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Julian Meynell's Books

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Memories of My Melancholy Whores

Memories of My Melancholy Whores - Gabriel García Márquez Spoilers

This is an immensely difficult novel (really a novella) to interpret, in part, because it is hard to know to what extent the novel has an unreliable or delusional narrator.

The reviews that I have read here don't seem to ask this question, but I think that it is an inescapable one. The book concerns a main character who has only had sex with whores and with his maid who he treats as a whore. He has led an unremarkable and in many ways wasted pointless life and he lacks redeeming qualities, however, he is too pathetic to be villainous.

On his ninetieth birthday, he decides to have sex with a virgin. A madam procures a 14 year old virgin for him. He watches her sleep over the course of a year without having sex with her and falls in "love" with her. Garcia Marquez is perfectly clear that he has fallen in love with an idealized object, which he prefers asleep. He goes to lengths to not know her name or hear her voice. He idealizes her pure virginity. Garcia Marquez makes that clear. He also makes clear that she is not who he thinks she is, she is a poor girl who works sewing on buttons to support his family.

The ninety year old man is clearly not a reliable narrator. The book is about aging and treats this very well. He is in some sense a pedophile, but it is hard to know what is going on here, because Garcia Marquez is from a different culture and time. The last few pages are utterly fantastic and cannot be meant seriously. In part because the main character, suddenly has wealth. I wasn't sure if despite that they were meant to be takes seriously, the main character had gone mad, or the main character was dead and this was some sort of afterlife state. That this is real love, I find hard to square with Garcia Marquez emphasis on the fact that he loves a nonreal ideal. But the whole end mystified me quite frankly, because I can't believe that it is some sort of weird happy ending.

The tremendous beauty of Garcia Marquez's prose is as strong as ever. It is really beautifully written. But unlike Lolita or The Well Beloved which are about main characters that fall in "love" with idealizations which have nothing to do with the women or girls in front of them, and which is implicitly seen as toxic. This whole book becomes so ambiguous that I don't know what to make of it.

I've found the reviews unhelpful because they all assume a reliable narrator, which the main character clearly isn't. But despite its beauty, ambiguities and genius. It is all in the end to vague, to actually work. I mean, it might be that it doesn't see a problem with this, and Marquez was going a bit crazy in his dotage. But it might be a scathing critique, I can't tell.

Garcia Marquez at his most beautiful. But what does it mean? The ambiguity and unreliableness of the narrator is not something that helps the novel, like Wuthering Heights, but interferes with the novel.