For close to ten years I've been telling people that this is one of my favorite books. I read it in high school, before my hiatus from seriously readiFor close to ten years I've been telling people that this is one of my favorite books. I read it in high school, before my hiatus from seriously reading fiction that lasted from 2003 until 2009. Once I got the literary bug again, I realized that I didn't trust my adolescent evaluations, and I needed to reread much of what I had read up to that point to give an accurate subjective opinion of them. Since then, I've reread a handful of books I read for the first time as a somewhat ridiculous high school student. Now that I'm a somewhat ridiculous semi-responsible adult, there haven't been many radical shifts in opinion, but I've found that I am less impressed by certain aspects that floored me a decade ago, while finding new things that went unnoticed or under-appreciated during my first read.
If you had asked me at the end of my hiatus which book was safest in my personal pantheon I would have probably said this book.* This premonition was enhanced earlier this year when I read the remarkable Love in the Time of Cholera. So it kind of breaks my heart to be so underwhelmed by One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Let me defend my 16 year old self. Time has done no great favors to this book. That's not to say that it's dated, rather, it's one of those instances where something that was once revolutionary becomes a staid prototype. In my review of Lord of the Flies** I talked about how sometimes a work can get so firmly rooted in our cultural conscience after several years it loses a large amount of it's initial worth to those encountering it for the first time. The present case is different than Lord of the Flies, which was "spoiled" because of familiarity with the scenario and certain plot elements. Reading Lord of the Flies now is almost like watching reruns of Cheers. I loved the show when I was a kid, I know enough to say that the show was probably the best sitcom of the '80s, and there are still great parts. But still, when I see one of the episodes from the early seasons I haven't seen, it seems unbelievably dated. On the other hand, One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first of a new breed. Perhaps the reason I loved this book so much when I was 16 was that I had never read anything like it before. The way Márquez uses poetic flights of fantasy to expose the underlying vein of stark reality was, and is, remarkable. It's just that now, after reading Love in the Time of Cholera, Midnight's Children, and other stuff what was once lustrous has become somewhat dull. It doesn't help that this book is built on a sense of repetition in events and characters. Now that the "magical" half of the equation has grown somewhat familiar, the reader may start to suspect that Márquez was just shoving this shit into his story to obscure the fact that he is repeating the same thing that he did 70 pages ago.
I'd still say that this book is insanely readable. Even when I found myself rolling my eyes I was simultaneously swept up in the beat of Márquez's prose. One Hundred Years of Solitude is like the debut album that heralds the arrival of an exciting new voice. Without England's Newest Hitmakers we may have never gotten Exile on Main Street. The former album isn't bad by any means. The playing is solid, the covers are well-chosen, and the earnestness almost jumps into your lap. I'll listen to it every once in a while and walk away pleased. But on most days, I'll retain appreciation for "Can I Get a Witness" or "Walking the Dog" while listening to "Tumbling Dice" or "Loving Cup."
*I would have probably said Catch-22, and then this book, but that piece of dicta was cramping the above sentence.
**Which I'm going to hold off on linking to because I'm pretty sure it's terrible. ...more