Memories of my melancholy whores: a novel
The first novel in ten years by Gabriel García Márquez (currently living in Mexico City) begins with this sentence: "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin."
The narrator, a self-described "mediocre journalist who had been a finalist four times in the Poetic Competition, the Juegos Florales, of Cartagena de Indias, and a favorite of caricaturists because of my exemplary ugliness," still writes a weekly column for his local paper, El Diario de la Paz. His "real life" had been lived in the red-light district, where he had been "twice crowned client of the year."
He wakes on the morning of his ninetieth birthday, determined to write a birthday column that "would not be the usual lament for the years that were gone, but just the opposite: a glorification of old age. I began by wondering when I had become aware of being old, and I believe it was only a short time before that day."
The narrator had never gone to bed with a woman he didn't pay, and "By the time I was fifty there were 514 women with whom I had been at least once." Not having been with a woman for years, he decides, on the eve of his ninetieth birthday, to call up his old Madam and friend, Rosa Cabarcas, and order a fourteen-year-old virgin. He dresses in his "white linen suit, blue-striped shirt with a collar stiffened by starch, a tie of Chinese silk," but as he is walking toward the shop where he is to meet the young virgin, "I glanced at myself in the lighted windows, and I didn't look the way I felt but older, dressed in shabbier clothes."
On the afternoon of his birthday he heads to the paper where the staff has a celebration of his ninety years prepared: "The secretaries presented me with three pairs of silk undershorts printed with kisses, and a card in which they offered to remove them for me. It occurred to me that among the charms of old age are the provocations our young female friends permit themselves because they think we are out of commission."
This short (115 pages) novel is filled with delightful insights about aging and about love and about eros. Our narrator begins to realize that he has never really been in love, but at age ninety his heart leaps up and takes him by the hand to lead him to a new and magical experience. With almost a century of life behind him, he begins for the first time to feel what love really is, and suddenly he is swept away by the wildness of it and is delirious in his happiness: "I felt myself overflowing with a radiant joy."
The erotic passages are delicate, sensuous, and sweet.
"I kissed her all over her body until I was breathless: her spine, vertebra by vertebra, down to her languid buttocks, the side with the mole, the side of her inexhaustible heart. As I kissed her the heat of her body increased, and it exhaled a wild, untamed fragrance. She responded with new vibrations along every inch of her skin, and on each one I found a distinctive heat, a unique taste, a different moan, and her entire body resonated inside with an arpeggio, and her nipples opened and flowered without being touched."
Gabriel García Márquez is best known for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Love in the Time of Cholera (which I once carried with me to Cartegena, Colombia, the setting of the novel… and, incidentally, a city of lovely whores). This new short novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, told with elegance and grace, leaves the reader with a sense of something pure and moving and poignant, and very human.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores -
By Gabriel García Márquez
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
Available from Amazon Books: Paperback