Hippo Manchester
December 8, 2005

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Books: Memories of My Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcìa Márquez (Knopf, 2005, 128 pages).

B

by Will Stewart

If I ever get around to learning Spanish, my primary motivation to do so will be my desire to read Gabriel Garcìa Márquez in his native language.

But, truth be told, the words of the Columbian Nobel-prize-winning author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera are so lyrical, even in translation, that I can’t imagine how they could get much better.

Márquez’ latest work, Memories of my Melancholy Whores — his first work of fiction in 10 years — revolves around a man who, approaching his 90th birthday, knows exactly what he wants for a present: “the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.” And for a man who has spent the vast majority of his life in houses of ill repute (he lost his virginity at one of them when he was but 11), such a gift is easily arranged by the madam of his favorite brothel.

Arranged yes, but difficult to see through. The main problem is one of sleep. The 14-year-old would-be whore procured for the narrator works by day in a button factory and is, naturally, tired after a long day of work. As is also understandable, she’s also just a tad nervous about having sex for the first time. So she is given a sedative by the madam.

Our narrator, seeing her lithe young body lying peacefully on the bed in the brothel, can’t bring himself to wake her up for a tryst, so he lets her sleep, studying her body until he too succumbs to sleep.

This game of now awake, now asleep continues between the pair, whose age difference is 74 years, for some time. In the interim, our narrator manages to fall in love with the child, a first for the man who by his own recollection has slept with more than 500 ladies of the night during his many years.

Despite what its title might suggest, Melancholy Whores is not a tryst-by-tryst report of the narrator’s sexual escapades. One or two are mentioned in passing, but this novella is more a reflection on his life, and growing old. It is, in short, very, very human.

With Márquez himself getting on in years, let’s hope this isn’t his swan song. But if it is, he could have done worse.