I write this against a willow tree, on the bank of the river Thames. With me I have a fisherman’s bait box of treats, a four-pack of Stella, a fresh Juul pod and a bar of Dairy Milk, to coax the lowly writer in me to actually do some work. It’s much the same toolkit I had when I sat here two years ago amidst lockdown, holding a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. I had chosen the book at random from my parent’s bookshelf, the title appealed to me. It sounded mysterious and weighty and, to my mind at least, not dissimilar to my own situation of drinking my furlough money away until my first year of university.
My lockdown was stagnant. I know I made gestures in the direction of learning a language, writing a novel, but in the end, I just sat there and let myself rot. It was as if my brain was holding its breath, growing more frantic with each passing day, silenced by the patient consciousness saying, “hold on, just three more months!” All my days blurred into a sluice of playing strategy games until drinking time, and then drinking until the strategy games on the computer screen became indecipherable. I was killing time.
I don’t know what prompted me to pick up the otherwise untouched book on my way out of the house after another fight with my parents. I suppose I wanted to feel like I had done at least something to prove I wasn’t useless. I bought my beer, to reward myself of course, and stamped along the river bank to this spot, and opened the novel.
One Hundred Years of Solitude is a confusing maelstrom of Macondo, Remedios’ and colonels, as fascinating as it is unreal. It’s the kind of book that when you have said you’ve read it, people think “huh, show off.” And they would be right. But as I attempted to distinguish Aurelianos from Arcadios, I found myself falling in love. I think it was the casual, yet vibrant quality of the prose, where astonishing things that shouldn’t make sense just do, all in wondrous technicolour. It’s utterly dreamlike, reading is like walking amongst the silt at the bottom of a deep river bed. Time flows only as a way to get from moment of absolute stasis to moment. And yet the book recounts a hundred years of magical history, of the Buendía family being eroded and cut out like a bend in the river.
When I put the book down the sun was setting. I remember sitting up and noticing the pain in my back from the tree. I’d forgotten to even open my beers. I still felt muggy, bored, alone, pissed off at my parents. But as I looked out from under the leaves of the willow tree, black against the sunset with breeze dappling them against the water, I felt a little more alive. Like waking up naturally after a good rest. After being somewhere else for so long, my world then became more bearable.
As I sit here now, I feel time flow again. The jeans my notebook rests against are flared rather than skinny. I haven’t fought with my parents in months. The willow tree has had the top half sawn off, it now remains as a large, feathery stump. Time has moved on. But after I have read, I return to that state of tranquillity. I breathe easier and the world looks a little brighter, even though I am still killing time before university.
And as I have drafted this article, I haven’t opened a single can of beer.