Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Matter-of-fact, Sympathetic, Non-judgmental
One important aspect of any magical realist text (see "Genre" for a definition) is that the author recounts seemingly incredible events without sounding the least bit surprised, impressed, or spooked. It's essential that the author present these supernatural aspects of the story in a matter-of-fact way, like Gabo does here – otherwise it wouldn't be magical realism. It would be a ghost story.
So in Love in the Time of Cholera, when Fermina has visions of her dead husband or memories of things that happened before she was born, the tone is serious, but not spooky. Ghosts – and death in general – are just another part of life.
Another important aspect of the tone of this novel is that it's not judgmental or critical. After all, when you know someone as well as we come to know these characters, it's harder to criticize them. Fermina, Florentino, and Dr. Urbino are so complex – just like real people – that we can understand why they act the way they do, even when what they do seems wrong.
We at Shmoop tend to think that readers often have two different reactions to Gabo's tendency to suspend judgment of his characters. Either they're frustrated with him for failing to criticize their actions when they seem morally reprehensible or have disastrous consequences. Or they're impressed by his restraint in allowing us to reflect on the characters' actions and decide for ourselves how we want to feel about them. Our opinion has changed over time – what do you think?