21 February 2008

Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, & Jonathan Cape, London: 1970.

Current Selling Prices
$450-$2000 /£220-£1000

This book has sold over 36 million copies. An epic tale, a long narrative fiction said to metaphorically encompass the history of Marquez's native Colombia even the whole of Latin America. It is considered García Márquez's masterpiece -the New York Times described it as "the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." As I recall the same sort of thing was said about 'Trainspotting' - 'the best book ever written by man or woman.' The novel is the history of the founding, development, and death of a human settlement, Macondo (said to be based on GGM's home town Aracataca) and of the most important family in that town, the Buendias.

A great backpacker classic constantly recommended and passed around. Often cited as the greatest of all Latin American novels but forever associated with the now slightly tired Magic Realist school of writing, Marquez (known to his devotees as 'Gabo') and his masterpiece are beginning to be re-evaluated. The Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolano denounced him as a kind of cultivated sellout who was “thrilled to know so many presidents and archbishops" and added that most Nobel Prize winners were 'jerks'. He also famously declared that magic realism 'stinks.' Sadly Bolano left the planet in 2003 aged 50; his great spirit and courage are much missed.

VALUE? You want the American edition, for some reason (probably to do with Americans having more money) it sells for at least twice the price of the London printing. You also want the first state of the U.S. edition to get over $1500. This is generally recognized to be an exclamation point / mark at the end of the first paragraph on the front flap--after the word 'America'. There are copies on ABE as high as $3000 and no fine copies for less than $2000. In auction it has made as much as $3000 (2002) in less than fine first state jacket, 2006/2007 results however see it making $1500 or so, possibly indicative of a softening of prices.

The British edition (above) unless immaculate, faultless and pristine struggles towards £200. A part time UK dealer I knew in the 90s sent his copy to Marquez asking for a signature and the book came back a few months later with a fullsome signature. Even then it was a £1000 book signed, now possibly double or more. By the way sending books to authors for signing is something of a gamble - Thomas Hardy used to keep all the books sent to him neatly shelved in a spare room. The true first 'Cien Anos de Soledad (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1967) makes about $3000. A fragile book, although 5000 were printed most were 'read to ruin'--signed copies can be seen on the web at $10000, although auction records only show a high of $3000 for a signed Buenos Aires first--condition may have had something to do with it ('old tape stains, a few creases, soiling, faint writing impressions to covers, front cover fragile with front joint splitting at bottom, some of spine lettering retouched...')

Outlook? Uncertain, possibly choppy - the book may be the Don Quixote of the future and make magic sums of money or it may have hit a ceilling. The book has pride of place in the mostly predictable selection '1001 Books You Must Read Before You Expire...' (Waterstones' bible--see below) and has been on many other 'greatest ever' lists. There are boxloads of U.S. firsts out there for sale right now and critics are starting to put the boot in to Magic Realism and even Gabo himself. Jonathan Bate in a Sunday Telegraph series ”Which are the most overrated authors, or books, of the past 1,000 years? wrote:-
'...The book is so in love with its own cleverness that it is profoundly unreadable. It is generally credited with inaugurating the genre of "magic realism" novels which combine the matter-of-fact narrative style of conventional realistic fiction with fantastic nonsense such as levitation and alchemy. García Márquez is at his most characteristic when a woman ascends to heaven whilst hanging her washing out on the line. Other ingredients of magic realism include gypsies, tarts with hearts, dwarves, tricksters and a cast so large and confusing that you need a family tree to keep track of the plot. Márquez and his followers are sophisticated urban intellectuals who feign reverence for the simple wisdom of peasants. Myth, fairytale and folklore are wonderful things in themselves, but it is preposterous to imagine that mingling them with domestic mundanity will somehow puncture the bourgeois complacency of our time.
Let us hope that One Hundred Years of Solitude will not generate one hundred years of overwritten, overlong, overrated novels. Enough that it has already inspired such excrescences as Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.'


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the American is more collectible because of its attractively Gauguinesque cover?

The British cover looks like a rubbishy child's portrait of the famous Colombian campesino Juan Valdez.

Lizzy said...

Do you happen to know how many copies were there in the original printing of the American edition by Harper and Row in 1970? And how Harper and Row gained such an acquisition?

Bookride said...

Sorry no and no again--you might try Dogpile (better than google) N

Anonymous said...

God how I hate this book. Also anyone who enthuses about it. This Bolano chap sounds great.

Anonymous said...

You are a poop, Anonymous.