Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize winning author reveals the plot of this novel with these attention-grabbing opening lines:
“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
The story of this old newspaper columnist continues with the assistance of a madam who grants him his libertine birthday gift, after his long tradition of purchasing women for sexual pleasure.
As his opening gambit illustrates, Márquez is a master of shock, surprise and suspense. He is skillfully attuned to pace which he is able to build, maintain and slow when the drama requires. The author writes with grace, economy, elegance and poetry. Observe his mastery in describing events and emotional excitement after he undresses:
“A warm current traveled up my veins and my slow, retired animal woke from its long sleep.” (p28)
The novel could be said to be about an old guy trying to prove his virility but it is about attempting to allow newness to enter and pulsate in an old life. The book sets forth a “glorification of old age” rather than presenting “the usual lament for the years that were gone.” (p8)
Márquez writes of the movement into old age and the different way that the person growing old sees from the inside while others are noticing signs from the outside. (p9) Is it true that “age isn’t how old you are but how old you feel?” (p60) And is there a better way to measure one’s life than by counting the years?
Memories of My Melancholy Whores is about looking at old age as a sphere of new possibilities. The narrator reflects with resolution:
“Still, when I woke alive in the first morning of my nineties in the happy bed of Delgadina, I was transfixed by the agreeable idea that life was not something that passes by like Heraclitus’ ever-changing river but a unique opportunity to turn over on the grill and keep broiling on the other side for another ninety years.” (p108)
The author raises the issues of growing old, such as knowing the time when it is best for this ninety-year old editor to lay down his pen. It also explores the matter of new pursuits that senior adults might take up as this writer experiments in reading, music and the education of training a cat. In taking up new activities Márquez is attentive to the ways these affect his relationships, his emotions, his personality and his writing.
Without letting the cat out of the bag this book is about a new way of seeing and a new way of living and experiencing “real life.” (p115) It is realizing that we are never too old to grow in relationships, love, happiness, self-awareness and learning and discovering that when this happens on the inside we may appear different on the outside.
Márquez tests the thesis that “sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love” (p69) and he longs to experience the wonder of sex in the context of love.
This short novel is seamlessly translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman and it is multi-layered. This book is a treat that readers will want to reread and savor on each birthday as a reflection on life and the gift of 'real life'.
Gabriel García Márquez, Memories of My Melancholy Whores (New York: Vintage, 2006). The title in Spanish is Memoria De Mis Putas Tristes.
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Front cover of Memories of My Melancholy Whores.