Is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” Gibberish?

So this will not be a usual blog, mostly because I have several secrets to reveal. For somebody who pretends to be a novelist – and a novelist of magical realism to boot – they are probably things that should remain unsaid. However, I have never been accused of being able to hold my tongue, so here goes…

After the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I decided it was high time to read (and finish) “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It’s one of those books that people talk about with almost religious deference; so my first secret is that I had made it well into my thirties without reading it. Not that I have not tried, almost a decade ago I purchased a copy and began to read but was unable to complete it (though I told no one). As the years went by and my literary taste became perhaps more sophisticated, I chocked up my abandoning this particular book as a demonstration of youthful immaturity and committed to reading it through, certain this time it would sing to me.

I ordered the book and waited anxiously (I only read books on paper, Kindle just feels to me like a really long email).

It finally arrived, and I carved some time away from family and after work to begin anew what I was sure would be a rewarding literary experience. For months I attempted, as Simon Bolivar once said, to “plow the sea”. Word by word, page by page I tried to find meaning. At first I assumed it was a slow starting book, but as the page numbers climbed like an endless stairway into oblivion I began to doubt. Characters were thrown at me willy-nilly; the plot waxed and waned without meaning, often fading like the jungle morning mist surrounding Macondo. The magical realism appeared only to accentuate the irrational, not deliver any specific message. All the tricks of the trade I had learned over the last years were glaring for their absence; no beats, no dialogue, Gabo does not resist any urges, least of all the urge to explain and while there is plenty of conflict in the story, none of the characters inspired even mild interest, much less passion and sympathy. I harbored the thought that perhaps it was because I was reading it in English; but I enjoy the translations of Eva Luna, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Shadow of the Wind; all books written in Spanish. I became baffled. It was like somebody had taken a wonderful novel, ripped out each page and placed the papers in a food processor – gluing each word after the next in the order they emerged. I began to entertain the notion that – perhaps – this book is what I thought it was a decade ago.

Is it possible that “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the greatest work of Gabo, is gibberish?

It is of course, and quite naturally hard for me to reach this conclusion, because for so many people out there (not to mention for myself) I’m sure it is a final confirmation of my own sub-par talent as a writer. I had committed to keeping this dark secret of mine well under wraps for the rest of my life – even perhaps writing a glowing book review that revealed to everybody that I “got it”, thereby purchasing my membership in the list of literary greats. However last night as I picked up the novel for the umpteenth time, agonizing over each tortured word and line – trying to make sense of the madness – I lasted only a short time. As I threw down the book in frustration, I made the decision at last to reveal my secret with the hopes that perhaps there are others out there who feel the same way, thereby rescuing myself from the panic that there is something wrong with me.

So I leave it to you, my (admittedly very few) readers. Is there a special code which I have missed? Was there a class I should have taken that would have thrown open the doors to Garcia Marquez’s magical world? Is there a special cabal of people who judge each other on their understanding of Gabo’s great work – leaving the rest of us in the dark? Or – dare I even ask it – is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” nonsense?

Advertisements

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright, author of the recently released novel "Lords of Misrule" about jihad in the Sahara. Joel has also written "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio".
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Is “One Hundred Years of Solitude” Gibberish?

  1. Karen Wyld says:

    There is no secret club, nor is it gibberish. A book/story either connects with you, or it doesn’t.

    I just finished re-reading 100 Years, for the second time in about 5 years. The first was a well-read library book. This time it was a illustrated edition in a special decorated-box, that a friend had found in a second hand shop – and gifted it to me.

    I discovered so much more this time around – I came away with a deeper understanding of some of the minor characters, understood some of the imagery more, and loved the rhythm of words. And I’m sure when I read it in a few more years, I will enjoy it even more. I can’t say the same of every book – some of my childhood favourites have been ruined with a re-read.

    Wish I could write such beautiful, wise and ageless ‘nonsense’.

    Like

  2. Pingback: I Almost Stopped Writing Today | Joel D. Hirst's Blog

  3. DaystarEld says:

    I just happened upon your site and I’m going to write two responses to posts today: one in solidarity with you, the other in vehement, but respectful, disagreement. Here is the solidarity post:

    I also hated A Hundred Years of Solitude, and yes, “gibberish” is an apt word. Here is the review I left for it on Amazon:

    “It seems to me that only those with a very limited experience with novels would find this book enthralling in the modern day. Its “storytelling” is so poor that I could barely get through it.

    It started out okay, with a plot hook of a first sentence that would be hard to forgive nowadays, but was fine for when the book was written: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

    This plothook is occasionally mentioned for awhile as we go over not just Colonel Aureliano Buendia’s childhood, but also the lives of his parents and the way they formed the town he grew up in. Okay, great. I’m all for inter-generational stories and settings.

    But the plot never truly coalesces, and it soon becomes obvious there IS none other than tracking this one family and the town’s history. And while this might be done in a truly engaging way by some authors, it’s not by this one. The sheer amount of random, pointless, and mundane details that fill the pages and pages and pages of this book can be described as nothing less than filler, to me… and I don’t necessarily think filler is a bad thing. Hell, I love the King of filler, Stephen King.

    The difference is, when Stephen King spends ten pages detailing a minor character’s formative years, it’s engaging and serves to give you insight in the character. It makes you empathize or feel close to them.

    None of that ever happens in this book. It’s just random details about people’s random quirks, all written in a distant, third-person-omniscient writing style that makes it sound like a history book, with all the captivation that implies. There are perhaps a dozen scenes in the entire book that last longer than half a page… it’s a nightmare of “tell, don’t show” that makes it hard to care about any of the characters, even without their actions making them so utterly hard to empathize with or like.

    And the “magical realism” was perhaps the most disappointing part. I love magical realism, but not when it’s done like this: not when it means nothing, *nothing,* to the story or characters. We hear about how flying carpets are real a few chapters into the story, and no mention is ever made of what world-shattering changes the existence of such a thing would have on history. Aureliano Buendia’s father, who was captivated by the gypsies’ magic inventions like magnets and magnifying glasses and potential alchemy, *utterly ignored the power of a flying carpet* and what he could do with it. To take this idiocy to the ultimate level, he later tries to search for the ocean near the town, slogging through swamps, over mountains, etc… and never once is any mention made of even considering using a flying carpet to do it.

    This is not magical realism by my standards. Magical realism treats the magic as *real,* as an affecting part of the story. Not as blatant as a fantasy story would, but still an intrinsic part of the tale. This book is magical unrealism, because it *describes* the magic as if it’s real, but it has absolutely *no* discernible consequence. None of the characters act in a realistic fashion when confronted with the magic. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple, as pretty much admitted by the author himself, just a style of storytelling his grandmother would engage in when he was young. You could take out all of the magic in the book and absolutely nothing would change.

    On top of all that, it’s incredibly frustrating to read about so many unlikable characters without even a basic plot to string them together… and as if actively trying to break his readers’ immersion, the author continuously drops little bits of future events carelessly into the narrative, so that you might sometimes just meet a new character and within a few lines find out how they die. It’s immensely hard to form an any kind of attachment to these characters or the story of the town as a whole… I can count on one hand the times I felt some true sense of immersion or interest in the novel, and then things went back normal.

    Overall I grew quickly disillusioned with all the praise heaped on the book. Back when it first got published, maybe it was seen as “innovative” and “groundbreaking” and “transformative,” but I’ve read more engaging, more educational, more IMPACTING stories that took a quarter of the time to read as this lump of bland, flavorless drivel.

    I could rant for hours about this thing, so I’ll stop there.

    TL;DR: Don’t buy this book. Find a copy to read first and decide if you like it based off the first few couple chapters: it doesn’t get any better past that,”

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s