Monday, August 24, 2009

AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Autumn of the Patriarch, while not as surrealistically inventive as One Hundred Years of Solitude, is a great novel in its own right and deserves to displace the overrated Love in the Time of Cholera as the ‘other’ Garcia Marquez novel. If Solitude synthesizes Faulkner and Kafka, Patriarch leans more toward the Faulknerian side of things, its prose heavily influenced by Absalom, Absalom! (In Gabo’s geography, Faulkner is not a ‘Southern writer’ but a writer of the northern Caribbean basin. In terms of the location and duration of his influence, this is probably the best way to think of Faulkner. He's the northern grandfather of the late twentieth-century Latin American novel.) The long, run-on, convoluted, marvelously lyrical sentences in this novel give a Baroque flavor to a nightmarish, Gothic story, a combination reminiscent of Old Bill at his darkest. Gabo’s prose makes this a more difficult read than Solitude, but it’s a familiar, Modernist kind of difficulty, the difficulty of complexity, of multiple narrators and a (somewhat) non-chronological narrative, a difficulty that finally enriches rather than obscures.

I admire the way Gabo’s incredibly long-winded sentences–the last 50-page chapter is a single sentence–are like a sea on which the reader floats and in which he is occasionally submerged. We drift into the prose and let it flow over us, let it dominate our consciousness. There’s something genuinely overpowering in this lyricism, as powerful as Faulkner at his best; it’s an insinuating power, that of a melody that moves from the background to become the center of the song...But I prefer the oceanic metaphor. Gabo’s sentence rhythms are tidal, like the rhythm of the sea the general is forced to sell (to Americans who set it up in Arizona, a marvelous bit of satire that Gabo prodigally throws off in a subordinate clause), and the loss of the sea near the end of the book foregrounds this rhythm with an image that tropes the last chapter’s single-sentence structure: a terminal tide that streams out never to return. And this is also, obviously, an image of life, which occurs once and once only, no repetition (unlike my last phrase), no resurrection–a point stated, perhaps too explicitly, at book’s close.

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