Thursday, March 23, 2006

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Back at book group tonight to discuss Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

This is the second time I’d read the novel and I’m impressed again by the beauty and strength of the writing and the lightness of satirical touch coupled with the firm control Marquez has over the structure and the occasional flirts with magical realism.

Incredibly for a book where the ending is known from the very title let alone the opening chapter, the pace of the book and the sense of tension builds and builds before reaching it’s climax on the closing pages. This is no small feat for a book where the key details are indeed ‘foretold’ - it opens with the aftermath of the murder and is punctuated throughout by the phrase that the perpetrators were “waiting to kill him”.

The point of greatest debate however, is that the author doesn’t reveal ‘the truth’ behind a key aspect of the story – whether the victim of the murder is guilty of the crime against honour that has led his assailants to seal his fate.

The opinion on this is divided.

Whilst all are agreed that it is a very deliberate and definite choice by Marquez, the argument is formed as to whether it is a good choice.

Personally I feel that it is. It doesn’t allow the reader to look back over the story with the light of guilt or innocence colouring one’s thoughts; you are left, like the villagers in the tale, with complete uncertainty. The actions, and more to the point the inaction, of the assembled cast are a central focus for Marquez. The social mores, the responsibility of the individual and the corporate, the question of honour, the fickleness of fate, the fragility of life all these things stand alone from the ‘truth’ of the dead man’s guilt.

And then of course there is the question of truth itself. Only one party (excluding the corpse) could truly know the truth behind the allegation made. However, the chronicler, researching the death twenty years later, fails to get any more information out of this party than was achieved by the magistrate at the time. Critically though, even if that party had recanted, would we consider that the absolute truth?

This book is not about a mystery solved, but about society and human behaviour and how we act on the information we know and the information we don’t; it could even be said to be examining the very nature of truth itself.

And this is where the other side of the argument demurs.

The responsibility of the artist they feel is to resolve, to speak a simple truth, to wrap everything up by the close. Aristotle’s Poetics is quoted – the need for catharsis, the resolution of the emotions roused.

And so the debate follows into questions of ‘absolute truth’, whether to reflect the common experience of un-knowing is a truth in itself, rational versus rationals, enlightenment and post-modernism.

A passionate debate about truth, the responsibilities of the artist, resolution within art, Picasso, Cezanne, films like The Usual Suspects and more continues over several hours and numerous rounds of drinks.

Which, in turn provides our ‘side’ with what we consider to be the trump card. Had Marquez presented us with a neat ending, a tidy answer, we wouldn’t have just had this excellent debate...and that in itself is the that leaves you thinking, wondering, questioning. Art can provide you with a simple answer, but it can also leave you with a set of new questions.

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