A Sentence from Marquez

I have been reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Collected Stories for my next meeting with Tom Able, and I came across one of those beautiful long sentences that I love, only this one is so long that I was not at first sure what to do with it.  It occurs in a story called “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship”, or rather, to be more accurate, it comprises the entirety of the story, from first word to last, something like six pages of text in my edition.  I will not impose the entirety of the sentence on you, but here is the opening section.  You will have to find your own copy of the story to find how it concludes.

“Now they’re going to see who I am, he said to himself in his strong new man’s voice, many years after he had first seen the huge ocean liner without lights and without any sound which passed by the village one night like a great uninhabited palace, longer than the whole village and much taller than the steeple of the church , and sailed by in the darkness toward the colonial city on the other side of the bay that had been fortified against buccaneers, with its old slave port and the rotating light, whose gloomy beams transfigured the village into a lunar encampment of glowing houses and streets of volcanic deserts every fifteen seconds, and even though at that time he’d been a boy without a strong man’s voice but with his mother’s permission to stay very late on the beach to listen to the wind’s night harps, he could still remember, as if still seeing it, how the liner would disappear when the light of the beacon struck its side and how it would reappear when the light had passed, so that it was an intermittent ship sailing along, appearing and disappearing, toward the mouth of the bay, groping its way like a sleepwalker for the buoys that marked the harbor channel until something must have gone wrong with the compass needle, because it headed toward the shoals, ran aground, broke up, and sank without a single sound, even though a collision against the reefs like that should have produced a crash of metal and the explosion of engines that would have frozen with fright the soundest sleeping dragons in the prehistory of the prehistoric jungle that began with the last streets of the village and ended on the other side of the world, so that he himself thought that it was a dream, especially the next day, when he saw the radiant fishbowl of the bay, the disorder of the colors of the Negro shacks on the hills above the harbor, the schooners of the smugglers from the Guianas loading their cargoes of innocent parrots whose craws were full of diamonds…”

  1. Katerina said:

    Maquez = thumbs up.
    I think this is the first time you have written something on your blog (not including D&D nights) that I actually have some awareness of what you are talking about before reading your post! I am still reading 100 years though. I’m a slow reader. I start reading other books while I’m working through another..

  2. Curtis said:

    There’s nothing wrong with that Kate, it is, I think the most helpful and mature way to read. You don’t have a meal of potatoes do you, you have meat and veg and drink and something for dipping and maybe desert and coffee.tea after. As Forester says, ‘I read the times for supper, and the gazette for desert.’ It might be the other way round.

    Luke, I find this to be one of your better selected, endeared long sentences. With the only draw back being the overkill in the cacophony of the Liner’s crash, I can totally picture a slurring old merchant sailor telling a tale far too fast for periods in some sort of maritime pub. It holds together for this part you have given us, and by the end of it I still know what the subject is.

  3. Kate,

    I only just now realized that Dinner and a Doc could be contracted to D&D. For some reason I find that very amusing.


    The hyperbolic description of certain things is a stylistic device that Marquez uses frequently. It is part of what is often called “magic realist” style, and people do often find it awkward until they become more used to it. Other major writers who use this style are Salmon Rushdie, Jorge Luis Borges, and, at least in my judgement, G. K. Chesterton, who I would argues is the first magic realist writer of them all.

  4. Curtis said:

    I very much enjoy Rushdie and Chesterton, just got me a copy of selected Father Brown stories, looking forward to it.

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