…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from writer Jenny Ackland:
I’ve chosen this book because it is one of a small handful of favourites read at a time I was transitioning from reader to reader/writer. These books changed my view of the world through character, story and explosive originality, and with the recent death of García Márquez it seems fitting to settle on him.
I haven’t read Love in the Time of Cholera since the late 1980s, and I can’t remember now how I came across it, but my memory of it is quite firm on one point. It’s about a man who waits for his love for many, many years. I looked up and read Thomas Pynchon’s review of the book in the New York Times to refresh my memory. It is a good review. I read the opening line of the novel, which tells us much:
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
Who has not known unrequited love or desire? Which reader would fail to connect with this idea?
I read the first fifty pages and find, among the beautiful prose, this passage which is particularly splendid:
The great old families sank into the ruined palaces in silence. Along the rough cobbled streets that had served so well in surprise attacks and buccaneer landings, weeds hung from the balconies and opened cracks in the whitewashed walls of even the best-kept mansions, and the only signs of life at two o’clock in the afternoon were languid piano exercises played in the dim light of siesta. Indoors, in the cool bedrooms saturated with incense, women protected themselves from the sun as if it were a shameful infection, and even at early Mass they hid their faces in their mantillas. Their love affairs were slow and difficult and were often disturbed by sinister omens, and life seemed interminable. At nightfall, at the oppressive moment of transition, a storm of carnivorous mosquitoes rose out of the swamps, and a tender breath of human shit, warm and sad, stirred the certainty of death in the depths of one’s soul.
The idea that weeds can open cracks in concrete and love affairs can be slow and difficult. So much in a single paragraph.
I look again at the final lines, the words that speak of the go-around nature of agonised mistake-making and love-waiting and hope that never dies. They are the words of Florentino, the man who waits a lifetime for his love Fermina Daza:
‘And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?’ [the riverboat captain] asked. Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.
‘Forever,’ he said.
There is something mad and noble about a man who waits for love, not knowing if he will be satisfied in the end. It’s a romantic and tragic notion to start with but in García Márquez’s hands, with some humour and wry characterisation, it becomes the beating heart of a masterpiece.
Your Turn: Are you a Garcia Marquez fan? I’ve tried and failed but his books are on the list I plan to read ‘one day’.
You might also like: