Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

22nd September 2015

I read Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude also by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I enjoyed and recommend those, particularly the former. And then there’s this.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is a book about where and with whom an old man has dampened his genitals for the last 90 years. Let me spare you the trouble of reading it: Where has his penis been? Brothels. With whom has his penis held court? Prostitutes.

The man narrates, and a virginal, adolescent female protagonist functions only as a symbol. She is literally asleep through the entire novel. Wait. My mistake, there’s one scene where she silently curls into fetal position as the nonagenarian smashes objects around her in a jealous rage. Character development.

Two things I underlined:

“…by eleven the house was left in the bristling silence that follows great catastrophes.”

“I reorganized the library according to the order in which I had read the books.”

New word:

Concupiscence – strong sexual desire; lust. (Similar origin to the word “Cupid.”)

Internet, will you please give me some recommendations on fiction works by female authors and/or books with female protagonists you’ve enjoyed? Hemingway was next in queue, but I’m not sure I can do it.

43 thoughts on “Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  1. Genesis

    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel; Uprooted by Naomi Novik; Among Others by Jo Walton; pretty much anything by Connie Willis, although To Say Nothing of the Dog is my favorite.

  2. Josephine

    Station Eleven! So good that I’m reading it again only eight months after finishing it. Beautifully written, intriguing, quiet story.

  3. Jen

    How about something by Joan Didion, Jhumpa Lahiri or Zadie Smith. Or ‘Tell the Wolves I’m Home’ by Carol Rifka Brunt?

  4. Megan O'Donnell

    I agree with so many of these suggestions! I will add another vote for The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.

  5. Beverly Buys

    I have a great idea for you. I spent one summer reading all the books written by and/or about the wives of Earnest Hemingway. I finished by reading one novel by Hemingway – “The Movable Feast” which is a love story to his first wife and one biography written by his running buddy during the last years of his life. Don’t have list of titles handy but it was a most enjoyable reading summer.

  6. eva

    I just discovered Shirley Jackson and I’m making my way through everything she wrote. She’s like if Henry James was funnier and a woman.

    If you haven’t read anything by her, read the short story The Lottery, and then We Have Always Lived In The Castle. But DON’T read the introduction if you get the newest edition, it’s terrible and spoiler-y.

  7. Katy

    I think Ahab’s Wife or the Stargazer by Sena Jeter Naslund is in order for you. She wrote it on the premise that two of the supposed Great American Novels (Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn) had next to no female characters. Its a thick but engaging read and my most favorite book I’ve read in a long time.

  8. Carrie

    I will second (nth?) Station Eleven and The Night Circus. Also: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, or Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (that is a middle grades book, that you could read with Hank!)

  9. Ian

    I second (or third) Station Eleven and add The Signature of All Things by Gilbert and The Light Between Oceans by Stedman.

  10. kate lu

    I’ll add my voice to the Station Eleven clamor. Also, if you haven’t read “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks, it’s lovely; beautifully written historical fiction with a bit of the feel of a mystery.

  11. Stacy

    Give anything by Pam Houston a try, especially Cowboys Are My Weakness. I just read Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells —- really a lovely read. And for a girl with some spunk and heart, I always head to the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley.

  12. Sarah

    Longbourn by Jo Baker – a retelling of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of the servants in the Bennett house.
    Kindred by Octavia E. Butler – this African-American author is completely under appreciated, Kindred is my favorite of her books, but her entire oeuvre is amazing.
    Both highly recommended!

  13. Kelly

    All of these are super good suggestions!

    Magical Realism:
    Karen Russell – I like her short stories better than Swamplandia, but it’s good too.

    Kelly Link – Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen are fantastic.

    Isabel Allende – she has a light hand with the magical realism, and I absolutely loved House of The Spirits.

    Period Novels with very sensible lady protagonists:

    Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series

    Anything by Sarah Waters – Tipping the Velvet is great, I loved The Night Watch as well.

  14. Katie B

    “This is the story of a happy marriage” (essays by Ann Patchett on writing and life, so wonderful)

    Thanks for asking this, I need a new book and am glad to have these recommendations!

  15. Stacey

    Wow, I wanted to comment specifically to recommend Station Eleven, and I think I’m fifth (sixth? seventh?) in line. Sososo good, please treat yourself! I loved every second of it.

    Also, I’m not sure if you’re into graphic novels, but Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoirs about her parents (Fun Home and Are You My Mother?) are stunning, moving, and incredibly enjoyable to read. They’re quick, and while I was initially unsure about reading a “comic book,” I can definitely say that my worries were unfounded. It’s a great medium and Bechdel nails it.

  16. Ellie

    Fall on Your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald. 4 generations of very interesting women in the Piper family. Late 19th and early 20th century. Starts slow, but if you keep with it through the first 100 pages, you wont put it down again.

  17. erika

    Some favorite recent reads and rereads: The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken, We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, anything and everything by Alice Munro, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, Magic for Beginners and Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell, especially Reeling for the Empire…

  18. Erica

    So many great suggestions! Some recent faves: Euphoria by Lily King, vaguely inspired by Margaret Mead but much sexier. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. And I’ve been burning through the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. It’s a serious commitment, and I can’t say I love every page (or even like, every fifty page chunk) but it’s an incredible depiction of female friendship taking place over decades.

  19. Anne Marie

    Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally. It’s about two sisters from Australia who become nurses during WWII. Honestly, it takes a little bit to get into, but the sisters’ relationship is really interesting to see (as it were) unfold. In many ways, the author keeps you at a distance from his characters, which is frustrating and yet at the same time is intriguing because you find yourself thinking about them and wondering about their inner lives. It’s just a unique book and one that gives you so much to ponder. It’s not always an easy read, but I guarantee that you’ll think about some of the scenes months later.

  20. samantha

    I’d add a vote for “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” along with the Lunar Chronicles series for some solid female-based YA. I’m in the middle of Judy Blume’s new book for grownups and it’s pretty good as well.

  21. phaedra

    Second the recommendation for anything by Alice Munro. I recently read Dear Life and Moons of Jupiter and re-read The Love of a Good Woman.

  22. Elizabeth

    The Tiger’s Wife, by Tea Obreht; Ann Patchett’s first four books; anything by Jhumpa Lahiri; any of Marilynne Robinson’s novels. Those ladies will keep you company for a little while.

  23. MIss B

    Lorrie Moore — anything and everything, but “Anagrams” and her first two short story collections are my particular favorites

    “Landline” by Rainbow Rowell

    “Vivian Apple At The End Of The World” by Katie Coyle (it’s technically YA, but so so good)

    “In The Woods” by Tana French (detective-y/murder-y, and beautifully written)

    “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt (I loooved “The Goldfinch”, also, but it got a lot of — undeserved — panning, too, when it came out)

  24. Nicole

    Thanks, everyone for the recommendations – my “to read” list has just been lusciously replenished!

    I second (or whatever number we’re on) Station Eleven, Euphoria, We’re All Completely Beside Ourselves, The Night Circus, Ahab’s Wife, The Golem and the Jinni

    Also: Hild, The Crane Wife, The Invention of Wings, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and sequels (YA, but worth reading),

  25. Courtney

    Station Eleven, Franny & Zooey, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Anna Karenina

  26. Amb

    I’m just gonna throw in the book I recommend whenever anyone asks for book recs, because it is amazing: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne Valente. It’s not as….whatever…as it sounds, I swear. I’m also just gonna drop this sweet little quote from the book here:

    “Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

    And one more, because it is now officially autumn and I love a good description of autumn.

    “I suppose you think you know what autumn looks like. Even if you live in the Los Angeles dreamed of by September’s schoolmates, you have surely seen postcards and photographs of the kind of autumn I mean. The trees go all red and blazing orange and gold, and wood fires burn at night so everything smells of crisp branches. The world rolls about delightedly in a heap of cider and candy and apples and pumpkins and cold stars rush by through wispy, ragged clouds, past a moon like a bony knee. You have, no doubt, experienced a Halloween or two.

    Autumn in Fairyland is all that, of course. You would never feel cheated by the colors of a Fairyland Forest or the morbidity of a Fairyland moon. And the Halloween masks! Oh, how they glitter, how they curl, how their beaks and jaws hook and barb! But to wander through autumn in Fairyland is to look into a murky pool, seeing only a hazy reflection of the Autumn Provinces’ eternal fall. And human autumn is but a cast-off photograph of that reflecting pool, half burnt and drifting through the space between us and Fairyland.

    And so I may tell you that the leaves began to turn red as September and her friends rushed through the suddenly cold air on their snorting, roaring high wheels, and you might believe me. But no red you have ever seen could touch the crimson bleed of the trees in that place. No oak gnarled and orange with October is half as bright as the boughs that bent over September’s head, dropping their hard, sweet acorns into her spinning spokes. But you must try as hard as you can. Squeeze your eyes closed, as tight as you can, and think of all your favorite autumns, crisp and perfect, all bound up together like a stack of cards. That is what it is like, the awful, wonderful brightness of Fairy colors. Try to smell the hard, pale wood sending up sharp, green smoke into the afternoon. To feel the mellow, golden sun on your skin, more gentle and cozier and more golden than even the light of your favorite reading nook at the close of the day.”

    Oh, I need to go reread it right now!

  27. Kizz

    Have you read Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles? 6 books. My desert island collection. Dense and swashbuckling all at once.

  28. Grey

    Love these comments! So many new books to check out.

    Maggie, I whole heartedly second the vote for We Are All Completely beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s female centered but also explores the questions of what it means to be human and how our memories impact the way we relate to our families. Highly recommend.

  29. Sarah K

    So fun! What a great comment thread!
    I’ll add almost anything by Rachel Cusk – not everyone’s cup of tea, but she’s a great writer. Also Aimee Bender if you want magical realism – An Invisible Sign of my Own broke my heart in the best way.

  30. Wendy

    Seconding above recommendations for The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht and anything and everything by Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping is more female centered, Gilead is not, but it’s wonderful and then the other two are set in the same environment as Gilead; Lila is wonderful.)

    For classics, Edith Wharton.

    I also really liked Dept Of Speculation by Jenny Offill.

  31. Rachel Binnington

    Amy Bloom: Love Invents Us, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, etc.

    Laurie Cowlin

    Pam Houston

    Kate Atkinson

    Of course, now my list to read is longer! :)

  32. kym b

    Have you read “The Paris Wife”? I’m sure you have, but if not – you can get your Hemingway & a strong female writer. So good.
    I love GGM, but that book sounds truly awful.

  33. Gabi

    Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Do it, Maggie. You will love heroine Katey Kontent and all of the language that goes with her.

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