Gabriel García Márquez, La mala hora (In Evil Hour)
February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
El padre Ángel se incorporó con un esfuerzo solemne. Se frotó los párpados con los huesos de las manos, apartó el mosquitero de punto y permaneció sentado en la estera pelada, pensativo un instante, el tiempo indispensable para darse cuenta de que estaba vivo, y para recordar la fecha y su correspondencia en el santoral. «Martes cuatro de octubre», pensó; y dijo en voz baja: «San Francisco de Asís.» (p. 7)
Father Ángel sat up with a solemn effort. He rubbed his eyelids with the bones of his hands, parted the embroidered mosquito net, and he remained seated on the bare mat, pensive for an instant, the time indispensable for realizing that he was alive and for recalling the date and its corresponding saint’s day: “Tuesday, October fourth,” he thought; and he said in a low voice, “St. Francis of Assisi.”
In reading Gabriel García Márquez’s earlier long fiction, it is difficult for me to escape comparing the characters of those stories to their namesakes that appear in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Characters, often in altered form, who make brief but memorable cameos there, like Father Ángel, color the impressions of these earlier tales. Certainly there were times in reading his 1962 novel, La mala hora (In Evil Hour in English), that certain scenes read differently just because of the names of the characters. This is not surprising yet is very unfair when it comes to judging these stories, especially in the case of In Evil Hour.
The story is set in a nameless Colombian village (later clarified to not be Macondo) in which a nameless prankster has begun posting anonymous broadsides detailing the sordid lives of the villagers. This darkly comic premise quickly turns violent, however, as an enraged husband settles the matter of gossip in murderous fashion. This event triggers a more serious turn of events, as the mayor (named Arcadio, with no surname) enforces a sort of lawless martial law. This in turn reflects on the very real history of La violencia, where around a quarter-million Colombians died in a massive wave of violence and near-anarchy during the middle decades of the 20th century.
In the story, García Márquez focuses on the dynamics of rumor and retribution, showing how the former fed into the latter, creating a situation in which baser passions come to dominate the socio-political discourse. Fear engendered by mockery sweeps through the village, yet the source of the lampoons is never discovered, despite the fiercest efforts by the mayor’s goon-like police force. In a way, this never-solved mystery makes what followed after all the more terrifying to consider, as there are numerous occasions throughout national histories of hysteria feeding the worst systematic abuses of human rights. Certainly this is the case in this novel and García Márquez’s capturing of this violent “feeding frenzy” is one of the story’s best elements.
Yet there are some weaknesses as well. Despite the intriguing and occasionally chilling narrative, the characterizations on the whole feel less well-developed compared to the author’s other work. Mayor Arcadio in particular is more of a figurehead here for the government’s capability of unleashing violence on its own citizens and while that is likely done on purpose in order to make that comparison clearly, it does rob the novel of lively, interesting characters around which this tale of rumor-mongering leading to violence revolves. Furthermore, the humor at times feels a bit heavy-handed, lacking a consistency of nuanced subtlety that could have made it an even better satirical story to read.
However, these criticisms are mostly minor. The prose is clear and yet brimming with colorful expressions and clever humor. The theme on the causes and effects of state-instituted violence is on the whole treated very well. While In Evil Hour might not contain a powerful conclusion like those found in No One Writes to the Colonel or One Hundred Years of Solitude, its conclusion does mirror nicely its beginning, bringing the reader full circle after a tumultuous yet entertaining experience. It may not be one of his best novels, but In Evil Hour certainly is one of García Márquez’s most sobering commenatries about the political climate in his native Colombia in the mid-20th century.