ne of the main things that makes you enjoy a book is the characterisation and for me I just couldn’t grow to like Florentino the man who holds a torch for his teenage love for fifty years. Maybe it was the Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes him in creepy dress and because of his numerous liaisons with women of varying ages but he never inspired sympathy or excitement.
This book is a bit of a slow burner and because it is about waiting and love you feel that you spend a lot of time waiting for the story to develop. There is a clever device at the start because you know that the waiting does end but it takes a long time to get back to that moment of decision.
A young ill at ease boy Florentino Ariza falls in love with Fermina Daza someone who is above his position in society and through stalking, writing letters all the time and serenading her he breaks down her resistance and she agrees to marry him. The father takes her away and on her return she cannot understand what she ever saw in him and then is courted by Dr Urbino who comes from a wealthy family and eventually wins her hand in marriage. Florentino decides to wait for the doctor to die and rises up in the River Company to gain the status that would be fitting of Fermina. The doctor does die and he does manage to win her heart but it is a fraught process that ends with them trying to hide from the world on a boat flying the flag of cholera to keep other people away.
Is it well written?
The structure is interesting because you follow the story of the doctor discovering a dead friend and then having a fatal accident himself and so by page 50 the man you expected to be the centre of the narrative has died. Then it shifts back to the past and slowly builds up the story of the relationships between the main characters until that point of death and then takes the story to a conclusion. As with the Garcia Marquez books it is beautifully described and set firmly in its location but the characters, which are introverted and not that loveable, and of course at the end are elderly are not that easy to identify with.
Should it be read?
When I picked this book up in a second hand bookstore in Bath the owner said approvingly when he handed it over that it was his best one. I still have 100 Years of Solitude to read but my feeling is that it is a book that resonates with readers in different ways. It should be read because it is the only way of taking a side in the argument and working out if you identify and sympathise with the characters.
More Garcia Marquez is the next obvious step but the idea of waiting for a long lost love is also something that crops up in Thomas Hardy’s work particularly Two on a Tower.
Version read – Penguin paperback