Anything bearing the title Memories of My Melancholy Whores must be disturbing and disgusting. Anything bearing the title Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez might be disturbing and disgusting, but will surely be worth reading.

I would assume that anyone in their right mind would wish for health on their 90th birthday. However, Marquez’s nameless protagonist is a little bit unorthodox:

The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.

And so from the first sentence Marquez shocks any self-virtuous reader away from the novella. Memories of My Melancholy Whores is an account of the miserable and sad life of an ugly and somewhat untalented journalist. Ever since the tender age of 12, when he lost his virginity, he has only known the caress of whores:

I have never gone to bed with a woman I didn’t pay … by the time I was fifty there were 514 women with whom I had been at least once … 

However impressive this number might be, it still doesn’t beat Florentino Ariza’s achievement.  For half a century he managed to sleep with 600 women while patiently waiting for Fermina Daza. In Memories of My Melancholy Whores, though, Garcia explores a sort of Lolita-type of love. The old man has never married and has never been in love but upon seeing the poor virgin, who is to become his present, for the first time in his life he falls madly in life, which of course leads to memories about all the (514!) women that have passed through his bed. The novella is following the passion of an old man towards a teenage girl, whom he kisses, caresses, pets, but never sleeps with. He actually doesn’t even speak to her. The girl is almost always asleep while the old man admires her and we never actually hear her speak.  Giving her a voice would mean depriving her from her virginity. In order to be the model of this unrequited love, she needs to be blank, listless, ephemeral, merely existing in her sleep for the satisfaction of the old man’s dream.

I must admit the mere topic of the book is disgusting – and I do understand why it appeals more to men than to women. To appreciate it though (just like Lolitaone must get rid of any sense of social and ethical norms and just enjoy the beautifully written prose. Marquez once again skillfully delves into the human soul, attempting to decipher for us what happens in the head of a man madly in love…even in love with the wrong person and for the wrong reasons. Memories of My Melancholy Whores and Of Love and Other Demons both explore the painful infatuation of an older man with a young girl, the torments through which his soul travels, and the eventual realisation that it is always better to die for, or out of, love, than never to love at all. As Marquez puts it:

Don’t let yourself die without knowing the wonder of fucking with love.

More from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: 

Strange Pilgrims

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Of Love and Other Demons

Love in the Time of Cholera

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Other favourite quotes: 

I discovered that my obsession for having each thing in the right place, each subject at the right time, each word in the right style, was not well-deserved reward of an ordered mind but just the opposite: a complete system of pretense invented by me to hide the disorder of my nature. I discovered that I am not disciplined out of virtue but as a reaction to my negligence, that I appear generous in order to conceal my meanness, that I passed myself off as prudent because I am evil-minded, that I am conciliatory in order not to succumb to my repressed rage, that I am punctual only to hide how little I care about other people’s time. I learned, in short, that love is not a condition of the spirit but a sign of the zodiac.