Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Hard Sell Of Love And Cholera: Love In The Time Of Cholera

The Good: Well-written, interesting characters, lyrical nature of writing
The Bad: Pacing, Slow plot, disturbing character developments, crammed end
The Basics: An inspired novel about the power of love over a lifetime loses its way in an overwhelming middle.

Love In The Time Of Cholera is the first novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that I have read and it's a toss up as to whether or not I'll give another one of his novels a try. The truth is, the novel starts out quite well and quite interesting, has a long, dangerously slow middle, then accelerates into an end that is troubling, confusing and satisfying all at once. Allow me to explain.

The novel opens with a death, a friend of Dr. Juvenal Urbino. Urbino investigates his friend's death and in an accident on the same day, falls to his own death. His wife, Fermina Daza, is shocked as they had been married for fifty years. She finds herself somewhat lost when her childhood love, Florentino Ariza, reappears to inform her that he has loved her for the last half century and begs her to give him a chance.

The reader is then hurtled back into the past to understand how these two characters got to that point. Florentino Ariza spies young Fermina Daza one day and falls hopelessly in love with her. Through a series of letters, they come to know each other and fall in love. Fermina's father realizes this and becomes disturbed and takes Fermina away from Florentino. But, they are pledged to one another and when Fermina returns, she is committed to Florentino Ariza. Until, shortly before they are to be married, she sees him again and decides she has made a horrible mistake.

Fermina then allows herself to be bullied by Dr. Juvenal Urbino into marrying him and Florentino Ariza attempts to bury his love for Fermina Daza by making love with a score of other women.

This section where they are apart drags on for the bulk of the novel and it becomes a burden to get through because it feels like a distraction from the real story, which is: will they come back together and how? These questions are answered in the last seventy pages and the answers seem abrupt and at times rushed or forced. There is a clinical precision to the rest of the novel as the exploits of Florentino Ariza are chronicled and the drudgery Fermina Daza is subjected to that is avoided in the final section, making is seem less important than the earlier potions.

But the problems are somewhat inherent in the characters. Fermina Daza starts as an interesting character and her decision to reject Florentino Ariza at the worst possible moment is incredible. Yet, how she evolves from the loving, intriguing girl who loves - and then does not - Florentino into a cold, pragmatic woman who lets Dr. Juvenal Urbino threaten her into marriage is baffling.

Similarly, in Florentino Ariza's story, he is intriguing and wonderful to read, but his obsession with Fermina Daza, long after he realizes he can love another, is somewhat confusing. It is a testament, no doubt, to the power of love, which is immense. This is fine and enjoyable to read, until the section immediately preceding the novel's resolution. Florentino Ariza ends up, for a time, in a pedophilic relationship that is grotesque and troubling to read. The inclusion of it by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is not only disturbing, but sloppy; so late in the novel, it simply becomes another loose end that needs to be tied up.

That said, Marquez has an incredible knack for the poetic. A perfect example (and I turned randomly to get this) would be his description of Florentino after he receives a note from Fermina Daza. Marquez describes it this way: "Delirious with joy, Florentino Ariza spent the rest of the day eating roses and reading the note letter by letter, over and over again, and the more he read the more roses he ate and by midnight he had read it so many times and had eaten so many roses . . . It was the year they fell into devastating love" (68). The energy and sense of movement of his words is the perfect description of the spinning sensation of new, young love. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is clearly a master of language and has a keen understanding of human emotions.

And it is refreshing to read a novel that believes in young love and believes in the power and endurance of love, even if it is not in the most chaste sense. Instead, Love In The Time Of Cholera seems to expertly portray the idea that even if one cannot get the thing they want the most or be with the one they love, they may nurture the feelings through substitution. It is an argument for the power of the human heart and the strength of desire that love can create.

It's a wonderful argument and it reminds us that powerful love is all around us.

The only serious problem, and it is just enough to keep me from recommending the book, is the narrative gets too far off track in trying to illustrate the theme. That is to say that if the theme is that love may endure through a lifetime of obstacles, Love In The Time Of Cholera focuses far too much on the obstacles and becomes far too invested in describing in detail the minutiae of the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza that we lose track of what is truly important in the novel.

A close call, but ultimately, the power of love is leveraged out by an incredibly slow plot that dulls all senses.

For other epic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
The Old Man And The Sea – Ernest Hemingway
Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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