Monday, January 29, 2007

100 Years of Groans

Which is not to say that 100 Years of Solitude has little merit. It is a monumental book, from everything I've read about it. It changed literature, and whether or not I think it is a great book doesn't lessen the importance of its impact on the art of storytelling.

I'm just saying that it's not as good a book as, say, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, two novels by Mervyn Peake. All three books of the Gormenghast trilogy preceded 100 Years of Solitude - Titus Groan was published in 1946, Titus Alone (the last book) in 1959. It's possible that Marquez read them. But really the only similarity between the two books is their epic scope.

100 Years of Solitude is called literature, subclassified as Magical Realism, while Gormenghast is classified as fantasy, even though there are far more magical and supernatural events in 100 Years of Solitude than in either Titus Groan or Gormenghast. (Titus Alone being somewhat of a sci-fi novel, and far inferior to the first two books, I'll leave them out of the discussion.) Both stories take place in mythical places - 100 Years in the fictional village of Macondo, Titus Groan in the sprawling castle of Gormenghast. But Macondo is located in some unnamed Caribbean country, while Gormenghast is set in an entirely fictional world. Therefore, Mervyn Peake is classified a fantasist, while Marquez is an author and his work deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

But of the two works, Titus Groan is superior in every respect. The story is better, as is the storytelling. Peake's imaginative and surprising use of language ranks him among the very best writers of the English language. It's hard for me to judge Marquez because I've never read him in the original Spanish. Perhaps his Spanish is astounding and to be truly appreciated, 100 Years of Solitude must be read in Spanish. I've only read the English translation, and although good, it is no match for Peake's verbal gymnastics. The characters in Titus Groan, fantastic and eccentric as they are, are more believable than the dozen of Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios that are born, live, and die in 100 Years of Solitude.

So, to answer my own questions, I will say that Titus Groan haunts me to this day. If you read the first line and especially the first chapter of the novel I am currently writing, you will see how deeply the book has affected me. I can only dream of one day writing as brilliantly as Peake. And I know that one day I will return to it, if for no other reason than the sheer delight of his language.

No comments: