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Memories of My Melancholy Whores Hardcover – October 25, 2005
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"The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." So begins Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and it becomes even more unlikely as the novel unfolds. This slim volume contains the story of the sad life of an unnamed, only slightly talented Colombian journalist and teacher, never married, never in love, living in the crumbling family manse. He calls Rosa Cabarcas, madame of the city's most successful brothel, to seek her assistance. Rosa tells him his wish is impossible--and then calls right back to say that she has found the perfect girl.
The protagonist says of himself: "I have never gone to bed with a woman I didn't pay ... by the time I was fifty there were 514 women with whom I had been at least once ... My public life, on the other hand, was lacking in interest: both parents dead, a bachelor without a future, a mediocre journalist ... and a favorite of caricaturists because of my exemplary ugliness."
The girl is 14 and works all day in a factory attaching buttons in order to provide for her family. Rosa gives her a combination of bromide and valerian to drink to calm her nerves, and when the prospective lover arrives, she is sound asleep. Now the story really begins. The nonagenarian is not a sex-starved adventurer; he is a tender voyeur. Throughout his 90th year, he continues to meet the girl and watch her sleep. He says, "This was something new for me. I was ignorant of the arts of seduction and had always chosen my brides for a night at random, more for their price than their charms, and we had made love without love, half-dressed most of the time and always in the dark, so we could imagine ourselves as better than we were ... That night I discovered the improbably pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty."
Márquez's style never falters throughout this recounting of his life and his exploration of love, found at an unexpected time and place. The erstwhile lover is still capable of being surprised--and fulfilled. After an absence of ten years, it is a treat to have another parable from the master. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
García Márquez's slim, reflective contribution to the romance of the brothel, his first book-length fiction in a decade, is narrated by perhaps the greatest connoisseur ever of girls for hire. After a lifetime spent in the arms of prostitutes (514 when he loses count at age 50), the unnamed journalist protagonist decides that his gift to himself on his 90th birthday will be a night with an adolescent virgin. But age, followed by the unexpected blossoming of love, disrupts his plans, and he finds himself wooing the allotted 14-year-old in silence for a year, sitting beside her as she sleeps and contemplating a life idly spent. Flashes of García Márquez's brilliant imagery—the sleeping girl is "drenched in phosphorescent perspiration"—illuminate the novella, and there are striking insights into the euphoria that is the flip side of the fear of death. The narrator's wit and charm, however, are not enough to counterbalance the monotony of his aimlessness. Though enough grace notes are struck to produce echoes of eloquence, this flatness keeps the memories as melancholy as the women themselves. 250,000 first printing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
This very short work (it has the page length of a novella, but is in reality little more than a short story, easily read in under two hours) has as its subject, a 90 year old journalist, who has decided to reward himself with a fourteen year old virgin. Upon encountering the young girl asleep, he is so overcome with her innocence that the remainder of his life is consumed with a love that is never consummated. The book is full of recollections and remembrances of his life and many of the women he has encountered.
Marquez's writing is certainly unique in its earthiness. He deals with such subjects as sex, bodily functions and graphic illness as if they are parts of everyday life ... because they are. It is refreshing.
Marquez is also known as one of the leading practitioners of the literary device of "magical realism" in which events are introduced into the story which are quite fantastic. This was a major device used in One Hundred Years of Solitude and perhaps contributed to my dissatisfaction with that work. The device is happily absent in this work.
The author's writing is indisputably beautiful and at times mesmerizing. Much like LitToC, this is a haunting and compelling story, filled with sadness and regret. It is very short, however, and not up to the standards of much of the author's previous work.
As celebration of his 90th birthday a journalist of little accomplishment solicits, through his favorite madam, an adolescent virgin for his delights. The gentleman, who is never named, is more than familiar with sex, once named a brothels client of the year, but he has never known love. Never really cared to know love. That is the story on the surface. What lies beneath is a tale which at the heart is about first love with all its longing, jealousy and madness. What makes the story remarkable is that it is a 90 year old who is experiencing this and the literary mastery of Marquez keeps us engaged and makes us all believers.
Not one of Marquez' best books, but when you are talking about one of the modern day masters of fiction, even a lesser accomplishment is a treasure.
The main character in the story is an unnamed narrator who, to celebrate his ninetieth birthday, contacts a madam of his longstanding acquaintance, Rosa, to procure a young virgin with whom to spend the night and to demonstrate his continued virility. The narrator tells us that in his long life he never had sex for which he had not paid and that he had engaged the services of over 500 women before he stopped counting. He had planned to use his experiences as the basis for writing memoirs with the title of this novel.
Rosa procures for the narrator a 14 year old girl from a poor family who works during the day sewing buttons at a garment factory. She drugs the girl and takes the narrator to the sleeping girl's bed. There is no sexual consummation; instead the narrator gazes at the body of the young girl and departs at early morning. At the madam's instigation, he continues to see the girl, chastely, reads to her, tries modestly to teach her, but largely watches her while she peacefully sleeps. His attractions are strongest when the girl is asleep. Gradually he finds himself in love with the girl and his life is transformed. He brings her presents and candy, thinks of her obsessively, becomes protective, and jealous. He writes of love in a column he has prepared for 50 years for a local newspaper and becomes famed for his eloquence. He adopts an aged cat, learns to take care of it, and steps in to prevent the cat from being put to sleep. He comes to believe, with some reason, that he has learned of love for the first time at the age of 90, without the thought of payment for sex and, indeed, without sex. The narrator's life takes on a meaning and a purpose it hadn't had before.
The narrator exhibits what is commonly known as the "Madonna - Whore" complex in that throughout his life his extensive sexual activity has been limited to the latter component of the dichotomy. With his partial transformation at age 90, he doesn't get a great deal beyond the complex as his love for the young girl remains, as far as we are told, physically restrained and nonsexual throughout. In addition, Marquez tells his story with a great deal of irony and distancing. While the narrator shows some growth in character and in understanding a love that had been closed to him, it is at the expense of a poor, exploited, and underage (only the madam's connections keep her from prosecution for procuring a minor)girl. The girl is far more apppealing, the story suggests, asleep than awake, both physically and in terms of her disposition and character. The narrator gives her a pet name, Delgadina, and never learns her true name. The madam, an unreliable source, plays a key role at many points in the story in whetting the narrator's interest in the girl, and we frequently see the course of events through her highly interested eyes. All of this and more suggests that our aged protagonist remains more in love with an ideal than with an actual woman.
For all its ambiguities, the story seems to me inspiring, if bittersweet. I was left with the feeling that wisdom and love can come to people, even if they come late and come imperfectly.
The story spoke to me of the transforming power of love, when it combines with and illuminates human sexuality.
Admirers of Marquez and of this book might enjoy J.M. Coetzee's recent and learned review in the February 23, 2006, New York Review of Books.