I learned that love is not a condition of the spirit but a sign of the zodiac. [Memories of My Melancholy Whores]
Gabriel García Márquez’s latest novella is the story of an unnamed old journalist who finds love at the age of ninety, after a lifetime spent in exchanging sex for money. The story begins on the man’s ninetieth birthday, when he calls a whorehouse asking to provide him with a virgin for the night, as a sort of celebration. A young girl of fourteen is presented to him, naked on the illicit bed, in a drugged stupor, all but oblivious to his presence. Contrary to his expectations, the protagonist finds himself falling in love with the girl. He showers her with gifts, worries about her safety, frets when she is away, and discovers a new stream of love in his writing.
It is a strange story, and not just because of the great difference in the ages of the old man and his muse, but also because the “love” spoken about in the novel is totally one-sided. The old man is so fulfilled by his loving contemplation of the sleeping girl, and so satisfied by the caresses, that he does not think of having sex. He does not, as the homage to Yasunari Kawabata says in the beginning, “put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything of that sort”. When the girl matures quite suddenly in a few months, he is not happy. He does not even want to hear her speak. And other than the involuntary moans that escape from drugged virgin, there is no reciprocation from her. It may thus be more precise to say that the old man discovers the capacity to love someone, a capacity hitherto unknown and untapped, than to say that he finds love itself. Is he then, in love with Delgadina, or with his idea of Delgadina?
It is a very short book, readable in a sitting or two, and is far easier to read than García Márquez’s earlier work – without the compulsive, brain-shredding prose of One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of the Patriarch, and without the feverish urgency of Love in the Time of Cholera. I am relatively new to his books, and having been spoiled earlier by these three, it was difficult to grasp the somewhat vaguer concerns of this short story.
[ The city in which this story happens is very probably the same as that of Cholera. When the almond trees make their appearance in Whores, you wonder if Florentino Ariza is there with his violin and his look of utter desolation. And when the ship sounds her horn after her voyage on the Magdalena, you wonder if Fermina Daza is aboard. ]
More about the book:
- J. M. Coetzee reviews the novella in the NY Review of Books (via Mount Helicon). He argues that the book can be seen as a defense of pedophilia, and as a further exploration of Florentino Ariza’s tragic tryst with América Vicuña in Love in the Time of Cholera.
- NPR has a very short audio review by Alan Cheuse.