Saturday, 7 September 2013

Week Thirty-Three - Jeanette

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1986)
Recommended by Noshee

My favourite programme of 2011 was Charlie Brooker’s How TV Ruined Your Life. The fourth episode tackled love.

Love is like the flu. People often think they’re experiencing it, but most of the time it’s just a cold. And they only realise it was just a cold years later, when they finally catch the flu for real, by which time they’ve got engaged to bloody Ian.

Is love also like cholera? Let’s look at what the NHS Choices website has to say.

                          The most common symptoms of cholera are:
·      extensive, watery diarrhoea
·      nausea (feeling sick)
·      vomiting (being sick)
·      muscle cramps
Left untreated the combination of diarrhoea and vomiting can cause a person to quickly become dehydrated (lack of fluids inside their body) and go into shock (experience a massive drop in blood pressure). In the most severe cases these conditions can be fatal.

Definite crossover, then. But cholera can usually be cured. Love (and lovesickness), well, that’s open to debate.

It was the year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them.

Love In The Time Of Cholera, at the beginning, chronicles how Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza find each other. That first flush! Rhapsodising over each other to anyone who’ll listen. Introducing his or her name into conversations under the flimsiest of pretexts. Reliving every tiny interaction a million or more times. Staring into space then realising two hours has passed. Waking up with a grin the size of Greenland on your face.

How the hell do you write adequately about love? Gabriel García Márquez is one of the twentieth century’s most respected authors, not a Mills & Boon hack, so one assumes that if he’s having a bash at love’s ecstasies and convulsions it’ll be worth reading. As a bare minimum, it'll depict more than romance’s cliché: high passion, temporarily thwarted, before a happy ending dabs the tears away. Love In The Time Of Cholera is a complicated and reflective work, and what gives the story its ironic edge is that it’s about the wish for things to be simple and instinctive.

Fermina Daza, Florentino Ariza, and the other main character, Dr Juvenal Urbino (all characters are always referred to by their full names, a curious device that prevents some reader intimacy) live their lives out over this book. What Márquez tells us, via his picturesque prose, is that love might conquer all. But it might not. People are messy and do stupid things. Society is messy and encourages people to do stupid things. The past piles up behind us. Its fetid stench hangs in the air, sometimes mitigated by the over-sweet rose of nostalgia. Plus, there’s our desire to love in itself, to convince ourselves that the lie is the truth. This is another hugely complicating factor in life, and a major tension in the book.

He was aware that he did not love her. […] But as she kissed him for the first time he was sure there would be no obstacle to their inventing true love. They did not speak of it that first night, when they spoke of everything until dawn, nor would they ever speak of it.

How ideals are negotiated with reality – and the effects of doing this, both positive and negative – doesn’t only relate to love, but to our work and our creativity, too. Yet I don’t find it’s as simple as saying ‘never compromise’. People who espouse that are usually hypocrites, or wealthy, or stunted adolescents, or members of Crass. While Márquez is definitely on the side of believing in your dreams, he’s also clear that wishing and hoping alone won’t make them occur, and even with work, your effort could fail you. Although this sounds dour, actually its overall tone is very positive, because hope takes place in the real world of competing concerns, blunders, and shifting situations.

I think the narrative’s often-painful pragmatism surprised me, because Márquez is rarely mentioned without ‘magical realism’ nestling somewhere in the same paragraph. A little digging has revealed Love In The Time Of Cholera is not as ‘magically real’ as some of Márquez’s other works, but it still has snags of the fantastical.

After a time, however, she discovered when she awoke from an exhausting dream that the doll was growing: the original exquisite dress she had arrived in was up above her thighs, and her shoes had burst from the pressure of her feet.

I really liked these elements. They gave the book a hallucinatory quality at times, suiting the fugue state of love. Márquez also gives us plenty of very quotable earthy mediations.

As a young man his stream was so defined and so direct that when he was at school he won contests for marksmanship in filling bottles, but with the ravages of age it was not only decreasing, it was also becoming oblique and scattered, and had at last turned into a fantastic fountain, impossible to control despite his many efforts to direct it.

That film adaptation looks like such a heap of sentimental tripe. I bet the pissing scene isn't in it.

Noshee is one of my literary inner circle. I trust her judgement absolutely and anything she gives to me, I read (eventually; Márquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude, her last year’s birthday gift, is still on my shelf). The first novel she bought me was Lynne Reid Banks’ The L-Shaped Room. Her favourite books are Wilkie Collins’s The Woman In White and Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. You see: impeccable taste.

In fact, it is perfectly obvious to me how a high proportion of the world’s population could fall in love with Noshee (even me, it seems; we were once mistaken for partners). When I first saw her I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met. Bone structure out of her, er, bones. And like Márquez, she is wise and sensitive, with the rare ability to look at the bigger picture and genuinely put herself in another’s situation. These personality traits – perspective, humanity, enthusiasm – all help when one is laid up with love (or by that less exalted illness, infatuation).

So Márquez can ‘do love’, relatively directly, and without the old chestnuts. It reminds me of why I like girl group records of the 1960s so much. They succeed in being so very affecting often because of the believable performances of the vocalists. Here is the isolated vocal track of The Ronettes’ Baby I Love You and, within it, I can find all love’s joy, and all its incipient anguish; well, all that three minutes could ever possibly deliver.