1988 – “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I listened to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez on audiobook narrated by Armando Duran. It has been translated from the Spanish but I don’t have the name of the translator. The reading was excellent although I think that the narrator must have got very tired of the author’s habit of always using the full names of characters throughout the book – I certainly found it tiring to listen to after a while.

This book starts with the death by suicide of a man in Colombia. The doctor visits the man and the author tells us about their shared history and refers to a long suicide note left by the deceased. It is Pentecost Sunday and the doctor is required to attend a celebration for a noted celebrity in the afternoon. When he returns home he tries to rescue his escaped parrot from the tree it has taken refuge in and falls off the ladder and is killed by the fall. This was a bit of a surprise to me as I had expected the book to concentrate on the suicide note and the doctor because we had already received so much detail about them. In fact, they are barely mentioned again but this sets the scene for how this book is written – a vast amount of detail even about things that are peripheral to the plot. Although many of these asides are amusingI found them irritating after a while but if the plot was just reduced to the main storyline it would be considerably shorter and lose a lot of the whimsical charm and magic realism which surround the love story at the heart of the novel.

The book narrates this love story in great detail with the omniscient narrator commenting on what people are feeling and why they do what they do – the book has little direct speech and the main voice is that of the narrator. The love story is between Florintino Arizo, a poor man, and Fermina Daza, a daughter of a wealthy man. Florintino Arizo falls in love with Fermina Daza when they are both young and he occasionally glimpses her walking by. They eventually exchange notes and have brief conversations and determine to marry. Fermina Daza’s family send her away for a while and when she returns she realises that she hardly knows Florintino Arizo and breaks off the engagement by ignoring him. She marries the doctor. Florintino Arizo nurtures his unrequited love but indulges himself in over 600 affairs until the doctor dies over fifty years later and then declares his love to Fermina Daza again.

The plot is simple but the book is filled with detail. We learn how Fermina Daza likes her eggplant cooked (this is an American translation) and why she hates it and how she comes to love it. We are told over and over again about how Florintino Daza becomes constipated and how his lovers help him perform enemas. We get the life history of many of Florintino Daza’s lovers and learn what happens to them after their affair finishes. There is much detail about the river boat trade and the fact that Florintino Ariza cannot write business letters but can write love letters.

I found the detail too much for me. It’s a particular style of writing and is very well done but I wearied of it very quickly. The book is very evenly paced and there is little excitement or action and what events do happen seem lost in the mass of detail. I didn’t find the love story particularly moving as it seemed perfectly sensible to me that it had little substance because of how little the couple knew each other and that Fermina Daza was right to call it off – Florintino Arizo was in the grip of an obsession in my view although it didn’t seem to stop him having a good time with most of the women in the area. I did find the continued description of Florintino Arizo’s affairs uncomfortable especially as he got older and the women got younger – his last lover was a fourteen year old girl for whom he was supposed to act as guardian but who he “seduced” when he was over seventy.

This author has won the Nobel Prize for Literature so I suspect that many people like and admire the way that he writes. It was not to my taste. I found the book very, very long and was extremely glad to reach the end.

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