Nobel Laureate Garcia Marquez dies
The influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the great Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate who died on Thursday, on Australian writing is something that should not be underestimated.
Garcia Marquez is best known for novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, No One Writes to the Colonel and Autumn of the Pat-riarch. And he is most closely identified with the technique known as “magical realism”.
Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan, author most recently of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, said it was hard to conceive of Australian literature as it is now without Garcia Marquez’s books.
“You couldn’t have had Peter Carey’s great works, you couldn’t have had Cloudstreet, you couldn’t have had a lot of other people. It’s hard to imagine any of those books were possible without the revolution that Marquez ushered in for the novel.”
Flanagan said what Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers were grappling with in their writing was how to reconcile the great European and North American traditions of the novel with worlds that had a fundamentally different experience and make an art that didn’t seek to ape that of Europea and North America. “For me he was a liberation because in his Macondo (the setting of One Hundred Years) I saw my Tasmania.”
It’s a view with which Carey concurs: “Garcia Marquez changed the way I wrote. He opened a door that I had just been hammering on. He wrote about his place in a way that was new and fresh and completely different. I was struggling to do the same thing about my own country and he was completely inspirational.”
Speaking from his home in New York, Carey, whose new novel, Amnesia, will be published in October, said he misunderstood a lot of what Garcia Marquez did, thinking often that he was inventing things that were actually firmly grounded in his life.
“But like many other people misunderstanding him and reading and being thrilled by – he changed how we wrote. The truly great writers feed and change the people who come after them and they are kept alive by the love of succeeding generations of writers who are really nurtured by them.”
According to Flanagan, Garcia Marquez had reunited the great radical art of the novel with a popular audience. “He understood magical realism as a true realism. He understood that conventional realism was insufficient to describe the dreams and nightmares and the ways people actually experienced life and the utterly extraordinary world of every day of Latin America.”
Because Garcia Marquez was grounded in the idea of journalism – he worked as one for several years in Colombia and in Europe – he always said he invented nothing. According to Flanagan, the Anglo world’s misreading of magical realism led to “a very maudlin and sentimental idea of the invention of the fabulous. It led to an enormous amount of bad writing and bad books.”
Last year’s Miles Franklin winner, Michelle de Kretser, said she preferred the Colombian’s earlier books. “Things like No One Writes to the Colonel is absolutely wonderful. What I liked about them partly was that they opened a whole world to me.”
But she agreed that while magical realism became something of a fad – “I didn’t like it in the work of people like Isabel Allende” – what Garcia Marquez did was extraordinary. “I always thought it was closely connected to a child’s point of view. So in the way a child sees fantasy and reality as one and the same. And also the tendency to hyperbole and exaggeration, which is very typical of the way a child sees the world.”
Flanagan said magical realism had been a response to social realism, which Garcia Marquez and other Latin American writers, who were ideologically of the left, felt had crippled them artistically but also politically.
“Unless you could acknowledge the fullness of human experience you couldn’t actually achieve a true liberating and revolutionary politics. So the politics demanded a different art and the different art demanded a different politics.”
At its base magical realism was a respect for their own experience and that idea didn’t exist in either social realism or in the work of people who tried to ape the European or North American novel.
“We were no different in Australia,” Flanagan said. “We were obsessed with writing books that were death masks of fashions and ideas and experiences elsewhere. What you got from Garcia Marquez and the Latin Americans was that you had to go into your experience on its own terms.”