Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, adapted by Jill Waters

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BBC Radio 4, 28 February – 4 March 2011

At one level, Gabriela Garcia Márquez’s tale (first published in 1981 as Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada) could be approached as a detective story, as the narrator tried to find out exactly what happened to Santiago Nazar at the time of a celebration, and how the death came about. All the relevant elements were there: red herrings, deliberate mis- (or should it be dis-) information; and a conscious desire by all concerned not to reveal the truth.

As Robert Powell’s Book at Bedtime reading unfolded, however, it became increasingly clear that the novel lacked the kind of authorial certainties associated with the detective genre: not only were we being given unreliable evidence, we could not trust in what the anonymous narrator was saying. The entire tale revolved around the difficulties of reconstructing the past in the present: facts could not be proved, while people’s memories remained notoriously unreliable. With little or no hard evidence on which to base his investigations, the narrator‘s quest was ultimately doomed.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a good example of a postmodern novel that takes the basic conventions of a ‘good story’ – an easily identifiable structure, stable characterization – and turns them on their head. By doing so Marquez invites us not to trust in anything people say (especially the narrator). Rather we should make up our own minds as to what is happening in the story, while at the same time realizing that this is only another reconstruction of the evidence placed before us.

Producer Jill Waters‘s choice of Robert Powell as reader was an inspired one. Ever since he starred as Jesus of Nazareth in Lew Grade’s historical epic over three decades ago, the actor has become very familiar on television, radio, and as a reader of commercially-released audiobooks. The website lists thirty-seven titles read by Powell, including The Thirty-Nine Steps, Thomas Hardy’s The Well-Beloved, and the Letters of Lord Byron. When we listen to him, we can trust in his ability to invest even the slightest tale with a variety of tones. While Powell sounded equally reliable in his performance of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, we had to beware of accepting what he had to say at face value. There was no ‘truth’ in this story; just a series of representations.