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the complete review - fiction
Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Gabriel García Márquez
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- Spanish title: Memoria de mis putas tristes
- Translated by Edith Grossman
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B+ : slight but intriguing novella of a very old man rediscovering life and love
See our review for fuller assessment.
From the Reviews:
- "Absurd ? Yes, and so brief that the reader feels short-changed. Even so, the book is beautifully executed, and it has a sort of moral. Great loves often force people to confront unpleasant truths about themselves, but since the great love in this case is not available for comment, the rebirth is entirely the old man's work." - The Economist
- "True to form, his latest novella is a trick of a book. (...) But the novel turns out to be a decoy in more ways than one: throughout the apparently simple story, you anticipate a mode that does not come -- magical-realism, erotica, memoir, children's fiction." - Gaby Wood, The Guardian
- "Even García Márquez's writing, so colourful and inventive in the celebrated masterpieces for which he deservedly received the Nobel prize in 1982 (...) is in these pages flat and conventional (.....) Edith Grossman has competently rendered García Márquez's simple Spanish into simple English, and generously bettered at times certain uninspired words (...) (T)he resulting memories are not melancholy, not even sad, but merely pitiful and disappointing." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian
- "The scenes and descriptions when the writing ignites are fewer and further between than in any earlier Garcia Marquez. This is matched by a variable translation that reads as if rushed." - Amanda Hopkinson, The Independent
- "We intuit a life's experience through Gabo's richly textured, bittersweet, oft-quotable and comical prose. The entire action of Memories unfolds sometime before 1960, further adding to the wistful sense of worlds forever gone. This is an exquisitely wrought tale, and Edith Grossman's translation ably captures its autumnal beauty" - Gene H. Bell-Villada, The Los Angeles Times
- "Measured by the highest standards, Memories of My Melancholy Whores is not a major achievement. Nor is its slightness just a consequence of its brevity. (...) Yet the goal of Memories is a brave one: to speak on behalf of the desire of older men for underage girls, that is, to speak on behalf of pedophilia, or at least show that pedophilia need not be a dead end for either lover or beloved." - J.M.Coetzee, The New York Review of Books
- "That Mr. García Márquez expects the reader to salute an ancient man's victory over a child, rather than see it as pathetic or monstrous, is the latest measure of his fiction's heroic contempt for reality." - Adam Kirsch, The New York Sun
- "Memories of My Melancholy Whores feels like a brittle little fable composed on automatic pilot. (...) Moreover, the trajectory of this narrative turns out to be highly predictable, leading to a banal ending to a banal story that's quite unworthy of the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez's prodigious talents." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
- "The cunning of Memories of My Melancholy Whores lies in the utter -- and utterly unexpected -- reliability of its narrator. This daft coot is, in his way, as trustworthy as St. Augustine (...) because his story is, like the saint's, a conversion narrative." - Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
- "His prose displays, in Edith Grossman’s expert translation, the chiselled stateliness and colorful felicities that distinguish everything García Márquez composes. Memories of My Melancholy Whores, reminiscent in its terseness of such stoic fellow-Latins as the Brazilian Machado de Assis and the Colombia-born Álvaro Mutis, is a velvety pleasure to read, though somewhat disagreeable to contemplate; it has the necrophiliac tendencies of the precocious short stories, obsessed with living death, that García Márquez published in his early twenties." - John Updike, The New Yorker
- "The summary above does little to convey the depth this book offers. With each reading, new layers of meaning unfold, and this is a book that demands rereading. (...) It is an existential riff on the many qualities of love and a skillfully controlled and disciplined work of literature." - David Hellman, San Fransisco Chronicle
- "But it would be wrong to reduce this weird -- and weirdly funny -- parable to a simple message. The circular narrative is oblique and hard to follow, but it undeniably builds up an eccentric momentum, all the while dropping in pearls of what might be wisdom, or might just be senile dementia." - Theo Tait, Sunday Telegraph
- "Yet, although I read the novel avidly enough, the end effect is disconcertingly flat. There are careless touches, as though Márquez were weary of his creations. The translation, too, is oddly stilted: Edith Grossman has served Márquez so well in the past that I suspect she is reflecting qualities in the original." - Caroline Moore, Sunday Telegraph
- "In size, style and subject matter, this is a work suffused with a sense of exhaustion. (...) Compared to such rich and suggestive ambivalence, much of the rest of the novel has a strangely sketched-in feel." - Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times
- "Magic and cynicism, love and power, corruption and redemption: these abrasive pairings are hallmarks of the magic realism that Garcia Marquez is famous for pioneering. Yet his voice is never genre-bound or predictable. There is not in this slender book one stale sentence, redundant word or unfinished thought: something worth banging on windscreens about, even in London." - Ruth Scurr, The Times
- "As publishing sensations go, this was spectacular. The trouble is that the 109-page Memoria de mis putas tristes -- for all its warmth, humour and magnificent linguistic invention - ultimately emerges as a slight piece of work. (...) This novel is an imperfectly formed little jewel -- sadly, not one destined to sparkle in the memory alongside the finest works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez." - Adam Feinstein, Times Literary Supplement
- "He certainly tells a beguiling story. (...) The narrator takes full advantage of his authority as storyteller in a strikingly unequivocal text (.....) (P)roblematic and yet profoundly haunting (.....) (F)iction of the very highest order." - Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement
- "Like every García Márquez novel, this is a tale of obsession. But it is one so pruned, so pared, so truncated to bare essentials, that a reader will find herself turning to read every page again and again, parsing its pronunciamentos. Unlike the mesmeric novels of García Márquez's past, this one is skeletal, horned. Requiring near biblical contemplation." - Marie Arana, The Washington Post
- "(V)oller Sarkasmus, voller Zweifel, voller Absurdität, aber auch ein seltsam schrill klingendes Jubilate über die Unvergänglichkeit des sich ewig ereignenden Lebens. Auf knappen 160 Seiten liefert der Autor die geradezu fiebrige Skizze einer Biographie, die sich in der Art eines drängenden, pulsierenden Boleros vollzieht, dessen Bewegungen sich nie zu erschöpfen scheinen. (...) Dieser vielleicht verstörendste Roman von Gabriel García Márquez " - Lothar Schmidt-Mühlisch, Die Welt
- "Zur zarten schlüpfrigen Liebesschnulze, zu der das Werk immer wieder beherzt Anlauf nimmt, fehlt ihm erfreulicherweise auf Dauer der Elan. Für eine ernst zu nehmende todeserotische Novelle nach dem Vorbild Kawabatas, der García Márquez angeblich inspiriert haben soll, ist zu viel Schalk in diesem kleinen Buch, dessen hervorragendste Eigenschaft eben darin besteht, mit seinen eigenen Klischees ein altersmüdes Spiel zu treiben." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
The unnamed narrator of Memories of My Melancholy Whores begins his tale with a gift he gives himself for his ninetieth birthday: a night with a virgin.
Longevity is one of his few really impressive attributes: he was never married (chickening out of the one real opportunity he had), and though he still has a weekly newspaper column, his professional career has been less than stellar too (and even he doesn't think of himself as anything more than a "mediocre journalist").
Among the things he prides himself in (though others are presumably less impressed): he's never slept with a woman (and there have been over 500) whom he hasn't compensated monetarily for the pleasure.
And, at ninety, he wants to have another go -- with a young virgin.
The one procured for him is practically still a child, and the planned night does not go quite as expected -- she, and then he, sleep through it.
But the experience, and the girl, transform him.
He never learns her real name, and his relationship with her -- shared nights, but little more -- remains precarious and odd, but it's enough to make an almost new man out of him (and a more celebrated columnist, too).
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is part recollection of time past (and the life that, if not exactly wasted, was spent doing little more than gliding along) and an account of his new-found zest for life that comes with what he feels for this young girl.
She awakens feelings and memories in him, not as a lover in any sense of the word, but as a spark for his imagination (and memory): "I preferred her asleep", he admits.
His life is appealingly sketched out here.
The narrator knows he doesn't have much to be proud of: any account would be "a narration of the miseries of my misguided life", but with the girl in it his life no longer appears entirely so misguided, and though the reflections (and much of the present) remain melancholy, there is a bright side to it now, to go with the twinkle one can imagine in his eyes.
García Márquez gives a nice sense of the changing times over those nine decades, and the slow decline of his protagonist across them -- his being such an anachronism also one of the things that make him of some value: he is kept on at the newspaper because he is the only one able to deal with some of the old technology, for example, and eventually his ancient perspective also makes him something of a star.
His leaky house and an old cat he gets for his birthday also serve as reminders of his inescapable condition, as he tries to protect his few remaining possessions and to have some sort of relationship with another creature (in both cases not meeting with great success).
The girl is his salvation, but even there there are complications, as the madame who arranges his trysts has to close her establishment for a while, leaving him unable to find the girl, about whom he knows (and wants to know) almost nothing.
But hunting for her also drives him on -- foolishly but also invigoratingly.
The narrator may be physically ugly and a weak and unremarkable man, but García Márquez's charm shines through and makes this an appealing story.
Short, meandering, sketchy, it feels like it could have been a fuller narrative, but there's a lot here, and it's actually quite well presented, adding up to quite a full portrait.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores isn't some dirty or dying old man's last sordid fling, but rather a coming to terms with a life, as well as a revelling in the present, in what's still in an old man -- not just memories but also possibilities, and some happiness.
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Memories of My Melancholy Whores:
Gabriel García Márquez:
Other books by Gabriel García Márquez under review:
Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:
Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.
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© 2005-2014 the complete review
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