J. M. Coetzee on Gabriel García Márquez

Review of Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Márquez, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman, in the New York Review of Books:

CoetzeeDespite 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.

Is the cat in Memories of My Melancholy Whores just a cat or is it a visitor from the underworld? Does Delgadina come to her lover’s aid on the night of the storm, or does he, under the spell of love, merely imagine her visit? Is this sleeping beauty just a working-class girl earning a few pesos on the side, or is she a creature from another realm where princesses dance all night and fairy helpers perform superhuman labors and maidens are put to sleep by enchantresses? To demand unequivocal answers to questions like these is to mistake the nature of the storyteller’s art. Roman Jakobson liked to remind us of the formula used by traditional storytellers in Majorca as a preamble to their performances: It was and it was not so.

More here.  [Coetzee in photo.]