• Alan Bray

A New Project


I have decided to post more regularly on this site—it seems that The Fictional World of Alan Bray could contain fiction by other authors. What I want to do is communicate some thoughts I have about stories I’m reading. Please—if you want to react or add further thoughts, it would be great. Read the stories with me—our lives will be the better for it! But on these matters, I claim no expertise beyond loving to read and write.

I’ve been reading Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, re-reading it for the third time, although it’s as fresh as the first. I thought I’d start by some reactions to the start of the book, the first line.

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

I like the late Ross Chamber’s ideas about literature, in particular the one that stories contain cues and instructions about how they should be read. So if you read “Dick threw the ball to Jane, but Spot took it,” you learn there are three characters involved with each other, and that the style and vocabulary is simple and concrete. This first line from “Love” tells a different tale. The use of the words “inevitable” and especially “unrequited” cue the reader that the style is more intellectual, as does the prominent position of the colon. The use of the colon could signal complexity; it could also indicate an older writing style or a writing style that wants to refer to the past. There’s a hint of philosophy too in the mention of “fate.”

“The scent of bitter almonds” is evocative and seductive. I’ve never smelled cyanide, although I’ve read elsewhere that it does indeed smell like bitter almonds. I hope I never find out, actually, but reading this creates mystery; it hooks you into wanting to read more. Why does the scent of bitter almonds always remind him of unrequited love? It’s not an everyday observation. And who is him?

Other cues lurk. The reader can probably safely assume the story will be told in the past tense and in third person—again, possibly the signs of an older style. There’s an immediate sense of a narrator/story teller at work. I’m going to tell you a story about a “he” who is “always” reminded of unrequited love by a peculiar sensory sensation.

What is “unrequited love?” A dictionary says it’s a one-sided love that is not openly reciprocated or understood as such by the beloved. The beloved may not be aware of the admirer's deep and strong romantic affection, or may consciously reject it. Hmmm—it seems like this first sentence expresses the whole story.

A lot of thoughts about one sentence—if I’m reading a book for pleasure I’m in a hurry to get into it, I don’t stop and do this kind of analysis. So a lot of these signals and cues must occur at an unconscious level. Yup.