Memories of My Melancholy Whores book cover, Bedside Table, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After failing to rise to the challenge of Nightwood, I wanted to ease my soul with something sweet and familiar. Having read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work before, I figured that Memories of My Melancholy Whores would be the perfect story to soothe my ravaged nerves.  Which is not to say that this is a lesser book, by any means. In fact, it’s great. Edith Grossman’s translation renders highly readable prose that’s simple tone allows for the power of its content to accrue word by word until the very end, which is actually by and large yet another beginning.

Set in a small and nameless Colombian town, the modernization of which threatens to render the 90 year old narrator obsolete, or worse, a living artifact imbued with a sick-sweet nostalgia, this story unfolds in hot back rooms and sun soaked libraries. The basic plot is that a really old and broke but kind of famous writer/scholar falls in love with a sleeping child, a fourteen year old virgin that breathes quietly in a drugged, perspirant slumber.

It’s pretty gross. And very disturbing.

But the language is so smooth and fine that you can sort of be persuaded that something beautiful is going on. It’s kind of like Lolita, that way, where the main guy is actually a monster, but because it’s his story it’s relatively easy to miss this crucial point through the hypnotic retelling of a powerful but ultimately horrifying ‘love.’ A pleasure to read these words, to feel the torment of a man made young through love even as he stands on death’s narrow door step. But it’s certainly unpleasant to reflect on what this so-called love really is, on how the narrator admits to loving this child more as a memory than as a real person, with her own needs and desires in waking life.

This dissonance is the root of the magic of Marquez, I think. The eloquence and clarity with which this story is told make you really feel for this old man, with his body failing him and the condescension of flirtatious young women thinking that he’s harmless and impotent, and his burning asshole assailing him in pain when the moon is full, and living on in spite of death. And this same sense of empathy makes you almost ready to accept his abuse of power, this denial of love, as evidence of the great thing itself.  So it seems that language is a means of creating a dream, a story is a delusion and it can be beautiful, like love, or terrifying, like death. But in the end, all we have are stories. Memories.

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