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Until August review: Chronicle of an Infidelity Foretold


Cover of Until August by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Photo by Meri-Li Mercier

“This book doesn’t work. It must be destroyed”, wrote Gabriel García Márquez regarding Until August before leaving the manuscript to posterity. An unfinished project consisting of a five-part narrative with the love life of elders as its primary subject, the novella represents the convergence of the author’s writing and his growing senility – here emerges the interrogation of ethics behind this text’s publication. “The process was a race between his artistic perfectionism and his vanishing mental faculties [...]. In an act of betrayal, we decided to put his reader’s pleasure ahead of all other considerations”, is how García Márquez’s sons justified the publication of their father’s work, which the writer always refused. Ignoring a father’s wishes is one thing; the reason behind it is another – and fixing the price of a 144-page book, with an exaggeratedly enormous font, at $22 is perhaps a reason beyond the wish of recognition to a monument of South American literature.

 

Until August is the tale of Ana Magdalena Bach, a woman unsatisfied in the comfortable boredom of her marriage with a music prodigy. Her sexual life is existent yet insignificant, rhythmed by military-timed intimacy: “During the first three years it was like clock-work every day, at night in bed or in the morning in the bathroom, except for the sacred truces during her periods and after childbirth”. Every year, for one day in August, Ana takes the ferry to the island where her mother is buried and leaves everyday life on the shore. The visit to the tomb is followed by extramarital encounters, from shabby hotels to elegant dance floors. The pervasive estival heat, poetical effect in the first pages, rapidly becomes suffocating in a Bonjour Tristesse vein with the island’s “streets of burning sand beside a sea of flames” – the summer becomes a time of possibilities and a return to adolescent summer loves. 

 

It rapidly becomes evident why the author wished against the publication of the novella. Clichés on femininity permeate the pages – “She went along with the game, not as herself but as the protagonist of her own narrative” – and the narrator’s male gaze often ridiculously points the tip of his nose, picturing an Ana crying “herself to sleep furious with herself for the disgrace of being a woman in a man’s world”. The woman not only is the “protagonist” of this rather short narrative; she is the ‘it’ girl in her 50s whom men desire for her “lioness eyes” and “music knowledge”. Her perfection is painfully exaggerated with the endless lists of books she devours, a tribute to those who would hazard oneself to read them all and pretend to be as pretentious as she is – challenge level impossible.

 

A few interesting themes such as infidelity are addressed, but mostly on the surface. Ana feels remorse for a husband who is far more active in the realm of adultery than she is, and this symbolically broken tie of marriage is intriguingly never presented immorally. The matter is never psychologically analysed, and Ana’s various encounters with the miscellaneous men are only ever a pretext to emphasise the character’s loneliness and mal-être.

 

Until August might ultimately prove the absence of a writer’s power on his own work. An aide-mémoire for writers: always hide well at the bottom of the cupboards the manuscripts you want unpublished. And because of the incredible legacy left by Gabriel García Márquez in his lifetime, it is difficult to define the place of the novella in the writer’s work. There is an authority from cover inscriptions proclaiming “Winner of the Nobel Prize”, for the writers’ publications often systematically become guarantees of quality. Until August proves, then, that no, we will not read the grocery list of all Nobel winners. 

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