I was struck first of all by his sense that the writer is like a journalist, bearing witness to reality: 'I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same.' He describes the creation of a character as a 'a collage of different characters that you've known, or heard about or read about.' This idea of writing, as a collage made out of the raw material of the real world, seems to me a profound way to think about the creative process. García Márquez also has interesting things to say about the ways in which the storyteller makes his or her story convincing:
In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
A lot of this process of making people believe, García Márquez goes on to explain, lies in the specificity of the writing. By injecting a single telling detail, one true thing, the writer can make the reader believe in the whole story:
That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used.
What is so fascinating about the merging of the fantastical and the everyday in García Márquez's style is that it makes such stories convincing - stories which, told in another style, would feel unbelievable or false. His grandmother, he explained in other interviews, believed quite naturally in spirits, omens and portents, and the house in which he grew up seemed full of them. He says, in the Paris Review interview, that 'the real world in the Caribbean is just as fantastic as in the stories of One Hundred Years of Solitude.' So the fantastical, deadpan style he pioneered was in a way a kind of realism of its own, the natural style in which to bring to life this world. Towards the end of the interview, he describes the inspiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude, which came from a journey back to the village in which he grew up:
Around 1950 or ’51 another event happened that influenced my literary tendencies. My mother asked me to accompany her to Aracataca, where I was born, and to sell the house where I spent my first years. When I got there it was at first quite shocking because I was now twenty-two and hadn’t been there since the age of eight. Nothing had really changed, but I felt that I wasn’t really looking at the village, but I was experiencing it as if I were reading it. It was as if everything I saw had already been written, and all I had to do was to sit down and copy what was already there and what I was just reading. For all practical purposes everything had evolved into literature: the houses, the people, and the memories.
I believe, like many writers, that reality is not just what is 'out there' but what is inside us, our particular way of seeing. Without the work of García Márquez, the landscape of literature might look very different. Much of the 'realist' tradition of writing, particularly dominant in English-speaking literatures since the 19th century, relies a certain scientific, rational, empirical style of recording the world. But this is not the way most people in the world, particularly those at its margins, see things. Most of us possess superstitions, beliefs, personal convictions that go beyond the visible world, stories with which we make sense of our destiny, coincidences and miracles in which we passionately believe - all of which are not just filters on the real, empirical world, but the true way we experience it. To acknowledge this important part of our identity as humans is to open the world of literature wide open, and to give this way of seeing a place within it, rather than pushing it to the margins in favour of the fiction that the writer can be 'objective' or 'scientific'.
García Márquez passed away earlier this year, at the age of 87. He was that rare kind of novelist, both critically respected and commercially successful, admired by both writers and readers. Without García Márquez, many of the modern writers whose work I most value would probably have struggled to find their voices. So I value his writing not only for its own sake, but for this great disparate, international family tree of writers - from Isabel Allende to Salman Rushdie - which might never have flourished without him.