Yesterday I went to the library to pick up a couple of books. I stumbled upon Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As soon as I got home, I began to devour the novella. It had the same delicate prose I fell in love with in One Hundred Years of Solitude without the density (or similarly named characters). I was intrigued by the story of a 90 year old philandering man who had escaped the infirmities of his age.
I was not, however, intrigued by the need for the man to bed a virgin. That, I found disturbing. On his 90th birthday, the man calls a brothel and insists that the Madam find him a virgin. She does, and he goes to see the 14 year old girl that night. She’s exhausted from working at a button factory all day and is asleep. He is unable to wake her, and instead spends the night in the room with her. This is the launching point for his delusional love story and the fork in the road for me as a reader.
There is no question that Garcia Marquez is a wonderful and talented writer. He weaves stories with such detail and finesse that you are almost coerced into reading more. His writing is seductive, and this novella is no different. However, he creates the character’s delusion of love so adeptly (in fact, the girl sleeps through every visit to the brothel. He doesn’t even know her name and is forced to make one up) that, as a reader, I have to ask is the author complicit in this love affair. Does he approve of a 90 year old man lusting and longing for a poor 14 year old girl? I finished the book, but it was not a pleasurable read. It was arduous and uncomfortable.
I went to Amazon and read a few reviews of the book. I wanted the opinion of a lay person, not a literary critic. How did they feel when they read the book? Clearly, I was in the minority. People went on and on about how wonderful the book was. How beautifully written. Another feather in the cap of a well-decorated author. Finally, I ran across a few reviews that held similar reservations to mine. I wasn’t the only one put off by the blatant male privilege and entitlement and pedophilia. It’s not as if these topics have never been explored in books before. It’s not that I feel that they shouldn’t be explored either. I think the hard part for me is that the behavior is not only condoned by Marquez, but possibly celebrated.