Illustration by Loveday Pride

In a moment of (not so) rare genius, I came to the conclusion that the mandated fortnight of my isolation in Moscow would be the perfect time to delve into Gabriel García Márquez’s celebrated novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. So how did my solitude compare to the centennial one of the Buendía family? My faithful fans, I’m *so* glad you asked.

Reading magical realism during iso was not my wisest decision. My socially-starved and borderline-hallucinogenic brain found the gruesome and fantastical events a little too inspiring. If you do decide to undertake One Hundred Years, make sure that your life is firmly grounded in reality and that you don’t try to digest this novel in one sitting. Just like a good, potent wine, it is better to savour it over time, let it breathe and settle. Otherwise, if you consume it too quickly, I can guarantee that all that waits for you at the end is madness, a warped perception of the world around you, and a splitting headache.

Enigmatic warnings aside, Márquez’s book is one that I found to be an example where the time spent reflecting after finishing it seems more enjoyable than the actual act of reading it. I often felt lost trying to keep up with the intricate storylines of the various Buendías and how they interacted with each other, and I shamelessly admit to consulting the family tree conveniently placed at the beginning of the novel right up until the very last page.

Nevertheless, Márquez’s discussion of solitude in this work was a lasting one that is just as alive within me now as it was when I was quarantined in my 15-meter squared studio. Each character acts as a physical manifestation of a different type of solitude. One experiences solitude because she outlives her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren before losing her sight, thereby experiencing the polarizing effect of losing one of your senses. Another experiences solitude because she actively refuses all men and any chance of companionship. Another because his greed for power feeds his selfishness. Another because he is more preoccupied with innovation and future possibilities than the present. Another because of her hatred and rancour for her adopted sister. The list goes on.

And while I didn’t experience ten or twenty different types of solitude, I realised that the solitude I was feeling while alone in quarantine went deeper than simply being alone and deprived of face-to-face human contact. I, much like the characters in the book and perhaps even like some of you, have known solitude despite being in the company of others. Indeed, it’s an idea that Baudelaire and Apollinaire, renowned French poets, explore in their works: the former when he talks of ‘solitude’ and ‘multitude’ being interchangeable terms for the errant soul of a poet, the latter in his poem Zone where he writes ‘now you walk about in Paris, all alone among the crowd’. But in those two weeks I experienced solitude because of my geographic location, my plans while living in Moscow, and (perhaps worst of all) because of being left alone with my thoughts.

Just as I realised a few things about my solitude, I would read the same discovery and moral on this topic in One Hundred Years a few days later. My revelation consisted of coming to terms with the fact that maybe solitude isn’t all that bad once you acknowledge it and work in collaboration with it. Or, in Márquez’s more eloquent and comprehensible words:

Colonel Aureliano Buendía could understand only that the secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.

Ignoring the reference to old age, this is perhaps the most important take-away I had from both the book and my quarantine. In acknowledging your solitude, you will inevitably find contentedness in it. By being completely alone with nobody else other than the voices inside your head (no?… just me?…) you have the opportunity to gain valuable insight into who you are and how you have lived. You might realise that you don’t need to write down a script in preparation for booking a dentist’s appointment. You might realise that the big bad world isn’t really as terrifying as it seemed. You might realise the truth behind other people’s actions and their treatment of you in the past. You might realise that you enjoy your own company more than you first thought.

What you will gain insight into will be an inherently unique experience and not necessarily anything like mine. However, in the chaos of the twenty-first century, perhaps it’s just as well that every now and again we are being forced to just Stop. Breathe. Relax. and rediscover the meaning of solitude. I certainly do not advocate embarking upon your own journey of Fourteen Days of Solitude, but I would say that surprising yourself with a day off, free from expectations, interactions, and work is less daunting and more rejuvenating than you think.


Sophie Benbelaid

When she's not drowning in the workload from her French and Russian degree, Sophie enjoys reading, yoga, ballet and writing. You can usually find her staying up all night in the throes of an existential crisis or in your nearest bookshop. She has previously been a Cultures JE and a weekly book columnist for the Blue. In true 'the student becomes the master' form, she is now SE for Columns.