García Márquez, Gabriel 1928–
García Márquez is a Colombian novelist, short story writer, journalist, and screenwriter. Effectively combining imagination and corrupt reality, his novels often occur in a setting of political oppression and conflict. His invention of the town Macondo with its function as microcosm, and his use of interior monologue often elicit comparison to Faulkner. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
Garcia Marquez has been translated into so many different languages, and acclaimed for so many different reasons, that any generalisation about the secret of his success is bound to look unsatisfactory. But in this country, at least, part of his appeal is as an expansive and full-blooded alternative to our tight little novels of social manners. The energy and excess which would probably not be tolerated in an English writer present no problems when they come from a Latin. Garcia Marquez has revitalised that dead phrase 'larger than life'. His characters eat more voraciously than real people, they make love more noisily, they live more adventurously and to a much greater age. They survive firing squads, suicide attempts, massive doses of poison. They experience the worst weather the world has ever known…. Garcia Marquez's love of statistics helps normalise the abnormal and is a key factor in his special blend of realism and fantasy: the impossible spans of time over which people sleep, disappear, play chequers or whatever are recorded with scientific care.
Given this love of scale, it is not surprising to find that the best story in [Innocent Eréndeira and Other Stories] is the biggest—the novella which gives the collection its title…. It is Garcia Marquez at his best, a world of lonely itinerants and haunting desert landscapes.
This story and the next two in the collection are all fairly recent ones. The remaining nine come from the years 1947–53, when the author was a comparative beginner … and still had much to learn. Most of the stories have a strong, but often imperfect, surrealist strain. As in the later work, there is a merging of animal and human living and dead…. But much of the angst seems unearned, and there's little of the vivid symbolism of more recent work. What the early stories do usefully show is Garcia Marquez's awareness of European Modernism. Some commentators have presented him as the man who came from nowhere, but a tale such as 'Dialogue with a Mirror' looks to be indebted to Kafka and Magritte, and in general the earlier the text, the less South American its antecedents.
Blake Morrison, "872,315 Pesos," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2513, May 18, 1979, p. 727.∗
Marquez's style (unlike Borges, who has been influenced by writers as diverse as Poe, Stevenson and Carlyle) is perhaps more what the European would expect from Latin America: earthy, sprawling, often ludicrously hyperbolic. And, again unlike Borges' refined economical tone, one suspects it translates badly. Certainly the punctuation in [Innocent Eréndira] is wayward and Marquez's vocabulary is obsessive: favourite words—'arid', 'radiant', 'torpor'—appear again and again.
The three most recent stories (1972, 1970 and 1961) are undeniably the best. The other nine (all written between 1947 and 1953) are repetitive, overly-symbolic tales of the fantastical folk-myth variety. Marquez's development, as illustrated here anyway, is to be applauded. Since the early stories he has acquired a sense of humour, discovered dialogue and now roots his narratives in a more convincingly realised landscape. The long title story 'The Incredible Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother' is the outstanding one of the book….
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folk-tale tone] is complemented by a sardonic relish in the corruption and venality of the world and Marquez's expansive style bludgeons the reader into an admission of the story's force: the grandmother is a repulsive flabby monster, no deserts are drier and no ordeals so unrelenting and cruel. Throughout her captivity Innocent remained childlike and enchanting, but at her release 'her face acquired all the maturity of an older person which her twenty years of misfortune had not given her.' The story can be read as a complex political fable about exploitation and revolution but Marquez's attitude resists any clear answer: Innocent's freedom was desirable, but the price that was exacted was not paid by her, but by her ally and lover Ulises. (p. 37)
William Boyd, "Metaphysical Fairy Stories" (© copyright William Boyd 1979; reprinted with permission), in Books and Bookmen, Vol. 24, No. 12, September, 1979, pp. 36-7.∗
It has been written, occasionally, that Gabriel García Márquez's writing owes much to surrealism. It might, but the thing is that it is not the writing that is surrealist, it is his subjects. Latin America is surrealist, García Márquez is its chronicler. The Colombian writer could be described more appropriately, and especially since publication of One hundred years of solitude and Autumn of the patriarch, as one of the Latin Caribbean's few real historians….
[In] Innocent Eréndira and other stories the same pattern, a chronicle of surrealism, is evident—and prepares the way for the great book. (p. 91)
The other stories in the book are shorter, none up to the standard of 'Eréndira'. They have the same style, showing the human being in his outrageous reality—where feelings have no logic other than that which arises from under the weight of heredity or from a law of spontaneity and actions need no explanation beyond the fact that they have been acted. (p. 92)
Andrew Graham-Yooll, "Surrealist Historian," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1979), Vol. 19, No. 8, November, 1979, pp. 91-3.
[In] 1979, nearly a quarter of a century after its conception, "In Evil Hour" appears at last in English, thereby filling in the last significant gap in the García Márquez opus. Given its wit, perception, imaginative richness and easy accessibility, it is astonishing that we have had to wait so long….
[With "In Evil Hour"] young García Márquez, moving away from the experimental fantasy and lyricism of his early stories toward his own sense of "social realism," chose to transpose his tale of the lampoons into the contemporary Colombian reality [of civil war], in this way interlacing a comic craziness with a terrible one.
When the novel opens, the unnamed "village"—which, in spite of some superficial similarities and even a contradiction or two, is not the famous Macondo—has been experiencing a period of enforced and artificial "peace," this peace being useful to the authorities in the consolidation of their wealth and power. The first immediate effect of the mysterious lampoons … is to instigate a seemingly apolitical crime of passion….
As the slanderous broadsides proliferate, the villagers—especially those of the dominant middle class—grow increasingly restless and fearful…. [Ultimately] a curfew is imposed, with citizens deputized to stay up all night to try to catch the person or persons responsible.
With the return of the curfew, the political opposition seems also to be revived, subversive pamphlets reappear, and eventually a boy is caught distributing them at the cockfights (but not putting up lampoons). The boy is murdered during his interrogation by the police, and "la Violencia" returns, unmitigated and undisguised….
The mystery of the authorship of the lampoons is never solved; indeed, by the end of the novel, with its brutal political realities and in spite of its final teasing ellipsis, it no longer seems important. "Never, since the world has been the world," one of the characters has warned us, "has anyone found out who puts up the lampoons"—which is more like a statement of underlying principle than an insinuation of enigma. The one who seems to get closest to some kind of answer is a visiting circus fortuneteller called Casandra, Mirror of the Future: "It's the whole town and it's nobody."…
The truth is … that the conflict in this book between the "realistic" and the "fantastic" is never adequately worked out. The mysterious, almost magical, lampoons are at the very heart of the plot, yet the final state of affairs, brought on by the clandestine political fliers and the boy's murder, has almost nothing to do with them. It's like two stories overlaid on each other but not yet interlaced….
A resolution of sorts (reasonable, but never quite satisfying) is achieved by taking the whole tale to be a kind of parable—or "fairytale," as the author suggests—on the disturbing, truth-provoking power of art. The book itself, then, becomes a kind of mysterious lampoon, telling the people "what they already know" and making itself irrelevant in the end with its own success. Not that the artist ever entirely disappears: There will always be a need for his disruptions, so he remains, ready to return at any moment, hovering in the ellipses just beyond the book. (p. 3)
Robert Coover, "The Gossip on the Wall," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 11, 1979, pp. 3, 30.
García Márquez is a rare instance of the sort of writer often daydreamed about by modern booklovers and literati—an artistically serious, technically and intellectually sophisticated, politically progressive author whose works enjoy popular acclaim. (p. 97)
Though mixed, [Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories] is well worth its two or three achieved narratives, especially the title work, one of García Márquez's loveliest. (p. 98)
"Innocent Eréndira" is simply a gem. It exhibits the raw humor of any downhome tall tale, the legendary quality and serene wisdom commonly associated with folk fable—but also presents a highly polished artistry. Both here, as well as in a couple of the stories, García Márquez evinces his uncanny skill at conveying, in his most lucid prose, the sounds and textures of plebeian life…. At the same time, this panorama of ordinary life is filled with surprises, fresh, magical glimpses guaranteed to give delight and split your sides…. García Márquez's narrative, moreover, shows genuine political depth and vision. If heartless Grandmother is a visible embodiment of honey-tongued tyranny, Eréndira is a classic portrait of youthful innocence in absolute thrall to worldly power, who even reacts with knee-jerk loyalty to her oppressor and does housework in her sleep…. Similarly, the story "Death Constant Beyond Love" gives us an extraordinary feel for the song-and-dance, showbiz aspect of electoral politics—even as it sketches, in Senator Onésimo Sánchez, a touchingly seriocomic figure.
At the far end from this sheer mastery are those disquieting early narratives. Brooding and morose, they deal overwhelmingly with isolation or death, with souls or bodies trapped in graves or dreams…. [They] suggest Beckett's Unnameable without the humor, clarity, or warmth. Some material here is bizarre without being magical…. Only one of these juvenilia shows notable, if derivative achievement—"The Woman Who Came at Six O'Clock," a Hemingwayesque fable of suggested murder…. For an early effort, this open-ended sketch is quite subtle.
Throughout most of these pieces one sees the 20-year-old adolescent shooting for the long sentence and purple rhetoric, groping for technique but coming up with forced conceits and pat endings. Curiously, these stories provide few materials for literary geneticists. Very little of the great-author-to-be glimmers forth here; if anything, one realizes just how much any potential genius must grow in order to attain something like maturity and compose even a decent book like Leaf Storm. (pp. 98-9)
Somewhere between these two extremes stands "The Sea of Lost Time," a story from 1961 that shows the author at the very brink of One Hundred Years of Solitude, his twin gifts of fancy and humor fully formed, his overall sense of structure still weak. Happily, García Márquez has gotten outside people's heads and set himself up in familiar country—one of those tropical small towns where he weaves his best imaginings and conjures up his funniest peoples. (p. 99)
Each of the divers fantastical strands in "The Sea of Lost Time" is a marvel of evocation and precision—though they seem artificially patched together as one. The reader also comes across fanciful bits that cry out for elaboration…. García Márquez's turns of phrase and ribaldry here are as good as anything he would come up with five years hence…. They are instances of high-quality handiwork from the fast-expanding atélier of an advancing craftsman, soon to marshal his best skills into an art of broad sweep and grand canvases. (pp. 99-100)
Gene H. Bell-Villada, "Precious and Semi-Precious Gems," in Review (copyright © 1979 by the Center for Inter-American Relations, Inc.), No. 24, 1979, pp. 97-100.
In Evil Hour, begun in 1956, abandoned for a while, then finished in 1961, is a novel which belongs to the period of García Márquez's idolatry of the cinema. It doesn't have the verve or the tone of the narrative invention of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it does have other virtues. It is intensely visualized, as befits García Márquez's beliefs at the time, and it has pieces of dialogue which would be a credit to any movie, but especially those Hollywood movies where a delicate edge of parody is what keeps the night-mare away. Every shape is a little too clear and the book moves toward travesty: a comic version of what William Empson called a style learned from despair, except that here the style is in the way you avert your face, turn away from the despair you would see if you looked. (p. 44)
If lampoons and/or fliers serve to turn back a perhaps reprehensible progress, and if the writer sees himself as engaged in some such enterprise, however many qualifications he might wish to attach to the parallel, then In Evil Hour represents not the claims of the imagination, as Vargas Llosa suggests in his study of García Márquez, but the claims of mischief, the possible usefulness of making a disturbance. I think the claims of mischief are serious, but they do imply an optimism about our capacity for learning from disturbances which I suspect García Márquez doesn't have. Certainly the fate of the town in this book is not encouraging, and this puts the writer-lampoonist in an awkward position. One of the attractive aspects of the book is that it does not try to hide this awkwardness. It ends with a sentence which is finished by the person who is speaking it, but not heard by us. What it says, presumably, is that the lampoons are still appearing, but the silence leaves us alone with the writer, blue ink all over his meddling hands. (p. 45)
Michael Wood, "The Claims of Mischief," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1980 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. XXVI, Nos. 21-22, January 24, 1980, pp. 43-7.∗