Silly Fight Club posts aside (I will do a proper review someday, I quite like the idea of being chased down by Brad Pitt for breaking the rules), I’ve worked up a bit of a backlog again so there’ll be plenty of new posts over the next week or so. There are a few books to get through, potentially some books vs films, and a rather exciting new album I’ll be looking at. But to begin with, a look at my first foray with Spanish-language literature.
Love in the Time of Cholera is one of those books that leave me feeling a bit baffled and perplexed, because I just can’t decide what to make of it. It’s a love story, although perhaps a slightly unconventional one, although to be honest I think ‘stalker story’ would be a more apt description. While the age of schoolchildren, Florentino Ariza decides upon a single look at Fermina Daza that he is completely in love with her, and pursues her with flowers and increasingly soppy letters, which she indulges and reciprocates, even while her father whisks her away from him. She agrees to marry Florentino Ariza, and then suddenly outgrows the situation and changes her mind, marrying Doctor Juvenal Urbino instead. Florentino Ariza spends the next fifty odd years of his life pining for her like a lovesick puppy (despite banging any woman with a pulse), and then tries to rekindle their childish romance after Fermina Daza’s husband, Juvenal Urbino, dies trying to retrieve a parrot from a tree. (Apparently it’s loosely based on the courtship of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s own parents, but they followed through with their marriage as planned without any weird prolonged stalking in later years).
To be honest, the basic bones of the plot do make me feel a little nauseous. I just want to give Florentino Ariza a good old shake or slap around the jowls, and tell him to man the hell up. Being such a lovesick wet blanket for fifty years isn’t romantic, it’s creepy and stalkerish. Similarly unromantic notions are constant references to his constipation and enemas, as the choleric symptoms he suffers from are actually the symptoms of being lovesick. Cue vom. He’s just a really unsettling character, and if I were Fermina Daza I wouldn’t be flattered by his ongoing affections as a pensioner, I’d be running for the hills. The man’s clearly unhinged. I don’t think he’s even in love with Fermina Daza, just the idea of her. He’s one of those (supposedly) romantic poetic sorts who’s not satisfied unless feeling a little tortured. After all, call me a cynic but I find it unlikely enough that someone can fall head over heels after just one glance, let alone sustain that feeling for over fifty years while having very little contact with the lady in question. Even more unsettling is his relationship with twelve year old America Vicuna, who, while in his seventies, he basically grooms for sex while acting as her guardian. She later kills herself when she realises he loves Fermina Daza over her.
In terms of reading, I thought it all seemed a bit unstructured. There was very little dialogue throughout the book, except towards the end, and I felt like the story was told as rambling digression after rambling digression. If there was a clear structure, I didn’t really get a sense of it. I didn’t like the ending of the book at all, I sort of felt like it was a bit of a cop out that Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza could just sail away again rather than face up to any kind of reality or consequences of their actions. I’d much rather they’d never got together, Florentino Ariza’s such an annoyingly pathetic drip of a character, and so un-masculine (despite his many sexual conquests), that I just can’t understand why Fermina Daza would ever give in to him. I know it’s meant to be a touching moment highlighting the fact that love isn’t just for young people and people in their ‘golden years’ can also fall in love, but I thought it was a rubbish ending.
This isn’t to say that it’s not necessarily worth reading. If you’re a more tolerant person and can bear the idea of a man acting in such a pathetic and creepy way, then by all means go ahead and read it. I don’t really have anything against the story as such or the ideas behind it, I just couldn’t stand the character of Florentino Ariza (and the story is, of course, all based around him). Sorry, but I like my men to act like real men, and actually do something about their problems rather than spending fifty years feeling sorry for themselves and waiting for their love rivals to die. And of course there was the rather iffy inclusion of America Vicuna. A constipated old codger who likes his girls very young and impressionable is far from my idea of a good catch. I’d prefer stuffy Juvenal Urbino any day of the week, even if he has a tendency to miss the toilet bowl a lot. But if you’re not feeling brave enough to try the book now, you could always watch the film instead. I imagine even I could be converted towards Florentino Ariza when he’s played by Javier Bardem.