Two Visits to the Dentist
A reader who has some acquaintance with Garcia Marquez is almost bound to approach a new novel by him with certain questions about connectedness in mind. There is first of all the issue of the connectedness of his career: which resolves itself at once into questions about the origins of, and successors to, the extraordinary One Hundred Years of Solitude. The commanding presence of this novel has inevitably given the earlier work something of the character of an overture (especially for the English reader, for whom this material has mostly become available since the novel’s appearance), while the more recent writing has generally been assessed for adequacy as a sequel. Then there is the matter of the internal connections in Garcia Marquez’s fiction. There are recurrences of certain characters, events and places: Colonel Aureliano Buendia, Jose Montiel, the Treaty of Neerlandia, Macondo, Manaure. What do these recurrences amount to? Should we even pay attention to them?
Vol. 3 No. 18 · 1 October 1981
SIR: What a shame that Donald Davie should ruin any chance of his article ‘My Americas’ (LRB, 3 September) being taken seriously by this ignorant sentence: ‘Any one who has tried to read the Colombian novel A Hundred Days of Solitude – popular as that mysteriously was in its English translation – must surely endorse Hough’s account of the difficulties that confront us, not much less with South American poems than with South or Central American novels.’ It’s a double shame that the London Review of Books, after such an intelligent and enlightening review last June of Garcia Marquez’s In Evil Hour (‘Two Visits to the Dentist’ by Michael Mason, LRB, 5 June 1980), should let slip such a bastardisation of the title of One Hundred Years of Solitude, giving the impression of a novel about torture in a dictator’s prison.
Why should it be ‘mysterious’ that the novel was popular in translation? Garcia Marquez has said that he prefers Gregory Rabassa’s English translation of his Spanish original. That is mysterious. There are difficulties in reading the novel – the political and literary references are not just continental but parochial. Much of the end section of the novel concerns the group of friends Garcia Marquez discussed literature with when he worked on the newspaper El Heraldo in Barranquilla, such as Alfonso Fuenmayor, who still lives there. There is room for the kind of background guidebook that Ulysses spawned, to sort out the fantasy and reality, for when you start digging you find that much of what was assumed to be fantasy was reality for Garcia Marquez. But that does not stop the average reader enjoying the novel. I suggest that Donald Davie should read it for himself.
BBC Television Centre, London W12