When I read most novels, I enjoy them while I am reading them and, when I finish, I feel a keen sense of disappointment at the joy having had to come to an end. In this case of this book, however, it is the opposite that is true. I enjoyed the book very little while I read it but closed it with a sense of accomplishment and, after some significant time in reflection and discussion, came to appreciate the idea and purpose, even if I am far from inspired to once more take up the book.
Perhaps the most difficult and disconcerting aspect of the book is that it is not written as most novels are written. It is not, in other words, written as a story in the modern sense of that word. Instead, it is written in a manner that is perhaps more similar to a historical narrative than to other modern works of fiction. In many ways, the style, including pace, diction, and even subject matter, are quite similar to the way stories are told in the Old Testament of the Bible. While this is undoubtedly intentional on Márquez’s part, I could not help but feel that sticking so firmly to this style detracted from rather than contributed to the book.
At its best (the opening and closing, for example), the book is a stunning masterpiece. At other points, and all too frequently, it becomes bogged down in the sort of way that the Bible does when a list of begats spanning the entire page appears to break up the narrative. Unfortunately, and, again, much like its biblical source and inspiration, these are not times when the reader can, as he might naturally be inclined to, tune out; instead, each sentence is imbued with such meaning and significance to the totality of the book that any missing piece means dozens of pages of incomprehensible text. This is, of course, both a great strength and a weakness.
I can certainly understand why this book is considered one of the greatest works of Latin American prose. I can also understand why Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. But I feel no obligation to try to like the book for the sake of this understanding. And, in the end, while I am happy to have read it, I did not enjoy it and so I cannot recommend it.
This book has largely been ignored and forgotten by anyone outside of the few with a passion for Orwell’s work. And Orwell himself would have had it so. He wrote, once his circumstances were a bit more secure due to the success of certain other novels (much more well-known) about a decade after the book was first published, that he had been forced by a need for money to publish this book and had regretted allowing its publication ever since. He had written it, he said, not for publication but as a sort of experiment in style. This admission on his part, however, is, I believe, a fine indicator of why it is as good of a book as it is and why it is truly an injustice to Orwell and to the book itself that it remains so little known and read today.
The experimental style of the book does nothing to make for a compelling story. If you are looking for the fine-tuned plot and provocative storytelling of Orwell’s more famous works, you are looking in the wrong place. If you are looking for a book that grants a great deal of personal insight into one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th century, though, this is a book not to be missed.
That Orwell did not intend the book for publication no doubt allowed him to place within it a greater amount of personal reflection than he allowed into his more manicured works. Within the novel, for example, Dorothy, the primary protagonist, is dragged by circumstance through a number of situations which Orwell himself had experienced in his early days as a writer, including homelessness, teaching at a school for the children of working class Londoners, and losing his faith even while insisting that he must maintain the pious practice thereof in order not to fall into nihilism. All of these are things that Orwell experienced and which certainly shaped the beliefs and ideas that led him eventually to write his two most famous novels several years later. Here one is treated to a more direct reflection about these experiences, a reflection which will allow one to read Orwell’s later works with a much greater insight.
I recommend this book, first, as good literature. Again, the story itself is not especially interesting or compelling but the individual incidents within the wider narrative are each fascinating in their own right. I recommend this book especially to anyone who has enjoyed the other great works of Orwell and desires a greater insight into this literary mind and the forces that shaped it.