- García Márquez and Ovid: Magical and Monstrous Realities by Lorna Robinson
In her book García Márquez and Ovid: Magical and Monstrous Realities, Lorna Robinson pursues a daring comparative reading of two texts that, as the author herself recognizes from the outset, “could not seem further apart” (1): Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel emblematic of the literature of the Latin American boom of the 1960s; and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a narrative poem composed during the reign of emperor Augustus in ancient Rome. Trained as a classicist but demonstrating an ample knowledge of modern Latin American literature and criticism, Robinson emerges as an author unusually qualified for this task. Robinson warns that her reading does not intend to focus on One Hundred Years of Solitude—rather, she declares, her intention is to take García Márquez’s novel—and, more importantly, the notion of “magical realism” to which it is predominantly associated—as “a prism through which to illuminate” Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1). The promise of this book, then, is to produce an innovative reading of Ovid’s poem through the lens of a concept that may appear out of place in a study of a classical text. Such a project, Robinson notes, finds its bearings in recent scholarship that rethinks classical literature in conversation with modern theoretical concepts and methodologies. In the context of Robinson’s study, the risk of setting up this particular dialogue is to further diffuse the notion of magical realism, which has been disparaged almost since its inception because of its theoretical vacuity and over-generalized application.
García Márquez and Ovid is divided into four chapters. The first explores magical realism as a range of narrative techniques that, according to Robinson, bridge One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Metamorphoses; the second expands on one these technical aspects, narrative point of view—and its potential concomitance or discrepancy with the belief system of the implied reader—as a key method for producing effects of enchantment in these narratives; the third locates One Hundred Years of Solitude and the Metamorphoses within specific cultural and historical contexts, suggesting potentially risky parallels between the political turmoil of ancient Rome and that of twentieth-century Colombia; and the fourth asks whether the incorporation of monstrous and magical elements in these narratives delineates productive alternatives to modes of storytelling associated with canonical forms of realism. In addition, at the outset of the third chapter, Robinson contributes a lucid synthesis of the ambiguities and contradictions [End Page 205] that surface within the critical discourse on Latin American magical realism, underscoring the competing filiations of this literature as an authentically Latin American phenomenon and, at the same time, as a narrative form strongly influenced by metropolitan aesthetics.
But while Robinson’s discussion of the notion of magical realism eloquently describes the inherent instability of this concept, the second central notion announced in the book’s subtitle, monstrosity, is not probed with equal rigor. A prominent, complex figure in both the classical and the modern imaginary, the monster is a term with a history and, more recently, a theory of its own. Unvoiced questions insinuate themselves at this point in Robinson’s study: how might a consideration of the theory and history and monstrosity impact our understanding of One Hundred Years of Solitude and/or the Metamorphoses? Does a comparative reading of these texts shed new light on the changing relationship between the marvelous and the monstrous across theoretical domains and historical periods?
Another unvoiced question haunts the chapters focusing on historical contextualization and on magical realism as a form that probes the limits of realism. The notion that García Márquez’s novel engages with localized historical crises has long been established in Latin American literary studies. Robinson repurposes this conventional reading of García Márquez—a reading that is frequently mobilized within the interpretation of magical realism at large as a postcolonial or decolonial form—as a prism through which the...