Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I finished Love in the Time of Cholera last weekend. My only other experience of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the lovely short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. Perhaps I should have read one of his pre-Nobel novels instead, because, right now, I’m having a very hard time liking this book.
Mind, this is a very subjective opinion. I may be confusing dislike of the characters with dislike of the book, since when I step back and try to be objective, I find I don’t have any complaints about Marquez’s writing style, even in translation. It’s fluid, it has lots of rich detail and original metaphors, it pulls the reader along. I just don’t like the world it’s pulling me into – a place where everyone, both men and women, seem so caught up in social trappings that from birth to death they never experience one moment of pure unadulterated freedom of choice. Conversely, they’re free to act in all sorts of despicable, morally deprived ways (adultery, hate mail, thieving, etc.), yet they don’t even enjoy their own debauchery. They’re all going trough the motions and never rising above their limitations – until they’re too old to care.
And, of course, on an even more subjective level, I find it hard to admire Florentino Ariza’s supposed love for Fermina Daza. To me, love is not love if you can wait for a person for “fifty-one years, nine months and four days” yet sleep with 622 other women (a new girl each month, roughly) during that period. And not just sleep with them. I don’t understand the impulse to scrawl “this pussy is mine” in second-hand red paint on the belly of a married woman. If love is this capricious and arbitrary, based on nothing more than a glimpse of a girl (in both Ariza and Urbino’s cases), and yet can be reduced to frenzied five-minute sex within a matter of days, then why should I care for these people?
Subjectivity aside, I have three other criticisms:
The first sentence. “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Nowhere is this phrase ever explained – how can Urbino know of Ariza’s vigils under the almond trees or the fact that Fermina smells of almonds to Ariza? Why would that smell remind Urbino of unrequited love, who’s never had an unrequited love in his life?

I resent being deprived of the main character’s personality traits until well into the middle of the book – both Fermina’s sense of smell and her initial hatred of eggplants are kept hidden until sprung upon the reader at a later, crucial junction.

The beginning and the ending don’t match up – in the first chapter we’re told that Ariza was present at the funeral and afterwards at the house and that’s when he declared his love. Yet in the second to last chapter, he arrives at Fermina’s house mere hours after Urbino’s death and declares his love then. Perhaps I’m missing something?

I will try reading One Hundred Years of Solitude next and see where that takes me...

Things to look up: blennorrhagia, L’Ile des pingouins

Comments

AYDIN ÖRSTAN said…
"both men and women, seem so caught up in social trappings that from birth to death they never experience one moment of pure unadulterated freedom of choice"

That was how most (all?) societies were at one time & many still are. Try to read (or maybe don't) by an Ottoman-Turkish author from the late 19th or early 20th century.
Deniz Bevan said…
True. But then there are novels/stories that also explore the lives of those who managed to overcome such trappings. Better yet, other authors have explored the same stultifying themse in a manner that at least leads you to care about the characters (Steinbeck, or in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).
Chris said…
Thank You! I thought I might be the only person who didn't care for this book.
Deniz Bevan said…
Thanks Chris! I realise it was a very subjective review, but I was trying to work out why the book bothered me so much...

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