The recent death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez reminded me of the circumstances that led me to read One Hundred Years Of Solitude, thirty-odd years ago – so long ago that, with my puny memory, I have forgotten the book entirely.
I was at university at the time. I had a friend, a fellow student, Stephen, who lived in a house bought for him by his wealthy parents, and I rented a room in it one summer. Stephen, being a good leftie, was somewhat ashamed of his economic privilege and always referred to the “landlord”, without divulging that this was his father.
One day he found me reading a J. P. Donleavy novel, I can’t recall which one, and hectored me for wasting my time on trash. I should read, he said, only great works of literature, such as, to pluck a title at random, One Hundred Years Of Solitude. I was touched that he had my intellectual improvement at heart and, shortly afterwards, I did indeed read Marquez’s novel. I have to admit that, all these years later, I have fonder memories of Donleavy.
Stephen and I lost touch after university, but it has always amused me that this keen upholder of cultural standards went on to become the television producer who created such intellectually stimulating fare as Wife Swap. Stephen Lambert – for it is he – may have cared deeply that I did not waste my time on trash, but it seems not to have bothered him that he besmirched the cultural life of the entire nation.