Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review - Memories of my Melancholy Whores

The work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is regarded as some of our time’s greatest
literary achievements, with books winning numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize
for Literature. Whether talking about his groundbreaking Novel One Hundred Years of
Solitude, or exploring the intricacies of his short stories, such as A Very Old Man with
Enormous Wings, which are taught in classes across the world, Marquez is hailed as one
of the great voices of South American Literature, and a founder of the Magical Realism

While many of his books and stories have that magical realist edge, a trait that
treats the truly magical events of the world as mundane, but revels in the ordinary and
everyday, his novella, Memories of my Melancholy Whores, moves into a place that is
grounded in reality, yet fantastic in its exploration of love and virility. Following in the
wake of his 90th birthday, Garcia’s narrator find himself contemplating a life spent
without love, receiving his only sexual pleasure from the prostitutes that have come and
gone through the local brothel. The narrator, a lifetime writer for his local paper, boasts
that even though he had slept with over 500 whores by the time he was 50, he has found
no solace in the arms of women.

Garcia explores the possibility of love, even so late in life, when the narrator falls
for a young virgin, whom he intended to deflower for his birthday. He fails, however,
receiving something more than a sexual pleasure from the girl, “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 improbable pleasure of
contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the
obstacles of modesty.” The book becomes a celebration of the body, and of the human
capability to find beauty in those bodies even beyond or before their prime.

While the narrator has lived a long life of somewhat leisure, the girl herself is a
factory worker, toiling by day and offering her body by night in order to help support her
family. This plays out over the course of a year or so, as the narrator celebrates the young
woman, showering her with gifts and creating poetry and prose for her. He becomes a
man revitalized in life, brought back as he almost leeches off the young virgin’s beauty.
While One Hundred Years of Solitude explored the birth, growth, and eventual
destruction of an isolated jungle town, this book immerses itself in those final hours of a
man, contrasts them against the first hours of a budding woman, and through his sexuality
and her own, and brings a new life into both of them. While it lacks the surface majesty
of some of Marquez’s better known books, Memories of My Melancholy Whores explores
more dangerous territory. It’s nothing political or social, but instead deals with the
physical, the closeness of two bodies, the distance that those two same bodies can have
emotionally, and the tenderness one can find when time has worn way all of the excess
edges and external polish, leaving behind a more internal beauty and a mental sexuality,
where the act of intercourse isn’t as important as just knowing someone is waiting in bed
for you.

Posted for KZ

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