J.M. Coetzee casts Gabriel García Márquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores as the author’s second go “at the artistically and morally unsatisfactory story of Florentino and América in Love in the Time of Cholera.” For the uninitiated, the protagonist of Cholera abruptly terminates
a liaison with a fourteen-year-old ward of his, whom he has initiated into the mysteries of sex during Sunday-afternoon trysts in his bachelor apartment (she proves a quick learner). He gives her the brushoff over a sundae in an ice cream parlor. Bewildered and in despair, the girl commits unobtrusive suicide, taking her secret with her to the grave. Florentino sheds a private tear and feels intermittent pangs of grief over her loss, but that is all.
Coetzee characterizes the latest novel as a “brave” — not the adjective that first suggests itself to my mind, but then I haven’t read the thing — attempt “to speak on behalf of the desire of older men for underage girls, that is, to speak on behalf of pedophilia, or at least show that pedophilia need not be a dead end for either lover or beloved.” His ultimate assessment, however, is less sanguine. He refers García Márquez to
the Merchant’s tale, the sardonic story of cross-generational marriage in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and in particular … its snapshot of the couple caught in the clear dawn light after the exertions of their bridal night, the old husband sitting up in bed in his nightcap, the slack skin of his neck quivering, the young wife beside him consumed in irritation and distaste.