I am not only a reader, but I am not a person who writes about what she reads. I maybe average three books a year if I am lucky and I never have any strong impulse to convey my feelings towards them in writing. Not necessarily because I am not moved by them, often it’s the opposite… I often struggle most with works of art that touch me deeply. Last year I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I loved both, and they quickly fell into the really tiny pool of books I consider very dear to my heart. Considering I was 2 for 2 last year, I wonder why I don’t read more. Maybe it’s because it’s not accurate to say I don’t read; I just don’t finish. I have a huge library of books, and I could not only the basic storyline of most, but comment on the author’s style or approach. I’ve touched on their contents, but never fully committed to them.
I wish I could say my New Years Resolution was that I should read more; I think it’s a beautiful way of escaping the world. And yet, I am too unconfident to make those kinds of Resolutions, the only one I set for myself this year was to be happy, which is probably the most impossible of impossibles. Despite all this, we are not even through January and I have not only started a book but I have finished one! Sure, it was short… barely even a novel, it’s a novella I think… but the point is, I finished a book!
I finished Memories of My Melancholy Whores hours ago, it was published in 2004 by acclaimed author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The basic storyline is, on his ninetieth birthday a man buys a night with a fourteen year old virgin in a brothel. What a scandal! The book is not as icky as it sounds, and though disturbing, it is never self-consciously so. It is not really the story that is the thrust of this book, but rather the various meditations and states of the protagonist, who seems at once completely satisfied with his life, while also filled with yearning for missed experiences and opportunities. The greatest of these is love, and though he has been sexually active and enthusiastic from his very early adolescence on, he feels as though he has never known love.
When he arrives in the small brothel room where he is to meet his virgin, he finds her naked, and fast asleep. At first he is disheartened and even attempts to stir her, but he soon resigns to the situation and finds incredible beauty in her serenity and innocence. The night passes, and by morning, she is still a virgin and he returns home. He asks for the girl again and again, only asking that this time she is without make-up, but every night repeats itself. He is not frustrated though, and soon creates this oddly beautiful romance within his mind between himself and this sleeping girl. He even decides that her power over him is so strong, that what he is feeling is finally love. His conviction that he is in love inspires great change in him, and is reflected in his work (as a columnist) and as an individual. At ninety, he makes a profound change in himself. His incredible happiness though, eventually turns to paranoia and worry, and he is torn apart by his affections. He experiences incredible jealousy, and also fear that he might encounter her when she is waking and lose everything that he has.
It is difficult to really look at what he has with this young girl as love, because in many ways it is not real. Then again, perhaps it is more real than many of my own relationships and friendships. Though never reciprocated, the element of touch and closeness is essential for him. It is uncomfortable only that it is unconventional, and breaks with many taboos relating to age and intimacy, but his experiences are so viscerally similar to that of love, and though the initial circumstances are morally questionable, they take on new meanings as the narrative progresses.
When the old man meets women from his past, there is a strong sense of nostalgia and camaraderie. There is a warmness that I find enviable, more enviable than the strength of his feelings of love. Yet, for him they are not as real or as true as his love for his sleeping beauty. Still, it is through his encounters with these women that he is at his most real, that we have the greatest feeling for what he is and why he is. He is a man who never marries, but is defined so completely by the women of his life. There is even something to be said about his insistence on paying women, as early on, he mentions that he cannot stand making love to a woman who he doesn’t pay. Even if she gives herself to him freely and refuses his money, he will make her accept some kind of payment. What of this? Is it a reflection of his loneliness, a fear of allowing himself to be seen as himself. Or is it a strange form of gratitude for brief moments of affection and being wanted, for he strikes me as a profoundly lonely man.
Marquez’s literally style is difficult to describe, perhaps because I lack any talents at describing styles of writing. It is effortless and bare, though the writing style reflects the mannered intellectualisms of it’s protagonist, it is also smooth and easy to read. There is something so unconsciously passionate and simple in its self-consciousness. As if the character narrating is so completely self-aware of whom he is, but is only aware of a false image of himself. The writing is at once humble and self-indulgent, and is always viscerally visual. It is all so very spare, but every word, and every sentence seems essential and loaded with meaning and nuance. You truly feel the weight of a man who has lived for nearly a century, for all his weaknesses and naiveté. As it is a book that can easily be read in a single sitting (it only took me two), I can recommend it without feeling guilty that you might hate it, though I doubt anyone would (unless you are an Iranian conservative politician).
Also, while looking for a nice image for this post, I stumbled upon this pretty awesome website; The Book Cover Archive. It is not only a beautifully designed website, but features a variety of information on book covers, while also featuring a huge amount of images and designs. As someone who always judges a book by it’s cover, I find it infinitely fascinating, even just to browse aimlessly. A few favourites I came across;