Book Of A Lifetime: One Hundred Years of Solitude, By Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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The Independent Culture

It may come as a great shock to my readers to discover that I wasn't always the elegantly dressed, highly attuned citizen of the world they have come to know. Far from it. In fact, for some time I was a quite clearly deranged wild-haired youth dressed in motley and living in hippie squalor in the gatehouse to a castle on the Hudson, in company with three dogs and three glowing specimens of my own species.

I was experiencing nature. And reading. (As well as other things it would be impolite to mention in a family newspaper.) In that period I came across the magical realists of Latin America: Borges, Cortazar, Asturias, Garcia Marquez.

I can still recall the excitement of stretching out my long undernourished frame on a very doggy sofa in front of the fire and coming upon the exquisite opening sentence (which I am quoting from the very copy I then held, which is, as you can imagine, much the worse for wear): "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

This is the sort of opening that effervesces in the reader's brain (Firing squad? Discover ice?) and, of course, it leads on to one of the most original and pleasingly interleafed narratives our literature has yet given us. The narrative of One Hundred Years of Solitude, convoluted in the way of history, takes us through a hundred years in the life of the Colombian village of Macondo, which is wrenched into the modern world through a series of wars, revolutions and dictatorships, as well as the incursion of an exploitative American banana company.

All this is seen against the various generations of the Buendia family, whose children and children's children share the characteristics, personalities and – wonderfully, because this keeps the reader on his or her toes – the names of their forebears. Not only does the intrepid author give us the history of a family but he gives us the history of his country too, and always with a playful sense of myth and magic that makes the novel read, quite credibly, like a creation myth, replete with religious iconography. I think of the stunning Remedios the Beauty, who happens to be so innocent as to be mentally challenged and rises up to heaven like the Virgin Mary herself.

All this excited me no end. I was just then beginning to fumble toward discovering myself as a fiction writer then, and plunging into Gabriel Garcia Marquez was as jaw-dropping an experience as plunging into the sea with mask and snorkel and for the first time seeing revealed all the secrets and beauties that lie beneath.

T C Boyle's latest novel is 'The Women' (Bloomsbury)

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