One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez
Analysis: Writing Style
Lyrical, Poetic, Wordy, Descriptive, Detail-Oriented, Ambiguous
Translating a Lullaby
Reading this book is sometimes a little bit like being sung to sleep by a soft lullaby, or lying on a raft and softly rocking on small waves. García Márquez has a lilting style, with long and very descriptive sentences that seem to go on forever. Within each sentence, he plays with mood, verb tense, and piles on adjective after adjective, all to keep up the back-and-forth motion of smooth and flowing words.
Well, that's how the English translation reads, at least. It's obviously supposed to be as faithful and exact a translation of the Spanish as possible, but still, languages are not completely equivalent and – unless we read Spanish – we have no way of knowing exactly how the original sounds. But still, check out this description of the first time that guy who kills himself over Remedios the Beauty meets her:
Úrsula, who shuddered at the disquieting beauty of her great-granddaughter [Remedios the Beauty] had succeeded in keeping her off the streets unless it was to go to mass with Amaranta, but she made her cover her face with a black shawl. The most impious men, those who would disguise themselves as priests to say sacrilegious masses in Catarino's store, would go to church with an aim to see, if only for an instant, the face of Remedios the Beauty, whose legendary good looks were spoken of with alarming excitement throughout the swamp. It was a long time before they were able to do so, and it would have been better for them if they never had, because most of them never recovered their peaceful habits of sleep. The man who made it possible, a foreigner, lost his serenity forever, became involved in the sloughs of abjection and misery, and years later was cut to pieces by a train after he had fallen asleep on the tracks. From the moment he was seen in the church, wearing a green velvet suit and an embroidered vest, no one doubted that he came from far away, perhaps from some distant city outside of the country. Attracted by the magical fascination of Remedios the Beauty. […]
[After] he was seen in the church everybody took it for granted that a silent and tense duel had been established between him and Remedios the Beauty, a secret pact, an irrevocable challenge that would end not only in love but also in death. On the sixth Sunday the gentleman appeared with a yellow rose in his hand. He heard mass standing, as he always did, and at the end he stepped in front of Remedios the Beauty and offered her the solitary rose. She took it with a natural gesture, as if she had been prepared for that homage, and then she uncovered her face and gave her thanks with a smile. That was all she did. Not only for the gentleman, but for all the men who had the unfortunate privilege of seeing her, that was an eternal instant. (9.31-32)
Right off the bat, we can see the shifting back and forth in time. This is being narrated from the future, when the events described have already happened. But then by bringing in Úrsula's concerns, the story reaches back into the past (Úrsula has always worried about Remedios' beauty). The story then flashes forward to an alternate future – a future in which no one sees her face and all those dudes won't end up losing sleep over it. Finally, it projects out into the future of the plot itself, revealing what ends up happening to the foreign guy (a gruesome train-track death).
Let's Get Specific
Now check out the extreme specificity of the descriptions we get. We see exactly what everyone is wearing (Remedios' black shawl, the foreigner's suit, the guys making fun of Catholicism at the local brothel), the exact movements the characters make (Remedios' "natural gesture" and her smiling instead of saying thanks out loud, the foreigner standing rather than sitting during mass and the way he steps out in front of Remedios instead of catching up to her to give her the rose), the precise timing of the events (he gives her the rose on "the sixth Sunday", not just a few weeks later). All of this helps elevate what would seem to be a pretty trivial moment – a guy gives a girl a flower and she smiles – to an event that all of space-time has been building up to since the dawn of time. Pretty cool, right?
There's a long tradition of books within books – novels that feature a character writing a long work as part of the plot, or even novels that are set up as if they are the work of one of the characters within the text. Many first-person books have been packaged as if their author is merely editing some manuscript she ran across somewhere – like Defoe's Robinson Crusoe or Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale. As for characters writing along as the reader reads through the book, there's Nabokov's Lolita, which is being written by Humbert Humbert as we are reading it, and Douglas Adams's A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which keeps being updated as the novel goes on.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude, it turns out that Melquíades' writings are basically the very novel we're reading. And, we might actually be reading Melquíades' writings alongside the last surviving Buendía, Aureliano (II). Head rush alert.