A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The angel was no less standoffish with him than with other mortals, but he tolerated the most ingenious infamies with the patiences of a dog who had no illusions.

I devoured Memories of my Melancholy Whores when it came out, even then, I was not expecting more from one of my favourite authors, so when I saw A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings in Foyle’s I didn’t hesitate picking it up.  I did pause however when I realised it was extremely thin, containing the title story and The Sea of Lost Time. So long has been the time since I read his books, that while writing this review I realised that I had read both of these before, and in fact owned them already, in my edition of his collected stories.

In A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, an Angel crash lands in Pelayo’s yard and becomes a circus style attraction, after he is locked in a hen coop to prevent him taking a young baby.  News soon spreads and Father Gonzaga appeals to the Bishops and down the chain to the pope, hoping to confirm that the old man with the tattered wings was in fact an imposter.  It is not Papal interference but carnival that ends the fascination with the angel when a woman who was turned into a spider rolls into town and steals the inhabitants imagination.

The Sea of Lost time is just as melancholy, as Old Jacob’s wife wakes up after smelling roses and is convinced she is going to die.  Old Jacob gets Tobias to try and convince her that he also smelt the roses, and that the smell came from the sea.  Later the mysterious Mr Herbert comes to town and tries to help the residents solve their problems by handing out exactly the amount of money they need, and OldJacob see’s a way to leave the town, while Tobias tries to convince his wife Clotilde of the marvels he has seen with Mr Herbert.

It’s been a while since I have slipped into Marquez’s beautiful world, amongst the poor and the forgotten, where dreams and nightmares slip out of our beds and walk around in the daylight, interacting with everyone, indifferent to the thought that they should not be there. The world he creates is somewhere I would love to visit, for me stories are pure escapism, they should take you somewhere you cannot go, but would like to, and Marquez does this seemingly effortlessly, his characters almost shaded in with dust and sand, whittled down by wind and time.  Even the realisation that I had already read these stories didn’t really bother me, the back of this mini edition proposed they were a perfect introduction to Marquez, and for me, they were a reminder of a world that I have not visited for a long time.

‘My last wish,’ she said to her husband, ‘is to be buried alive.’
She said it as if she were on her deathbed, but she was sitting across the table in a dining room with windows through which the bright March light came pouring in and spread throughout the house.  Opposite her, calming his peaceful hunger, was old Jacob, a man who had lover her so much and for so long that he could no longer conceive of any suffering that didn’t start with his wife.