Coetzee on Marquez

In the NYRB, J M Coetzee examines Garcia Marquez’ Memories of My Melancholy Whores, via Kawabata, Cervantes and company:

There is always something unmotivated about conversion experiences: it is of their essence that the sinner should be so blinded by lust or greed or pride that the psychic logic leading to the turning point in his life becomes visible to him only in retrospect, when his eyes have been opened. So there is a degree of inbuilt incompatibility between the conversion narrative and the modern novel, as perfected in the eighteenth century, with its emphasis on character rather than on soul and its brief to show step by step, without wild leaps and supernatural interventions, how the one who used to be called the hero or heroine but is now more appropriately called the central character travels his or her road from beginning to end.
Despite having the tag “magic realist” attached to him, García Márquez works very much in the tradition of psychological realism, with its premise that the workings of the individual psyche have a logic that is capable of being tracked. He himself has remarked that his so-called magic realism is simply a matter of telling hard-to-believe stories with a straight face, a trick he learned from his grandmother in Cartagena; furthermore, that what outsiders find hard to believe in his stories is often commonplace Latin American reality. Whether we find this plea disingenuous or not, the fact is that the mixing of the fantastical and the real—or, to be more precise, the elision of the either-or holding “fantasy” and “reality” apart—that caused such a stir when One Hundred Years of Solitude came out in 1967 has become commonplace in the novel well beyond the borders of Latin America.





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