Love in the Time of Cholera | Gabriel García Márquez
I couldn’t rant about this without including some spoilers, so SPOILER ALERT.
The premise: Fermina Daza rejects the affections of Florentino Ariza as a teenager and, after a few years, marries Doctor Juvenal Urbino instead. When her husband dies, Florentino finds his way back to her and confesses that almost fifty years later, he is still in love with her.
I was interested to see the first romance and what could have caused the inevitable tragedy of Fermina and Florentino’s separation and Fermina’s eventual marriage to a different man. However the original love story is not a flame that would last half a century. It happens across a series of secret love letters between the protagonists and fizzles out as Fermina Daza rejects Florentino almost on a whim. Her character is such that she starts talking to Florentino impulsively (after showing zero interest) and she then rejects him just as impulsively and accepts the Doctor’s marriage proposal somewhat out of the blue. But this also seems very natural for a young teenager to make such fickle decisions.
The major issue I have is Florentino’s depiction. He is obsessive, vowing to wait for Fermina until the day her husband dies. He spends the intervening years sleeping with as many women as he can, described to fall in and out of love briefly but frequently in a bid to forget Fermina for periods of time. As a result his character appears heartless, using women left, right and centre, on one occasion chasing after a married woman who is murdered by her husband when he discovers their affair.
Fermina Daza, although stubborn and snooty, is quite likeable but we see very little of her compared to the men in her life. It appears that she marries Urbino on a gut feeling because he is different and this ends up benefitting her as she reaps the rewards of his status and money. Their marriage is a realistic depiction of spousal love with ups and downs throughout their decades together.
Love is described as fleeting, as intense and passionate and above all interlocked with sex in this book. The intention, I believe, is to explore love in a way that presents its flaws and contradictions, to recognise that love can be shallow and appear in many forms. However many depictions of “love” are highly problematic throughout the text.
There are two instances of rape and both presented as lovemaking. In the first a man is raped by a woman; the man then fantasises about the woman who he believes is his potential rapist. The second rape involves a man raping a woman after which she is described to be so madly in love with her attacker that she feels that no one else can ever compare. There is also a description of sexual assault that is also passed off as a lovemaking session and the final, possibly worst offender, is in the last fifty pages or so. Florentino’s last lover before he attempts to woo Fermina Daza again is his 14-year-old ward. He is clearly described to have groomed and manipulated her to the point that when he eventually rejects her Fermina, she commits suicide.
However the book itself is beautifully and poetically written, although it takes a little while to get into. The storytelling is not quite linear. While overall the plot progresses fairly well, swathes of the book have backstories scattered everywhere. Rather than focusing on an event, Marquez chooses to focus on a character and goes into how he or she has experienced love in the past few years. The story passes much more slowly as a result with Marquez dipping in parts of the characters history and past with anecdotes whenever he feels like dropping them in. There are also dashes of racism scattered throughout the book with black women in particular being looked down upon in this city. Though it was difficult to determine whether this was a commentary on his characters or a reflection on the author’s own opinions.
Overall, I was disappointed with Love in the Time of Cholera and I would not recommend reading it. (I was also disappointed with the pale white lady on the front cover of my library copy that was supposed to represent the Colombian Fermina Daza but that’s not Márquez, that’s something Penguin should have spotted.)