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Review of "Until August" by Gabriel García Márquez, his final unfinished novel.

Review of “Until August” by Gabriel García Márquez, his final unfinished novel.


Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian Nobel laureate, stated that his unpublished novel “Until August” must be destroyed as it was not working. This statement, unlike a negative review on Amazon or Goodreads, was not a one-star rant but rather a verdict from the award-winning writer himself. The novel, originally written in his 70s and previously shared in parts by the New Yorker in 1999 after a live reading in Madrid with the late José Saramago, was described as a light and playful story.

In his later years and amid his struggle with dementia, author Gabriel García Márquez began working on a novel originally intended to be a five-part series spanning over 600 pages. However, he set it aside to complete his final published novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, in 2005. In 2003, he returned to the novel sporadically before his passing in 2014. According to García Márquez’s sons, his battle with dementia may have affected his ability to complete the novel to his satisfaction, and they have chosen to prioritize the pleasure of readers by disregarding their father’s wishes and allowing Netflix to adapt his famous magic-realism novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which he had previously refused to have adapted.

A postscript at the end of the book explains how the personal and unheroic entertainment currently presented to us – a lively and playful tale of extramarital affairs with underlying themes of mysterious parenting – was created using García Márquez’s fifth draft and a collection of discarded material from previous attempts. The end result is the compelling story of Ana Magdalena Bach, who travels every August from her unnamed country on the coast of the Atlantic to an unnamed Caribbean island where her mother is buried. She takes a ferry to visit her mother’s grave and then returns to her husband, leaving enough time for her annual one-night stand. As seemingly innocent flirtations on the dance floor give way to passionate encounters in a hotel room, Ana is left with bitter regrets that are hilariously revealed during intimate conversations with her spouse.

The most painful moment for Ana Magdalena is when she remembers her first, unforgettable encounter with a man who degrades the memory by giving her a $20 bill as a parting gift. The reader may also cringe at this situation. By the third page, García Márquez has her admiring her own breasts, which have remained round and perky despite having two children. She then eagerly reaches for her lover’s “resting creature”, as translated by Anne McLean. Another partner brings her a sensation of otherworldly pleasure that leaves her drained and inflamed. At the first thrust, she feels as though she has died, comparing herself to a calf being prepared for butchering.

Well… it’s all part of the quirky knockabout vigour that is García Márquez’s storytelling fuel. Madame Bovary this is not: Ana Magdalena’s infidelity isn’t a psychologically complex sating of unmet appetites so much as a way to just plug the book into the mains. When we’re told that she and her husband, an orchestra conductor, make “reckless love… like teenagers” in “assignation motels, sometimes the most refined but just as often the sleaziest, until one night when the place was robbed at gunpoint and they were left stark naked”, the line is typical: what for other novelists might supply an entire plot is for García Márquez merely half a sentence’s throwaway flourish.

Reworded: Similarly, there is a moment when Ana Magdalena realizes that one of her romantic partners is a violent sexual offender, as well as a passage in which she feels the urge to kill him and his lover after encouraging her husband to confess his own betrayal. She describes her desire to carve them into “transparent slices” with a meat guillotine rather than ending their lives quickly with a gunshot.

The novel Until August does not fit into any particular genre. Despite its lively and carefree atmosphere, there is a poignant element when we discover the reason Ana Magdalena’s mother, who was content with being a teacher, wanted to be buried on the island. Her daughter believes it was the elevated view of the cemetery that gave her a sense of companionship in solitude. This speculation is not too far from the truth. The unexpected twist of events offers a surreal ending, unique to García Márquez himself. Despite his agent’s belief that he did not have a conclusion, his editor asserts that he deliberately chose this one in 2010. The satisfyingly symmetrical ending adds a fable-like depth to the gentle and diversionary nature of the novel.

Source: theguardian.com