2018: The Year in Books – ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez

(In the penultimate part of our 2018: The Year in Books series, we look at a book about some people living in the jungle.)

The Award for Most People Called Aureliano In a Single Book

Gabriel García Márquez – One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude is the story of the Buendía family and the (fictional) Colombian town of Macondo, starting with the town’s founding by José Arcadio Buendía and ending with – well, I probably shouldn’t spoil that.

Like fellow 2018 awardee Pachinko, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a multi-generational story of a single family. Its central characters age, have children (or don’t), grow old (or get killed), die (or die), and are replaced by others.

Also like Pachinko, it’s at times absolutely heartbreaking: you watch these people as they grow up, you come to care about deeply, and then suddenly they’re shunted off-screen and you barely have a chance to say goodbye.

This is a novel (at least in part) about how the grand stories of a life eventually fade into tiresome anecdotes endured by bored children, then fade into obscurity, then disappear entirely. How much do you know about your parents’ lives? Probably quite a bit. What about your grandparents? Less so. What about great-grandparents, or further back? All that time, all those stories – lost.

But One Hundred Years of Solitude isn’t a dour story about how sad it is that we all grow old and die. It’s a vibrant, weird, incredibly funny book. The Buendías are fascinating characters, and their idiosyncrasies drive the novel to wonderful places. From José Arcadio Buendía’s obsession with alchemy, to Colonel Aureliano Buendía’s senseless years of guerrilla warfare in the jungle, to an argument years later, where Aureliano Segundo waits patiently as his wife spends three whole pages (without paragraph breaks) complaining about every way she is disrespected and made to suffer, before stepping in and contradicting her after she finally says something ever-so-slightly factually inaccurate.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing style is also a fascinating thing. It’s dense and wordy and poetic, (García Márquez apparently claimed Gregory Rabassa’s English translation was even better than the original Spanish) and as accomplished a work of magical realism as I’ve ever read. The way he blends the ordinary lives of his characters with astonishing moments of the unreal and the supernatural – while treating both as quite normal, quite mundane – elevates both in a way that I can’t put my finger on, so that the whole thing feels dreamlike and gauzy.

The writing is also very easy to get lost in. And since about half of the characters are called Aureliano (nearly all the rest are called José Arcadio, btw) you’re going to want to keep the family tree at the start of the book close to hand, or you’re definitely going to get lost and mix up your Aurelianos and your José Arcadios.

It’s hard to know what to write about One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s such a strange, sprawling book that it’s basically impossible to sum up, or to recommend without just gushing about individual parts. So I’ll let myself gush. Just one paragraph, I promise:

José Arcadio Segundo remembering a massacre of protesters (based on a very real event in modern Colombian history) to the end of his days, while everyone around him forgets. Colonel Aureliano Buendía watching a parade go by. Perhaps the world’s greatest callback, when a police search for fugitives uncovers dozens upon dozens of chamber pots stacked up and forgotten about – and maybe only the reader recalls how they got there. The novel’s opening lines, which I found so beautiful they seared themselves in my brain forever: ‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.’

Oh man, it’s genuinely one of my favourite novels ever. (only barely edged out this year by our final entry in the ‘2018: The Year in Books’ series) I will say that it’s a very specific thing, and that I’m aware of many people who – quite fairly – bounced right off it due to its vagueness and sprawling, confusing storylines and family tree. But please do give it a go. It’s a really, really special book.

 

 

 

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The Red Market Dev Log #11: The Bishop-fish Arrives

In today’s fortnightly dev log: new content for The Red Market, and info on the next few weeks of development.

The Bishop-fish Update:

(click here to play the new update now!)

It’s finally here. The newest member of The Red Market – the Bishop-fish – is finally here.

In this update you’ll be able to purchase your very own Bishop-fish. Purchase it, and much more besides:

  • Research it in dusty tomes.
  • Talk to it
  • Watch it die
  • Bake it into a pie
  • Eat the pie
  • Don’t do the above three things. Instead:
  • Sell it to an unsuspicious collector.
  • Release it into the sea.
  • Cajole it into granting you wishes.
  • Find some more weird secrets.

Create your own story (and hopefully make a profit) with your new friend The Bishop-fish. (friendship not guaranteed)

The Next Few Weeks of Development:

In the next fortnightly sprint I’m going to focus on some back-end changes to the game that will (a) make development smoother and definitely not cause big fires in the code that destroy days of work, and (b) get rid of a fair bit of faff on the part of the player.

Among quite a few extremely un-sexy changes, I’ll be changing the way items work in The Red Market. Whereas before items could be purchased by players, and then used up when interacting with monsters, (feeding offal to a hungry beast, using pencil and paper to communicate with a captive mouthless soul-eating horror, etc.) now they’ll last forever. Players can buy items at the market, and use them again and again without every exhausting their supply.

Originally I made items limited-use to discourage using every item on every monster just to see which interactions were useful, but in the current text-based game it leads to a lot of boring busywork for the player (try to feed monster offal, realise you’ve run out -> navigate to market -> buy offal -> navigate back to monster screen -> feed monster offal), and for me as a developer.

I think in the full, non-just-text version of the game there’ll be a timer system to encourage discovering secret interactions through clever thinking, rather than simply spamming all the items on all the monsters. In the meantime, I’m playing around with a few ideas on how to discourage this boring ‘use all items to see what happens’ style of play.

The End of This Post:

This new update should be live either at the end of the next fortnightly sprint, or the one after that. After that, I’ll be starting work on the next new monster for The Red Market(hint: it has no mouth and it must eat human souls)

Bye for now!

Nick

(And remember, you can follow me on the Definitely Not Awful website Twitter by clicking here. The current early version of The Red Market can be played online here, if you haven’t already.)

 

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2018: The Year in Books – ‘The Only Story’ by Julian Barnes

(In part eight of our 2018: The Year in Books series, we look at first love, and everything it has to answer for.)

The Julian Barnes is Always Very Good Award 

Julian Barnes – The Only Story

The Only Story

My god, Julian Barnes has had a cracking few years (seven counts as a few). 2011 – The Sense of an Ending, the very deserving winner of the Booker Prize. 2013 – Levels of Life, a wonderfully inventive semi-non-fiction book dealing with the death of his wife2016 – The Noise of Time, another brilliant novel, this time following the life of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, and the regret that comes with failing to do the moral – but dangerous – thing. And now 2018 – The Only Story: first love, and its lifelong consequences. Strap yourself in – this book is really something.

The Only Story is the story of Paul – not the story of his life, but the story of his life. As Paul himself says:

‘Most of us have only one story to tell. I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.’

Paul is a teenager on the cusp of university. He meets an older, married woman – Susan – and they quickly become lovers. Immediately we’re set up for a love story – a ‘lovers in a disapproving world’ story. And we get it, but then it – like life – doesn’t stop there.


Just before the above quote, The Only Story starts with these lines:

‘Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less. That is, I think, finally, the only real question.

‘You may point out – correctly – that it isn’t a real question. Because we don’t have the choice. If we had the choice, then there would be a question. But we don’t, so there isn’t. Who can control how much they love? If you can control it, then it isn’t love. I don’t know what you call it instead, but it isn’t love.’

Right out of the gate we have classic Julian Barnes: a mixing of a deep sense of poignant romanticism – the sense that life, and love, are beautiful and meaningful and pure and unquestionably enough to sustain us – with a very English sense of Absolutely Refusing To Take Any Nonsense.

Barnes has a wonderful way of balancing the romantic and the cynical, and not ending up a boring, bitter old git – taking off the rose-coloured glasses, but not forgetting the beauty that one saw through them. In The Only Story we start with that beauty, and then take off the glasses.

(The rest of this review is light on specific spoilers, but gives away a fair bit about the story as a whole. I’d recommend reading the book before continuing, if you’re at all interested.)


Like The Sense of an Ending and The Noise of Time this is a book about looking back on one’s life. In The Only Story we start with Paul’s youth, and his budding romance with Susan – The Older Woman – and his belief that everything will work out for the best, because that’s what love is, right?

You might be forgiven for thinking that Paul and Susan’s relationship will end up just a temporary fling – teach Paul that his illusions about love are just that – childish illusions. But that’s not what happens. They remain together, and then they run away together, and then the story keeps on going.

And throughout the book, Barnes does an amazing job of capturing – in intense emotional detail – the various stages of life, and love, and the loss of that love:

That youthful mindset that can be infuriating to the old – the sense that everything will work out for you, and that those older than you are irrelevant, and incapable of understanding something fundamental that you, in fact, understand perfectly.

That disillusionment that comes with entering the real world, and the eternal sunk cost fallacy of work, or obligations, or a slowly souring relationship. Your brain doing anything possible to avoid dealing with a harsh truth that you should have addressed long ago (it’s love, so it must turn out okay, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s just a temporary thing, let’s just ignore it forever) And then that doesn’t work, and everything falls apart.

That endless, looping self-castigation that comes after an awful mistake, or a suitably broken heart. How could I have pretended everything was fine? Why didn’t I fix it? At least, why didn’t I try harder? How could I have let it all fall apart?

And then finally, a deliberate hardening of one’s heart. In the face of unbearable heartbreak, isn’t it tempting to avoid being hurt by simply feeling less? Shutting oneself off, and refusing to let love or passion into your life. You’ll miss the highest highs, sure, but you’ll also save yourself from those unbearable lows. And when those lows have been so unbearable – and so prolonged – one can be forgiven for thinking that way.


In many of his recent novels, (and as he approached, and passed seventy) Barnes has shown himself to be a master of summing up the entirety of a life. Not every single story that make up that life, but the vital parts, and the ways they change someone.

And not just those parts as they were in the moment, but in hindsight – looking back over the broad span of one’s life and passing judgement. Remembering the brightness of youth, and the anger or dullness of certain grave errors, and the consequences that continued on and on.

The Only Story may be Barnes’ best work – certainly in this respect I think it is. Let’s hope we get a few more out of him before he’s done.

 

 

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