Reading anything by Gabriel García Márquez, is always an experience and most of the time it is a grand affair, as my previous three reviews of the same author will attest, but this time, I felt The Autumn of the Patriarch lacked in some way,
The plot, centres around the isolated, and lonely figure of a dictator, who is feared and mocked in equal measure. Tracing a line throughout the despots history (the General of the Universe as he becomes known), it shows the corrupting influence of power upon the souls of the people in charge, the hypocrisy of a system hopelessly out of date and slowly dissolving in its own putrescence. It glories in the irony of the ultimately powerless dictator finally becoming just a figurehead of a nation and nothing more. Once a hero, now just a jaded man whose public waits patiently for the end of his reign.
The usual backdrop of tangible magical realism is still palpable as well as the trademark duality of the almost surreal world of decay and miracles. A dark atmosphere of mercenary thoughts and solitude pervading throughout making this a very brooding novel.
The wonderful soaring and sweeping of the language, the very basis of what sets Márquez apart from most other authors is still as audacious as ever:
…dishevelled by the winds of space as it left across the world a trail radiant with star debris and dawns delayed by tarry moons and ashes from the craters of oceans previous to the origins of earth time, there it is, queen, he murmured, take a good look at it for we won’t see it again for another century, and she crossed herself in terror, more beautiful than ever under the phosphorous glow of the comet, and with her head snowy from the soft drizzle of astral trash, and celestial sediment, and it was then that it happened, mother of mine, Bendición Alvarado, it happened that Manuela Sánchez had seen the abyss of eternity in the sky and trying to cling to life she had reached out her hand into space and the only thing she found to hang onto was the undesirable hand with the presidential ring, his hot stiff hand of rapine cooked in the embers of the slow fire of power.
I don’t usually quote at such length but this time I think it’s justified, in showing you the scope of what he consistently achieves. It was really difficult to pick out a quote partly because it is all so first-rate, as well as this there is the structure of the book to consider, it prevents what I would call a ‘clean’ quotation, in the sense that there hardly and full stops and no paragraphs whatsoever and with writing of this quality the temptation to quote just a little more was always with me.
What lets it down however, albeit slightly, is the lack of structure, this is very much a stream of consciousness piece, Character perspectives run into each other and change sometimes in mid sentence meaning for a confusing few seconds, to begin with. Although it does take you by surprise for the first few times, after that it becomes almost second nature to read it as such.
What makes this book less appealing than the others…well it’s something I can’t really put my finger on, perhaps it was more to do with my mindset than it is to do with the book, or perhaps it is the style in which the languid plot develops that never really satisfied me. Still I would urge everyone to read Márquez, as I always do, just not start with this one.