Is it weird to read Love in the Time of Cholera in the middle of a global pandemic? Maybe not, but it is becoming a bit of a cliché. Gabriel García Márquez’s novel has had a resurgence in readership since the start of COVID-19, even inspiring the title of a TV show: Love in the Time of Corona. But is the book a comfort during times of illness, or an exploration of what happens when love goes too far?
The novel’s protagonist, Florentino Ariza, spots the beautiful Fermina Daza across a courtyard when the two of them are teenagers, sparking an all-consuming devotion to her that alters the course of his life. What begins as an exciting, secretive courtship descends into ugly obsession. Florentino refuses to move on from his first brushes with love, even when Fermina rejects him and marries another man. He performs strange rituals to feel close to her; buying a mirror she was once reflected in to try and capture her beauty, eating gardenias and drinking perfume to feel engulfed by her scent. Over the course of the book, Florentino waits patiently for Fermina’s husband to die so he can make his offer of love again, by which time they have descended into old age.
Florentino — who writes passionate poetry — is like a lover in a sonnet, worshipping the unattainable, idealised mistress. Yet, extended from fourteen lines to a three-hundred-page novel, it becomes clear how harmful this kind of attachment can be, to both the object of his affection and himself. Florentino’s love is punctuated by suffering. His mother grows worried when he develops symptoms of cholera, when, in fact, he is sick with love. Fermina is a complex character: intelligent, headstrong, and stubborn. Yet she is reduced to Florentino’s initial perception of her; a fixation sparked by a single sighting.
It’s been an engrossing read, and a good distraction from exam stress! Marquez is an incredible writer, crafting a novel that moves back and forth effortlessly from idyllic to depraved, charming to disturbing. I recommend it to anyone interested in reading an unusual romance.
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