I am insanely behind on my reading schedule this year. I’m taking part in @blogchatter’s #TBRChallenge and I set myself up with a comfortable 25-book target. However, currently, I don’t think I will be able to make it and I don’t want to psych myself into reading faster or reading just for the heck of it.
This is precisely why when I took a little over two weeks to complete this rather short novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I was a bit upset with myself. I picked this up because I thought it would be the perfect little nugget between two possible substantial reads.
Ah. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Marquez dragged me to a very laid-back Colombian town where the weather was humid, stuffy and absolutely unbearable, while Gurgaon weather, barring a grand total of 2 days of rain, was equally stifling.
The book forced me to break my pace and really brought me in step with its narrative. The town is electrically charged due to politics with the story depicting a very violent period of fighting among different groups. The government may have changed, promising peace and guarantees, but the officials were still the same, setting a tense scene between the corrupt officials and the wary public, always on guard expecting violence to break out any moment. A sense of foreboding hung in the air, along with the suffocating weather. Following the intense humidity, torrential rain and floods, animal carcasses were found at various spots across the town as the floodwaters receded. The stench from a dead cow filled the air, adding another element of oppression.
And making matters much worse were mysterious posters that were being put up on walls and doors, sharing news about the townsfolk that were quite scandalous. While some of these may not even have been true, the people did not like their matters being brought up publicly, they did not want to be the centre of attention and preferred to stay behind the perfect image that they had taken pains to curate. Everyone was under suspicion and the collective paranoia of the people hit another level altogether.
The story opens with the local priest Father Angel, whose helper Trinidad talks about the poster on the lampoon that kept the public buzzing rather than the serenade from the night before. The story gathers pace as a rich lumberman César Montero shoots his wife’s alleged lover, the topic of the said poster, in broad daylight. The town’s mayor, while initially not taking the notices seriously, realises how it could turn detrimental for him as he tries his best to represent the new government responsible for law and order. Not to mention, the toothache that plagues him as he avoids the local dentist with whom he’s at opposite ends of the political arena. This leaves him with little bandwidth to worry about other things.
But with the townsfolk worried, the mayor takes things into his own hands, declaring martial law, enlisting local criminals to find the source of the messages and the story takes an ugly turn. It possibly is the beginning of the ‘evil hour’, as some of the townsfolk feared everything going to hell, their lives being ruined, and that it spelled the beginning of the end.
While Marquez has an undeniable quality of transporting the reader to another realm, I would not say that this book would count as one of my favourites by him. However, he does manage to put me in a trance with his words. Reading his work is such a pleasure. The way he develops his characters, the ambience and the climax – it is quite the feat. Everything seems so real, with real world issues affecting them. The rampant corruption, poverty, complicated relationships, political unrest, revolution… it’s a story that makes me think.
Maybe, just maybe, another issue I may have had with the book is my growing disability in reading fiction. I’ve been reading non-fiction for quite some time, and off late, I’ve found myself reaching out for this genre even more. I seek out works of fiction far less these days possibly because of the way they make me work harder in understanding the setting, which could be real or fantastical or somewhere in the middle. I don’t know what to expect. And because of this uncertainty, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to take the plunge.
Also, my mental health is, and has been for quite some time, all over the place, and reading non-fiction is relatively easy. I don’t have to apply my brain so much. It sounds weird, I know, but I’m working on this. I want a healthy balance in my reading, and I also want to give myself the necessary space when it comes to reading and dealing with a book and its topics. I know am part of a reading challenge, but I will not let the aim sort of breathe down my neck. It’s my wish how I want to navigate my way through this. Somewhere, I am glad my brain hasn’t shut down and I haven’t lost my reading mojo yet, but considering how this year turned out, this could’ve been possible. So I’ll just keep at it and see how it goes.
As always, leaving you with one my favourite quotes from the book.
Header image by Leandro Loureiro from Unsplash