, theresa, is that GMM didn't really agree with the term magical realism -- because it made the events seem to be the stuff of fantasy, etc. somewhere, some time, i read a piece where he essentially said that the things in his story people call magical realism were just taken from his childhood, etc. (it may have been in the NYT interview with him when he released his bio.)

Theresa said...

yes, i know he didn't. my understanding of the term is that it has since evolved from its original definition (in...what, the 1920s?). Or at least expanded. All of the MR fiction i have read treats magic in this same way. it is not strange--or at least not any stranger than anything else. but i think we do need a term to encapsulate these kinds of stories.

angela said...

by the time i first encountered it at MSU, in probably 1999, my professors will still using that notion of "fantastic." (there's been some really incredible art historical critique of the use of phrases like "fantastic" and "magical realism" as derogatory terms.) you're right, there has to be a better term. but there also has to be a better way to think about it, too.

Tim said...

But in the book, "magic," the fantastic, whatever you want to call it, seems to have a limited shelf-life. There's already a sense of after-the-fall decline in the book; the gypsies don't come around to show off the new wonders of the universe anymore, just cheap entertainment.

The disenchantment is telegraphed; another incident that comes to mind is the flash-forward to Col Aurelanio trying to navigate an army by the path his father took, only to give it up as maddening.

A magical village, where no one was more than thirty years old and where no one had yet died.

There's sort of an "in the time of Giants" quality to these early chapters. The "magic" doesn't go away, but it certainly begins to give way to a more "realist" side. (I'm going to talk more about "realism" in my next post.)

Jill said...

I recently took a Latin American literature class, and in it we discussed GGM and the classification of "magical realism." It doesn't have anything to do with magic per se, or even fantasy. It's an inversion of reality. The contemporary description of so-called magical realism is this: For the characters in this story, what to us, the readers, is real or natural, to the characters is strange and new. And what for the characters is pedestrian and familiar, to the readers is strange and new. That's sort of along the lines of "Somehow, that seems to be the point, here: none of this is fantastic, none of this is strange. It is just natural."

By the way, my name's Jill, for those of you who don't know me. Gavin invited me to join the discussion. I read OHYoS a long time ago, and am looking forward to finding new meaning in a rereading. I do have to catch up, though, before I can comment substantially :)