…………………..It’s Basildon in Essex. It’s 1990. I’ve just come back from living in Spain to pick up my teaching career again. Apart from flip flops, shorts and a Sony Walkman, my only other possessions are my books. But they are being shipped back and won’t arrive in Essex for weeks (in actual fact it turned out to be months – I think they were shipped from Tenerife to Essex via the Galapagos Islands or somewhere). And Basildon isn’t a hive of bookshops or literature! There is a library and its a great one – but there’s not the same feel in a borrowed book as in a book you possess and own and put on your shelf! And then salvation arrives in the form of a mail order book club advert in the press – and its sponsored by Gabriel Garcia Marquez of all people!!!
Well actually it wasn’t exactly sponsored by him – but it did give you a choice of 6 free books (imagine, books for nothing!!) and on the page of choices was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘The General In His Labyrinth’. A free book was one thing – a free Gabriel Garcia Marquez was something else entirely. I signed up.
When my 6 free books arrived I went straight to Marquez and it was fantastic. I loved ‘The General’. If anything I still think ‘The General’ is my favourite book of his and I sometimes wonder if I have that extra fondness for it because I got it (a) for free and (b) at a time when my books were in a ships hold somewhere off the coast of Africa!
So I was really sorry this morning to read that Gabriel Marcia Marquez had died after illness. His books brought me such a lot of enjoyment . His books were also in some ways books I grew up with and in my more fanciful moments I do think his books might have influenced me as I grew up. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was about 15, after it was put into my hand by my English Lit teacher Mrs McFarlane with the words “Read this. You’ll like it”. And I did. I read The General in my late twenties. I read others into my thirties and beyond.
Marquez was one of those authors who moved on my taste in books. Through him, and a few others, I got beyond the “plot” and started to focus as I read on the people I was reading about more than I focused on what they did or what happened to them. That’s what I remember most about Marquez books – the people. His books were often magical such as with the world of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude,but the characters were always large and real, full of contradictions, hopes, fears, anger and of course love. I’ve read at least ten of his books and I’ve loved every single one of them. But as I say, perhaps I love the General most of all.
There was of course a small print in that book club offer. You had to buy at least one book a month. Some months had stuff I liked and could happily choose. Other months I just had to grin and bear it. But it was worth it I think, in no small part due to getting my hands on “The General”.
I’ve loved reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez over the years. His books have made me think, made me feel so many different things, they’ve pushed the cause of social justice, and they’ve always given me the chance to put them down the second I finish them and say out loud one of my favourite words – “TERRIFIC”. So thank you Gabriel Garcia Marquez and may you rest in peace.