Wednesday, August 1, 2012

La Mala Hora

More Gabriel García Márquez for your delight. La Mala Hora. In a coastal town- in Colombia, we assume- someone is putting up signs on the walls of houses, causing a murder which opens the book. The mayor has had an agonizing toothache for several days but can’t go to the dentist because he is a political enemy who refused to leave town when told it was in his best interests to do so, and fills teeth with a gun on his tray.

The new judge has only just started work months after taking up office, and the mayor doesn’t trust him. The parish priest is interested in the souls of his parishioners almost to the exclusion of politics. No one knows who is putting up the posters but they become an excuse for the mayor to return to his previous tyrannical ways, a curfew is declared under threat of death, the thugs hired as policemen, for a while confined to barracks, are let loose on the streets, innocents are arrested because someone has to be, conspiracies abound. There is little justice, little law and little religion.

There are few diversions. The priest rings a bell to tell the people when the film starting at the cinema is immoral, and notes the names of those who go in anyway. The circus comes to town just as the curfew is declared, and the mayor is inflexible, even after bartering with the virtue of the fortune-teller. Sex, beer and political hatred are the only real entertainments, and those who have the thick hide and the strong stomach indulge them freely.

The mayor has tried, we are told, to be a little more relaxed about things, but the people are obstinately unwilling to be dictated to unless threatened with death, and even then they are not all as compliant as they might be. So the people are enslaved, impoverished and murdered in the name of the people, a rhetorical trick that bloodstained tyrants have been pulling off throughout the 20th C, and GGM’s good friend Fidel has provided him with a fine example of how these things are done.

This is the purist realism, no magic here. You can feel the heat and taste the dust, and the beer it’s washed away with. You stand beside the characters as they speak and act, you are cowed by their fear, shocked and inflamed by their hatred, and inspired by their courage.

You finish the book with the sense of having lived through it, and you close it, guilty that you must abandon them to the arbitrary whims of the brutal mayor.

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