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No old man forgets where he has hidden his treasure . . .
on October 26, 2005
"It is a triumph of life that old people lose their memories of inessential things," Garcia Marquez writes in his first novel in ten years, "Though memory does not often fail with regard to things that are of real interest to us."
_Memories of my Melancholy Whores_ begins on the eve of the 90th birthday of the narrator, a journalist and columnist for a local newspaper. Feeling close to death, his birthday present to himself, which will (initially) cost him one month's wages, is a night in the arms of a virgin prostitute, in this case a fourteen-year-old girl he christens Delgadina.
He arrives at the brothel, where the girl has been drugged to calm her nerves. The narrator climbs into bed with her, and falls asleep. From here, he begins a year-long affair with a young woman that he has never spoken to, whose eyes he has never seen. He looks for her in the streets during the day, and then realizes that he would never recognize her awake or dressed. Yet, a change has come over him. Though his trists and the lavish gifts he has bestowed upon his Sleeping Beauty have made him destitute, and he is forgetting the names of his friends, for the first time in his life, he is in love, and happier than he has ever been.
This beautiful, perfectly-wrought novel tells the story of an old man who has never loved anyone, never had a true friend, who has never made love to a woman that he hasn't paid. It is at once a novel about finding love at old age, after a long life ill-spent, and about coming to terms with the ghosts of one's past. What seperates this novel from others that cover these well-worn themes is that it is also about the state of being old itself. We do not waste away with time, Garcia Marquez seems to be saying; time is a tool that carves away our excess, like a chisel chips away marble to reveal a work of art.
Time has been good in this way for the author, as well. The novella, which I have always felt was his best form, is carefully written, each sentence an equal part of the story. There are very few excesses, and because of this, the work reads very quickly. I often, when reading, had to force myself to slow down, so that I could really concentrate on the work, and when the book started to get really good, near the middle, I had to force myself to slow down again in order to catch the tiny nuances in the text that Garcia Marquez throws at the reader. It's a page turner, but if you blink, you'll miss some great humor and irony.
I really have tried to be critical of this work, but having loved Garcia Marquez for so long, I find it hard to find fault with any of his work. I'm sure that other reviewers will find aspects for critique, but I can't. I loved this book. I was moved to laughter and to tears, all in 128 pages, and that, to me, is the sign of a great novel. I think I'll go read it again.