COLLECTED STORIES by Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cape, £14.99, pp.292 lie complete institutionalisation of an author arrives with the collection of his stories. Such an edition marks the moment when publishers become convinced that he or she has nothing new to offer and so the fiction of the most creative years is recycled in omnibus editions.
In the estimation of his English-language publishers, the time may well have come for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is not intended as criticism, merely as a specula- tive statement. In fact, the reader is in many ways the beneficiary, and this case is no exception.
Garcia Marquez is reputed to have said once that he thought the translations of his fiction by Gregory Rabassa were better than the original Spanish. Whether true or not in the eyes and essays of the academics and tutors in translation, this collection of short stories and novellas is a feast to be enjoyed. It should be noted that many of Garcia Marquez's Latin American readers feel strongly that his best writing is in his shorter production, and not in the super- bestseller One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the also bestselling Autumn of the Patriarch. Best of all is No One Writes to the Colonel, completed by the author in Paris in January 1957 and first printed in English in 1968, followed by The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother, first printed in English in 1978 (both included here).
But once a ranking of preferences has been established, the problem provoked by fame is that the successive translations, reprintings, and collections, make it difficult to issue intelligent and new appraisals that will exclude academe's clichés about surrealist landscapes, or the juxtaposition of reality in myths and dreams.
So why not try another cliché, albeit slightly less used, by which to judge his writing? It is the cliché of fiction as history. After all, the mastery and quality of a creation must be in its adaptability to other periods and places. These are exercises which can easily be applied to Garcia Marquez in Latin America, but there are other possibilities.
No One Writes to the Colonel can easily be transposed to part of Europe, including Britain. The colonel writes to a remote and unconcerned defence ministry asking about payment of a pension for distant services to a defeated warlord. In the absence of an answer, his cockerel is being primed for a forthcoming fight, which is going to make him rich. More realistically, the colonel's wife, who has pawned just about every pos- session, wants to sell the bird for what she can get and so help them to eat, for answers or pensions she expects none.
An acquaintance at the MoD in London once said, not unsympathetically, that if the colonel were turned into a disabled service- man, and the cockerel became a budgie, Garcia Marquez could be placed some- where in north Wales, or Yorkshire.
An Argentine economist, Alfredo E. Calcagno, has gone even further by draw- ing a parallel between The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother, with Latin Arneri- ca's foreign debt. This is a quite consider- able essay, but it hinges on just one short passage in the novella. After Erendira has accidentally burned down the grand- mother's home, and fortune, and the only possibility is a life as a prostitute to pay for the damage, Garcia Marquez writes: When the grandmother was convinced that very few things remained intact among the ruins, she looked at her, granddaughter with sincere pity.
'My poor child,' she sighed. 'Life won't be long enough for you to pay me back for this mishap.'
The statement should be framed and hung above the desk of every bank's credit negotiator, as a warning to officials and customers. Both instances prove the adapt- ability and endless readability of Garcia Marquez's fiction.
Apart from these two novellas, the Collected Stories include Eyes of a Blue Dog, written in 1947, and Big Mama's Funeral, and 22 other stories. It would have been useful if the publishers had dated the stories, to give the interested reader an idea of the development of the great man's fiction. But for now it is good enough to have a collection of masterpieces reissued, for they are all a pleasure to read and explore.
Andrew Graham-Yooll's After the Despot: Latin American Views and Interviews was published by Bloomsbury last month at £17.99.