20th century fiction, Bon Voyage Mr President, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Latin American fiction, Light is like Water, Magical Realism, Maria dos Prazeres, rereading, short stories, Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane, Strange Pilgrims, The Saint, The Trail of your Blood in the Snow
It is rare for the Book Group to read the same book twice but in this case there are enough people who didn’t read it first time round plus new members having joined since the first reading that the highly idiosyncratic Strange Pilgrims is having a second outing. As for rereading books in general we felt it was a good idea and that three years had been long enough for us to come to these stories afresh.
Last time the magical realism for which Gabriel Garcia Marquez is renowned was sometimes a hurdle to enjoyment of the stories. (Read the related blog post here) The stories do improve on a second read as one notices the details of the ridiculous scenarios and realises how inventive Marquez is. Light is like Water for example is preposterous on several levels but just suppose light does behave like water ……
Interestingly we all of us at the discussion on Tuesday evening had enjoyed the stories this time. We accepted the bargain with the writer of not probing too deeply what is plausible and what is not. If it is good writing and he creates vivid images by inventive use of words we carried on reading. In The Saint for example the idea that someone could carry around their seven year old daughter’s coffin for twenty years while they try to get her canonized is just accepted as a given and you move on with the narrative. Similarly, in Maria dos Prazeres successfully teaching your dog to cry at your grave so you will be mourned after death is truly bizarre but nonetheless in keeping with the tone of the story.
Marquez makes people stand before you in their physicality before you know them through the story, giving a precise and graphic image of the characters in the mind’s eye. Two examples early in the book are –
“He wore the dark blue pin-striped suit, brocade vest, and stiff hat of a retired magistrate. He had the arrogant mustache of a musketeer, abundant blue-black hair with romantic waves, a harpist’s hands with the widower’s wedding band on the left ring finger, and joyful eyes.” (Bon Voyage, Mr President)
“She was beautiful and lithe, with soft skin the color of bread and eyes like green almonds, and she had straight black hair that reached to her shoulders and an aura of antiquity that could just as well have been Indonesian as Andean. She was dressed with subtle taste: a lynx jacket, a raw silk blouse with very delicate flowers, natural linen trousers, and shoes with narrow stripe the color of bougainvillea”(Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane)
Two of us read the collection starting at the back. The last two stories are among the most effective in casting their spell over the reader. The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow (first published in Playboy in 1993) is the story of a beautiful young couple embarking on a lavish honeymoon after a three month courtship. Clearly this should be the beginning of an idyllic life together; Marquez subverts this and to strong effect. Light is like Water is the penultimate in the collection. Very short – the ideal taster if you want to get a sample of typical Marquez writing. A house guest has said to two young boys “Light is like water, you turn the tap and out it comes.” In 5 pages the author explores what might happen if this were true.
The last word should go to The New York Times which neatly sums up the collection like this –
These tales knit together Mr. Garcia Marquez’s natural storytelling talents with his highly tuned radar for images that bridge the world of reality and the world of dreams. Gracefully written as these stories are, they lack the emotional depth of field found in Mr. Garcia Marquez’s novels. They leave the reader beguiled, but hungry for something more