On the eve of his ninetieth birthday a newspaper columnist in Colombia decides to give himself ‘a night of mad love with a virgin adolescent’. But on seeing this beautiful girl he falls deeply under her spell. His love for his ‘Delgadina’ causes him to recall all the women he has paid to perform acts of love. And so the columnist realises he must chronicle the life of his heart, to offer it freely to the world. . .
There is a certain unpalatable nature to the subject matter of this book but that being said there is little in the way of vulgarity here as Márquez presents his unnamed writer as a lonely man who manages to retain the sensual in his sometimes disturbing obsessional pursuits.
One of the hallmarks of the author is his ability to mix beauty and baseness together to create something believable, yet also dramatic. The passions of those who find themselves alone in the world, either nearing the end or just surviving are altogether more haunting than most authors usually give credit for.
The Scholar as our central character is known, shares a fascinating – and for the most part silent – language that is more about the body and its fancied properties than actual reality. The relationship with ‘Delgadina’ is ultimately using only the inventive imagination of captivation that the unfortunate man possesses and chooses to cling to.
It is refreshing to see a character who is full of the vibrance of life and at the whim of fervour even at 90. One who after all his experiences still finds himself as flawed as the rest of us despite years of experiencing life and learning its accumulated wisdom. These sorts of characters have always been the forté of G.G.M making them at once sympathetic – up to a point in this case – and believable, whilst retaining a pitiful air.
The tone of the narrative is both light and heavy at the same time, the weight of years and the fear of growing old is juxtaposed with feelings of unrequited love and appreciation in the power of beauty. There is a certain crassness in the supporting cast, one that had me first sympathising and loathing them in equal measure. The earthy nature of the offhanded indecency of which people speak and act is balanced out by the welcome lyrical descriptions which Márquez resorts to now and again, reminding readers of the power he has to conjure the most beautiful images and word placement.
I found myself underwhelmed by the story, there seems to be little depth beyond The Scholar’s relationship with the virgin, he loves her in an abstracted form, to the point where sex is almost the cynical counterpoint to love. The objectification of the girl gives way to something with more depth, more complex than lust, but short of love in its shortsightedness and the need to possess. Balancing that there is some wisdom here in matters of a growing old, learning and ultimately choosing what is needed to fulfil one’s desires.
At little over 100 pages the book is most certainly worthy of a read, however perhaps it isn’t the best starting place for the reader new to Márquez’s works, This one did lack a certain magic in the vocabulary, perhaps it was the sparseness of the usual flowery language or the translator’s choice of words, either way I didn’t find it half as quotable as usual. The book is both a mix of the uncomfortable, the pensive nature of aging and the need to love, I would be more inclined to recommend Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice as a more palatable (if that is the (right word) book on the subject. Below are some of the other books by the author I have so far reviewed all of which I prefer: