Having read and being very disappointed by One Hundred Years of Solitude recently, I thought I should take another quick punt at Gabriel García Marquez before moving on from my five-book-run of texts translated from Spanish. So I turned to this little and rather lovely Penguin edition of two stories, ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ and ‘The Sea of Lost Time’. And, thankfully, I enjoyed them both.
I shan’t wax lyrical here, because that isn’t what I do*, but both are simple and beautiful, as well as being magical in a way that is far more explicit than in One Hundred Years of Solitude. In both of these stories, magic is at the centre.
The first is about an old angel, his skin and his body and his wings ravaged by the effects of time, arriving in a small town, being kept caged and exhibited for a few months, then being allowed his freedom. It is short, eight pages or so, and in its detail of physicality, its emphasis on the capriciousness of public interest (once there is something more interesting than an angel in a cage to see, he becomes almost forgotten) and in its sharp and quick evocation of a scene, it is very successful. A great short story.
‘The Sea of Lost Time’ is twice the length of the other, and a little more complex: for a start, there are many more characters, all the people of a small, coastal, town and a wealthy stranger who arrives and makes changes. It opens with the scent of roses floating in from the sea with no explanation, and it closes with a magical swim below the waves and through the waters of the dead. It is creepy and seedy in many places, but also too poetically clear in its strange and fantastical underwater descriptions. The story is odd, weaving between the narratives of several people, but it works.
To me, the lyricism and the softly fantastical elements of One Hundred Years of Solitude work far better when they are condensed, chopped up and attributed to a work that lasts under twenty pages. Maybe I’m not intelligent enough a reader, who knows, but for me these short stories are both great, excellent, powerful, punchy. But the Marquez novel I read was, for me, nothing special.
I won’t abandon his work. But I will never recommend OHYoS.
* Ha ha ha. I splurge. There is nothing lyrical about me.