Marquez must have been so sure of himself be giving it all away in the title like that. One benefit of this is that I have no need to worry about spoilers. Indeed Marquez cuts straight to it with a first sentence starting
On the day they were going to kill him …….
There is disbelief, this cannot be. Surely someone is going to stop them! But no, Santiago Nasar is doomed. His fate underlined by the Greek chorus operation of that phrase “on the day they were going to kill him” . The tragedy intensified by a series of misinterpreted omens, unread written warnings, the indifference of the general population or his own casual disbelief – it is just a joke, isn’t it?
Nothing funny about it at all. On page 2 we are told that he was “carved up like a pig“. This is a cruel and barbarous act and it’s important to know the whys and wherefores.
Discovering these is the objective of the narrator – a reporter who has returned to the scene of the crime 27 years later to interview those who were there on the day. Each testimony adds another viewpoint, another piece to the jigsaw, gradually layering tragedy upon tragedy. When the picture is completed, it is even bleaker than that opening phrase. Because Nasar is innocent of the act which costs him his life and everyone in the village is implicated to a smaller or greater degree in his death. Questions of individual blame, guilt and communual responsibility richochet from the text. Perhaps the most condemnatory question – why has it taken 27 years for someone to care enough to fit all the pieces together?
This structure allows Marquez to retrospectively incorporate all the crime fiction elements dispensed with at the start. The setup, the motives, character studies of victim, perpetrators and community. The reportage aspect keeps the emotional elements in check and allows him to circle around the murder again and again until finally confronting it face on in the final act.
Knowing it was coming from the title onwards was no cushion. There was no desensitivation. My heart was pounding and I was left shaking. Masterful.