Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude
At least a dozen different people have told me in the past few years how much they love this book. It lives up to the hype.
Early on, I described this novel to someone as a relentless onslaught of stories. I have never felt quite so assaulted by storytelling before—not because it was violent (though there will always be violence in stories) but because there were stories after stories after stories without much time for a breath, or a pause to insert a bookmark. More than any other book I’ve ever read, it strives to encompass everything about life: everything from personal intimacies and enduring grudges to the impact of war, imperialism, capitalism. There was something at first whimsical and amusing in the telling, but at some point it turns darker and secretive and damaged, like a fairy tale that taps into something old and terrifying but still strangely beautiful.
The loss of memory was one of the themes that was most meaningful for me: near the beginning of the novel, the town suffers through a plague of insomnia, during which one of the side effects of the lack of sleep is to forget everything, even how to perform everyday activities, while later in the novel, there is a collective loss of memory about exploitative and even murderous corporate actions, to the point that the events are erased even from the history books. This is a novel about, among other things, the ways we remember and the ways we forget.
Beyond the most obvious stylistic trait of the novel—of course I mean the use of magical realism—it reminded me of the work of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Like Woolf in The Years or Orlando, Marquez is interested in the passage of time generally—which alternates between a breakneck pace and a molasses crawl—and in scope—the grand, sweeping gestures of time and trends. And like Faulkner, Marquez is interested in the cyclical, repetitive, backward looking, forgetful nature of time—as well as the self-destruction and slow decay of an aristocratic family. But none of this is to say that One Hundred Years of Solitude is really like anything else; it is, of course, an utterly unique work all its own.
Because of the sweep of the novel, it seems pointless to dwell on details, but for me, the most devastating of the stories were of those characters tragically drawn into the world of the Buendía family, such as Pietro Crespi and especially the first Remedios. But considering the endurance of Remedios’s name and daguerreotype, I feel justified in being haunted by her.