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
The book comes to an end and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. If someone was holding a torch for my wife just waiting for me to pop my clogs then I am sure I would be far from happy about it. But on the other side of the coin no doubt there is a certain romance about it.
Bullet points between pages 292 – 348
* Florentino has to wait for the letters to be replied and then plucks up the courage to visit Fermina and then it becomes a regular thing each month although she never concedes that he has a chance of developing the relationship beyond friendship
* He is 76 and she is 72 and there is an increasing emphasis on age and despite all the care he has taken to be in shape when they are finally free to marry she says she is old and he starts to accept that things are not the same
* She starts to correspond with him on a daily basis after he falls down the stairs in his office and is bed bound but then two stories are written in the local paper that undermine her – one being about an affair her husband is meant to have had and the other about the shady business dealings of her father
* When Florentino finally gets out of bed with a walking stick and goes to visit her they both seem decrepit and old, beyond love almost, but he still holds out hope and his persistence does seem to wear her down plus he writes an article under the name ‘Jupiter’ that tries to redress the lies printed in the paper
* Fermina’s daughter hears about the growing friendship between her mother and Florentino and tries to stop it but is told by her mother never to enter the family home again and leaves after only just healing the rift
* Meanwhile the young lover of Florentino discovers the hidden cache of love letters from Fermina and following her failure of her exams kills herself
* The news comes to Florentino when he is aboard a river cruise with Fermina, a trip that sees them finally move from letters and conversations to something physical and love blossoms
* But as the trip starts to end they panic about the possibility of going back to real life and so they hoist the yellow flag meaning that there is cholera aboard and come down the river without interruptions
* But when they reach port the health authorities want to know what is going on and the captain panics to which he is told by Florentino to go back up river and repeat the trip again – when asked how long he can keep doing that the old man who has waited so long for love tells him he can keep doing it forever
Review follows in the next couple of days
It has been hard to read much of this book today because of other demands on my time but I have squeezed in a few more pages to keep the highlights moving on and will aim to finish it tomorrow
Bullet points between pages 260 – 292
* The story catches up with the first chapter when Dr Urbino died and it describes how Floretino rose to the top of the River Company and how he looked after himself always readying himself for the day when he could be there for Fermina Daza
* As he makes love to the 14 year old that has become his legal custodian, something a bit unpleasant here, the bells ring out for the death of the doctor and he rushes round to the house
* Although he knows it is wrong he blurts out his declaration of love and then spends the next two weeks ill with regret and worry until he comes home one night to find a letter waiting for him in a puddle outside his door
* She sends him a letter full or rage because she is genuinely grieving and the timing could not have been worse but she cannot stop thinking about him but when he gets the letter it hits him and he realises that it was the response he should have expected
The end comes tomorrow…
The parallel lives of Fermina and Floretino carry on with both growing older. He notches the times with being present at her public appearances and she seems to grow old without much of a thought for him but more of a general mental trawl back through her past
Bullet points between pages 210 – 260
* There is a short but savage passage where a love affair with a married woman and Florentino ends abruptly after he pains a message on her body and her husband reads it and then slashes her throat
* In the meantime the appearances of Fermina and Dr Urbino seem to be happy but behind the public smiles they are drifting apart and she is given plenty of chances to dwell on her marriage and her past
* Things come to a head and they separate for two years after she discovers he has had an affair with a female patient, a black woman living with a preacher, who manages to possess his good senses and make him almost risk losing everything for lust/love
* She finds that heading back to where she was born and staying with her cousin is deeply depressing as so much has changed and even her cousin has become a fat old woman so she is overjoyed when her husband finally comes for her to take her home
* Florentino goes to the cinema and Fermina is behind him and as the lights come on he notices that she needs help from her husband walking down the steps and it dawns on him that he might die before she does
It’s been a busy today putting the decorations on the Christmas Tree and rushing round trying to get the heating fixed so reading was very much pushed back on the list of things that had to be done. As a result very few pages were consumed but I thought it worth while just posting some brief highlights
Bullet points between pages 180 – 210
* The two men – doctor urbino and Florentino Ariza finally meet and despite his years of wishing him dead Florentino actually feels sympathy for him and understands that they are both attached to the same yoke with their love for Fermina Daza
* Florentino continues to go through relationships, which are based on a sexual basis because his heart belongs to Fermina, that end unsatisfactoraily and lack the power that real love would bring to the coupling
* For the first time since she spurned Florentino you get an insight into the mind of Fermina and she feels guilt over the decision and although publicly seems very happy with her husband is unhappy and often sits in the bathroom smoking in secret in tears
Hopefully more tomorrow on what might be a less packed day…
The challenge for the reader, for me at least anyway, with Lobe in the Time… is working out which side you are going to take in the love triangle that revolves around Fermina Daza.
The skill of the writing is that just as you think you are going to back one of the men your feelings change and you are left keeping an open mind seeing how things develop.
Bullet points between pages 130 -180
* After ignoring the doctor’s advances for so long suddenly Fermina decides to allow him to court her and the next thing is that they are getting married and as a result Florentino Ariza spirals into depression and is sent away by his mother in an attempt to forget her
* However the trip is a failure and he returns home and seems content, starting an affair with a widow and forgetting his love by focusing on physical passion, but things spiral out of his hands when he sees her with her husband six months pregnant
* The married couple have returned back from a two-year stay in Europe, where they went for honeymoon, and they have grown to love each other after starting out on the relationship with not too much of that emotion in evidence
* In response to the sight of them both together Florentino dedicates himself to becoming successful enough to win her back and despite the marriage and pregnancy he seems convinced that there will come a point at which Doctor Urbino will die and he will get his chance
We know that of course he does have to wait for fifty years but will he get his chance or not? Even more of a question is if you want him to? On that I am far from sure.
Today has been a real challenge on the reading front. It is cold and wet and my boiler has broken so I’m trying to read and compete with my wife for space by the electric heater and inevitably I lost.
Still what makes the few pages you do get through so rewarding is that the story continues to surprise you and keep you with it.
Bullet points between pages 72 – 130
* The story goes back to relate the love story between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza and after he asks for her hand in marriage things start to develop at a slow pace until she is discovered writing love letters to him and expelled from school
* To try and get her to forget her father takes her away for a year and half but because he had telegrammed all the relatives they were going to stay with Florentino is able to send messages via telegram offices on her route
* Her love for him remains intact and she returns home and they meet as he follows her around the market and as she sees him she is full of horror and cannot understand why she fell for some one like him and calls the marriage and the relationship off
* The narrative then shifts focus to concentrate on Doctor Juvenal Urbino and explains that he is so keen to stop cholera because the disease keeps breaking out in the Caribbean and ravaging the local community and his father was a victim of the last major outbreak
* After being sent to check on Fermina, who is suspected of having cholera, he falls in love with her and because the father approves of the match he is given the sort of access and parental support that was never on offer to Florentino who the father once threatened to shoot
* She resists the growing pressure to start a formal courtship with the doctor and her cousin comes who feels that it is tragic she broke off with Florentino and reopens a dialogue with him at the Telegraph office
Tomorrow should brings more twists and turns…
There is something about the way that Garcia Marquez takes apart the normal structure of a novel and rebuilds it in a way that makes you think about the development of a story in a different way.
You put all your concentration into an 81 year old doctor who is sketched out in quite a lot of detail and there are 50 pages spent building this character and his world up before the rug is pulled from your feet ands you find that the real story could be coming from a different direction.
Bullet points between pages 3 – 72
* The focus of the opening few pages is the discovery of a suicide and the calling to the scene of a aged doctor, Dr Urbino, who happens to have been a friend of the victim and makes sure that the suicide is kept secret and the burial takes place quickly
* The friend, Jerimiah de Saint-Amour has left him a note that really disturbs the doctor because it contains not only the revelation he has had a mistress but that he was an escaped convict who in his time had resorted to cannibalism
* Dr Urbino then goes home and his wife Fermina Daza, who it is revealed he has had a strained relationship with as they grow old, and you discover that he has become weaker and more infirm as the years have gone by but he still dominates the town
* He has a talking parrot that is quite a local attraction and it escapes and in a moment when it loiters in the trees Urbino climbs up to get it but slips and crashes down to the earth and after telling his wife he loved her more than she knew he dies
* Then the story shifts dramatically as a man steps forward to the widow – Florentino Ariza and declares his undying love for Fermina – and the story goes back to a summer when the two young people were in love and he had asked and had his proposal of marriage accepted
Quite where it will go from here is not clear but that is the beauty of Garcia Marquez…