Martine's Reviews > One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
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I must have missed something. Either that, or some wicked hypnotist has tricked the world (and quite a few of my friends, it would seem) into believing that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great novel. How did this happen? One Hundred Years of Solitude is not a great novel. In fact, I'm not even sure it qualifies as a novel at all. Rather it reads like a 450-page outline for a novel which accidentally got published instead of the finished product. Oops.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not disputing that Marquez has an imaginative mind. He does, unquestionably. Nor am I disputing that he knows how to come up with an interesting story. He obviously does, or this wouldn't be the hugely popular book it is. As far as I'm concerned, though, he forgot to put the finishing touches to his story. In his rush to get the bare bones on paper, he forgot to add the things which bring a story alive. Such as, you know, dialogue. Emotions. Motivations. Character arcs. Pretty basic things, really. By focusing on the external side of things, and by never allowing his characters to speak for themselves (the dialogue in the book amounts to about five pages, if that), Marquez keeps his reader from getting to know his characters, and from understanding why they do the things they do. The lack of characterisation is such that the story basically reads like an unchronological chronicle of deeds and events that go on for ever without any attempt at an explanation or psychological depth. And yes, they're interesting events, I'll grant you that, but they're told with such emotional detachment that I honestly didn't care for any of the characters who experienced them. I kept waiting for Marquez to focus on one character long enough to make me care about what happened to him or her, but he never did, choosing instead to introduce new characters (more Aurelianos... sigh) and move on. I wish to all the gods of fiction he had left out some twenty Aurelianos and focused on the remaining four instead. With three-dimensional characters rather than two-dimensional ones, this could have been a fabulous book. As it is, it's just a shell.

What a waste of a perfectly good story.
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Comments (showing 1-19)

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Shannon (Giraffe Days) I agree. I had trouble reading this book because it lacked those qualities - the emotional detachment, the lack of dialogue and emotions and motivations. I liked it because it was fascinating and the magical realism aspects drew me in, but it was also a bit ... hollow?

I heard that Marquez didn't even want to include paragraph breaks but his publisher insisted, so it could've been even worse!

Martine No paragraph breaks? Blimey. That reeks of utter contempt for one's reader. As if giving all one's characters the same names wasn't quite bad enough!

I'd have refused to read the book if it had been published without paragraph breaks. It would be almost as bad as reading classical Chinese, which came without any kind of punctuation. Terrible stuff to make heads or tails of. Really, really terrible.

Anyhow, glad to see I'm not the only one who found the book a bit on the hollow side. I was beginning to get a bit worried about myself. Maybe I've just read a few too many George Eliot novels...

Martine Speaking of books without paragraph breaks, Shannon, a friend just showed me Marquez' The Autumn of the Patriarch, which has neither paragraph breaks nor (gasp) full stops (except at the end of chapters). The sentences in that book are about twelve pages long. Aaaargh.

*runs to medicine cabinet for some headache tablets*

message 16: by Dottie (new) - added it

Dottie Does this mean you aren't going to read Proust?

Martine That depends, Dottie. If Proust knows how to introduce characters and stick with them, and if he uses proper paragraph breaks and punctuation, I will eventually get round to him. If he shares Marquez' reader-unfriendly tendencies, I'm afraid I won't bother.

message 14: by Dottie (last edited Jul 16, 2008 08:31AM) (new) - added it

Dottie The common complaint on Proust is the early encountered twenty page sentence about his sleeping problems. But he has puctuation. He uses paragraphs. His language is slow and involved and flows like honey as opposed to water. Dense and lyrical and frustrating and wonderful all rolled into one. Loved it! The key is to let the book dictate tempo and take smaller bites when need be and huge gulps at appropriate moments. And oh yes, there are characters and he definitely sticks with them and we get to know them and then they turn out to be not at all what one thought -- but oh my the fun!

Shannon (Giraffe Days) My first thought on reading message 3 Martine was Proust. I had to read Swann's Way for a course at uni (on critical theory ugh) and it was like that, with sentences that ran for pages. Lots of commas and stuff but still, it's hard to keep track when sentences are that long because by the end you forget what the point was!

Dottie has the right way of reading it but I know I'm not comfortable with that style of prose. He gets very, um, what's the word - introspective, whereas at least Marquez was telling a story (can't speak for any of his other books because I've only read this one).

message 12: by Martine (last edited Jul 16, 2008 09:47AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Martine A twenty-page sentence? Blimey. I'm not sure I could deal with that. I have to say, though, that what little I've seen of Proust wasn't too bad. A few years ago I had to translate the famous passage on the madeleine cake. It was quoted in an English book and I had to look up the original French passage to make sure my Dutch translation wouldn't lose too much in the double translation. Even in French (hardly my best foreign language) it struck me as quite readable. But that was just the one passage; I've never read an entire Proust novel. If the twenty-page sentence is an exception, and if the rest of his oeuvre is more like the madeleine passage, I think I'll be able to cope. I've read enough Henry James to be able to deal with that style. Entire books without full stops, though -- no, I doubt I'll ever be up to those.


message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike Honestly, I think the detachment Marquez takes from the characters in this book forces you to think about them differently than one normally would. It lets their lives wash over you and disrupts the natural desire to focus on one character and their singular life. Even the endless string of Aurelianos shows how flippant and short one single life is in the span of 100 years, or simply in the space of a (rather small) town. Plus there are numerous incestuous relationships which continually blur the lines between the characters and reduces them all down to what they are: a large group of people. It would almost be unfair to want only one of their stories since that doesn't seem to be Marquez's goal.

I can see the frustration with this manner of writing, but I think it was done out of great care and concern for humanity. As well as a desire to avoid dogmatic obsessions with the individual.

Just stumbled on this review and wanted to (selfishly) put in.

Martine Thanks for your comment, Mike. I appreciate all the reasons you bring up, but I'm afraid they still don't add up to a great novel for me. I guess I'm a little too obsessed with the individual myself. :-)

For what it's worth, I don't mind books with a lot of characters. Not at all. (I've read Robert Jordan's entire Wheel of Time series, which has more characters than any other book I know.) However, I do want my authors to make me really get to know their characters, rather than sketch their adventures in a few pages and never give them a voice of their own. That's what I'm objecting to. As I said in my review, One Hundred Years of Solitude strikes me as a shorthand novel rather than the real thing, and shorthand isn't my favourite genre.

message 9: by Mike (new)

Mike I see what you're saying, I just think that Marquez's choice to make the characters mere sketches makes the overall message much more profound. It reduces everyone to, really, just Characters. Other books try to convince you of the humanity of their inhabitants, but One Hundred Years wants you to understand that time does not remember single people--its just a series of faces and bodies doing what people do.

But there have been plenty of books that other people have liked that I just didn't and I completely see where you're coming from. So, if you don't like it: that's fine. :)

Thanks for responding though--unlike Aureliano, that puts you above a mere character!

Martine Heh. You're welcome, Mike. :-)

I guess I like literature exactly because it shows that people are special and worth getting to know -- that they're real human beings with a story that is worth reading and remembering. Any author who deliberately takes away his characters' humanity and turns them into cyphers is bound to lose my attention. So I guess Marquez just isn't my cup of tea.

Abigail But humanity isn't just about the individual - it's also about the group and how our sense of belonging or not belonging and of the past shapes our own identities. Macondo is the individuals who live there, and vice versa; it's a collective work of fiction, just like all nations. Marquez shows how the individual is formed by showing how the nation is formed. If you're interested in time, history and identity this book is like a goldmine of insights. Incidentally, the treatment of time in One Hundred Years is very Proustian; my reading of Proust certainly informed my reading of this novel, and his influence is easily detected.
In some ways 100 Years, with its sparse characterisation and focus on the seething, shifting whole of the nation in a wide historical sweep, is more like a medieval family saga than a modern novel, so I guess the style is inevitably not going to be everyone's cup of tea.
But that doesn't mean it's a 'shorthand novel rather than the real thing' - it's just a different style of novel, no less valid artistically, just like the Icelandic sagas are still 'real' despite being populated by a teeming mass of minimally characterised men and women with similar names. Garcia Marquez has not failed and the work is not unfinished or half-formed... you're judging it by a framework it was never trying to fit into.

message 6: by Martine (last edited Feb 03, 2009 12:57PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Martine Abi, I understand everything you're saying, and I guess you're making some valid points, but they are not going to alter my view on One Hundred Years of Solitude. I can accept the Icelandic sagas being populated by minimally characterised characters because the stories are old and the authors didn't know any better (although to be fair, long before the Icelandic sagas were written down, certain ancient Roman and Greek authors were doing an amazing job characterising their gods and heroes). However, there is no such excuse for Marquez, who had had enough exposure to modern fiction to conform to its conventions. He chose not to. That's fine; that's his prerogative. But I think it's my prerogative as a reader and reviewer to dislike the style he came up with, whatever interesting reasons he may have had for choosing it. At the end of the day, whether or not we deem a book successful is a matter of taste, and my taste in literature just happens to run to good characterisation and vivid dialogue. One Hundred Years of Solitude has neither, so judged by my standards, it fails. That's all there is to it.

I'm glad you like the book, though. I wanted to like it as much as you obviously do, but I just found I couldn't...

Abigail 'the stories are old and the authors didn't know any better'... this genuinely made my heart beat faster with rage, but I have now calmed down. I do think that's a remarkably narrow minded and arrogant approach to the great Northern European literary tradition, which may be less popular than, and is certainly different from, the Greek and Roman classics, but is no less splendid. The characters are there, they're just not served up to you on a plate, and although the stories are indeed old, they are not primitive attempts at literature by people who 'didn't know any better'... that's so patronising. You're setting it up like the authors (Marquez and the saga authors both) were TRYING to achieve what the Greek and Latin classical authors (or authors of a typically modern style) were trying to achieve, and as such they can only be classed as failures, 'excused' or not by dint of the time in which they live. Sometimes it's good to read a book that doesn't deliver what you expect, because then you can find something you didn't expect, and maybe see literature and the world from a different perspective.

Martine Can we just agree to disagree on this, Abi? You've got your taste, I've got mine. It's obvious we're not going to agree on the merits of One Hundred Years of Solitude, so why bother bickering about it?

I guess my 'they-didn't-know-any-better' comment was a little patronising. Maybe the old Scandinavians were familiar with other story-telling techniques but just preferred their own way of telling a story. It's a possibility, I suppose. However, the fact that they may have made a conscious decision to eschew great psychological detail in favour of their much shallower style does not mean that I have to make a similarly conscious decision to like that style. As I've explained before, I like my stories fully fleshed out. So by my highly subjective standards, the Icelandic sagas fall short. Does that mean I don't think they're worthy of their place in the literary canon? Absolutely not. Their reputation is well deserved. All I'm saying is that they're not really my cup of tea (I can only take them in small doses), which is an opinion to which I'm entitled, as you are entitled to your obviously much more appreciative opinion.

You're setting it up like the authors (Marquez and the saga authors both) were TRYING to achieve what the Greek and Latin classical authors (or authors of a typically modern style) were trying to achieve...

I was doing no such thing. Read my comment again and you'll see that I was saying that the saga authors probably weren't familiar with the Greek and Roman classics, and that Marquez obviously chose to adopt a different style. I even said that was his prerogative. I just wish he hadn't...

Sometimes it's good to read a book that doesn't deliver what you expect, because then you can find something you didn't expect, and maybe see literature and the world from a different perspective.

And you're accusing me of being patronising? That's a little presumptuous, don't you think? For what it's worth, I've read many works of literature from many parts of the world and from many different eras, in quite a few different languages to boot. I consider myself a pretty well-rounded reader. (Don't go running to my bookshelves for evidence to the contrary; as I've explained in my profile, I'm nowhere near done reviewing all the books I've read.) I just happen to have a preference for a certain style, and alas, neither One Hundred Years of Solitude nor the Icelandic sagas were written in that style. Which is why, for me, they are flawed works of literature. If you disagree with that opinion, fine. You're entitled to that opinion. But please allow me to express my own opinion in my own review. :-)

message 3: by Traveller (last edited Apr 11, 2011 06:32AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller I agree with your observations on the novel, Abi.

I'm not interested in starting an argument with Martine, but instead, I would just like to point out that this is a novel written by a (post)modernist and magical realist.

See modernism:

Garcia Marquez tends to mix politics into his narrative, and OHYOS is an allegory of the history of Colombia.
The latter tendency,(of subtly mixing politics and social commentary into his work) along with his magical realism style, (See for magical realism) would put the author in many respects, into the post-modernist camp.

For post-modernism, see:

Proust is a modernist, of course, and the modernists weren't quite as weird yet as the postmodernists. :) Ok, I lie- the modernists are pretty weird themselves. But weird doesn't have to mean 'bad', right?

Anyway, if you want to read a Marquez novel that is a bit less political and rather more personal, I would refer you to "Chronicle of a Death Foretold", but once again, this is not a novel devoid of social commentary.

Since it is also experimental though, it would probably also not appeal to Martine's personal tastes, which is not a criticism at all. Of course we are all entitled to our personal tastes. A quick glance at Martine's shelf even tells me that I happen to share a lot of her reading tastes.

Bilqis I felt exactly that way

Rebecca Out of curiosity I looked at what Martine actually did like:
favorite books
Anything written by Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen

Well of course you didn't like this, of course you didn't.

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