Writing this has been hard for me, for some reason. It’s weird. You’d think I would be able to write something about Memories of My Melancholy Whores quickly, since I finished it the same day I started. It’s a quick and enjoyable read, and I thoroughly liked it, but whenever I set down to write something about I find myself drawing a blank.
Melancholy Whores is a nice novella from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is now dead. So it goes. When I bought this I was actually looking for Love in the Time of Cholera but it wasn’t available, so I settled for this one. Not that I was disappointed or anything. Half a year later, I finally got around to reading it, and here we are.
I’ve always wanted to read Garcia Marquez, but I never really got the impetus to do it until now. I’ve always thought Garcia Marquez was an author you just had to read, like Kerouac or Hugo. He was part of this circle of literary luminaries that no self-respecting reader would neglect to be familiar with. I haven’t read him, but I somehow knew that I had to read at least something from him. You just had the sense that he was somebody important. Of course, being heralded as the “greatest Colombian who ever lived” helps.
In Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the narrator-slash-main character celebrates his ninetieth birthday by buying a, well, whore. Not just any whore, though; he decides to get a 14 year old virgin. Which is totally fine, sure, everybody should indulge themselves on their birthday. That night, however, he ends up falling in love with her, for the first time in his life.
The thing is, though, the more you read into it, the more you realize that the narrator is not actually in love with Delgadina (that’s the name he gave her and he doesn’t really want to know her real name). He created this image of Delgadina in his mind and that’s the one he’s in love with. The physical form is just convenience, but his real feelings are for his mental picture of her. This is really apparent when he hears her talk for the first time, and he concludes that he’d much rather not hear her talk because it “ruins the immersion”, so to speak. In the climax of the story, they are separated and he weeps, but when they are reunited once again he lashes out at her, because she was dressed like all the other whores in the whorehouse (not her fault, as it turns out).
Garcia Marquez teaches us a great lesson in how ridiculous love can be, and how, ultimately, love is mental. He tells us that love is a state of mind, while lust is something purely physical and separate from love. Garcia Marquez paints a clear line between love and lust, represented by the stages in the narrator’s life. His entire life, the narrator experienced a physical sort of attraction. He had dealings with whores his entire life and his list of conquests was too long that he eventually gave up trying to count. But he knew that that was merely lust and not true love. Sort of like that Gang of Four song.
The dichotomy between love and sex sort of reminds me of Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, actually. The difference in these two, however, is that Garcia Marquez doesn’t try to solve the issue between love and sex. Kundera says that while love and lust are separate, they could co-exist, even if lust can lead to love. Garcia Marquez offers no such hypothesis and simply states that the two are different.
So what is love? Love transcends physicality and resides in the realm of the mind, but what happens when what is real conflicts with what is imagined? It’s a common sentiment: you get this image of something and you hype it up in your mind, but you suddenly realize that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be when you’re faced with the reality of it. James Joyce wrote his stories on the theme of crushing disappointment. The narrator deals with this by ignoring it or by running away, but in the end he comes to accept Delgadina’s “faults”. He comes to accept that yes, the real Delgadina may not be anything like his imagined love, and that doesn’t matter in the slightest. In the end, the narrator accepts Delgadina for who she is, finally happy in the fact that he is in love and that he, too, is loved in return.
There is a quote from Yasunari Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties at the start of the novella. This is significant, not only because both plots involve sleeping whores and protagonists who don’t have sex with them, but because the entire crux of the story revolves around the protagonist’s internal reaction to such a situation. Both stories respect the maiden’s tranquillity. However, while old Eguchi keeps his reactions to himself, focusing instead on his dreams and using the setting to propel himself, Garcia Marquez’ scholar extends outwardly and emotionally, reacting to the sleeping Delgadina with love.
Age is another important theme in the story. The narrator never experienced true love in his youth, only finding it when he’s 90. In that sense, Garcia Marquez is telling us that love is a sign of maturity. Falling in love, real love, means you’re wise enough to understand what that means, or at least, old enough to differentiate love from lust. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Youthful passion is a real thing, and that is an abstract form of love.
People fall in love with ideas all the time, whether it’s in the form of an actual ideology or a hobby or the idea of a person. I think what Gabriel Garcia Marquez is trying to tell us is that the physical form of love; that is, eroticism, is not true love. True love transcends the material and the real and dwells in the mind and in the heart. But more than that, Garcia Marquez is telling us the dangers of love. The fact that love means falling in love with an idea disconnects yourself from reality, and the true test comes from when you are unable to run away from this incongruity any longer. When you can accept this difference between your notions and the reality of the situation, then you’ve understood the true meaning of love. I think that’s what Garcia Marquez is trying to tell us in the end: love means disconnecting yourself from reality and accepting that disconnect.