Love in the Time of Cholera: Book Review

The reason I finally read Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is kind of silly.  My wife likes to watch a show called “How I Met Your Mother” (passably funny, but each of the characters kind of bug and annoy me in their own special way.  Except for the Barney character, played uproariously by Neil Patrick Harris.  He may be more universally known for his role as Doogie Howser, M.D., but the Doogster’s got nothing on B-Dawg.  Television gold).

Anyway, the main character, Ted Mosby, a hopeless romantic, sappy as the day is long, and, truth be told, sort of whiny and pathetic, has, in one episode, found the perfect woman.  Included on his laundry list of perfect qualities was the fact that her favorite book was, you guessed it, Love in the Time of Cholera.

I had heard of the book before, it’s got a catchy title, but I thought this reference was sort of cliche and calculated.  So I decided to prove that Ted Mosby, fictional though he may be, is a poser and a tool.

The book starts out…bizarre.  There is a lot of detailed description of convalescence and geriatric care.  Cleaning and the application of powders and massages and…I didn’t know quite what to do with that.  It made me sort of…uncomfortable.  And the book, for me anyway, starts out S-L-O-W.  Not quite Atonement slow, but close.  And Marquez’s writing style is very unique.  I don’t know how to describe it other than ornate and beautiful certainly, but not immediately digestible.  I found myself having to read certain sentences, even certain parts of sentences, over and over again before they made sense.  This got easier as the book went on.  I don’t know if this is because his writing changes, I got used to it, or I just, of necessity, stopped caring as much about catching every little thing.

The names certainly didn’t help.  Every character has a long, elaborate name, and they get mentioned by that entire name every single time they are referenced.  It gets tiresome.  And on top of that, many of the names are strikingly similar, even the two main characters in the book.  If I didn’t know enough about Romance languages to understand that masculine names typically end in “o” and feminine names typically end in “a,” I still wouldn’t know who was in love with whom.

Also, the “cholera” stuff threw me.  Because there was hardly any reference to it.  You have a book with “cholera” in the title, and even claims to be taking place “in the time of cholera,” I don’t know.  You expect more cholera.  Just a couple passing references (some unfortunate bathroom issues here, some bodies floating casually down the river there).  I’m not complaining; who wants a detailed description of cholera?  Nobody.  Just an observation.

The author, on a number of occasions, specifically mentions certain characters “finally realizing the reality of death” or “coming to the realization that death is an actuality.”  I don’t deny the veracity of these statements, but it just struck me as more morbid than I wanted to deal with at the time.

There are references to love throughout, but I don’t even know  if I would call it a love story.  There is a lot of unrequited love and loneliness and sadness and moral depravity and perversion.  Interesting, certainly, but not very redeeming.  The story, once I got used to it, was beautiful and full of passion and devotion, but it was also sort of unsettling and shed an ugly light on the dark underbelly of human nature.  Greed.  Lust.  Meanness.  Selfishness.  Pride.

I don’t know that loving someone helplessly that gives you nothing in return for over 50 years is admirable.  I think it’s sort of pathetic.  And I even consider myself a romantic.  But come on.  Maybe it is just a fundamental misunderstanding of Latin love.  But it sometimes does not seem very masculine, or macho.

In fairness, I did enjoy the book, perhaps more than my review so far would indicate.  The language and imagery is exquisite, and there is an undeniable depth to the emotions, even if I don’t identify with them.  Actually, I was a little bit disturbed by how much I did identify with Florentino Ariza sometimes.  I too can be a perpetually lovesick puppy.

Completely unrelated, but the best quote of the book: “A man should have two wives: one to love and one to sew on his buttons.”  Don’t shoot the messenger, but you’ve got to admit, that’s some funny stuff.

So the verdict is in, and I think Ted Mosby is a fraud (or at least the writers are).  It’s a good book, worth reading, but I doubt it’s anyone’s favorite.  And P.S., if you actually did meet a girl that claimed this was her favorite book, you should probably head for the hills.  Sure, she might be into some freaky stuff, and she will eventually take good care of you, but she is going to make you chase her for decades first, and who wants to deal with that?

3 thoughts on “Love in the Time of Cholera: Book Review

  1. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, but I laughed about “every single name, every single time.”

    I don’t know if I noticed it reading Marquez, but the patronymics are all I can see when I read Tolstoy and the other Russians. Four names minimum, and they must be mentioned every other paragraph. It’s easier on audio.

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