Reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez is an acquired taste. This is my second attempt to acquire it (we did “Love in the Time of Cholera” a couple of years back). But as I believe the whole point of reading groups is that you read outside your comfort zone and persevere when you’re tempted to give up, I hope I have given this collection of short stories my best shot at appreciating a different genre.
The Prologue is interesting and instructive – the author makes it clear that these 12 published stories are the fruits of polishing and reworking 64 original story ideas. All the stories are of the South American diaspora in Europe and there are several recurrent themes – visiting Rome with a desire to see the Pope, (The Saint and Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen) being stranded in a strange place (I only came to use the phone and Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen) and rootless nomadic characters feature in most.
At first the characters seem fey and contrived – particularly in “Bon Voyage Mr President” and “The Saint”. Things take a turn for the better with “Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane” – a heart-stoppingly beautiful airline passenger causes considerable perturbation in a fellow traveller – the last 6 lines of the story are particularly good.
This is followed by “I sell my dreams” which after a slow start and despite the fact that the author piggy backs shamelessly on Pablo Neruda’s celebrity, is a quirky successful short story. Wrapped round the theme of “Soothsayer meets unforeseen accident” with references to a professionally incestuous group of writers trying to impress each other, I started to get the hang of the writer darting in and out of a couple of story lines.
But the next story “I only came to use the phone” put me on the back foot again. My notes say “a tale of unrelieved awfulness.” It might just reflect my aversion to the dystopic but I did feel the plot stretched the bounds of credibility.
Then to my favourite in the whole book. “The Ghosts of August” a well-constructed ghost story, told in the first person. No messing around here, it’s short and to the point. None of the rambling exposition of some of the earlier stories.
So I’ll quit on a high – for me this is a very mixed bag and if someone could let me in on the secret of Magical Realism I’d be very pleased. Don’t hold back, let me have any clues that might help me buy into this genre.
Comments Please …..!
Update 28 April 2017 The Book Group has revisited Strange Pilgrims see new blog post here.