This novel—published after Leafstorm (1955) and No One Writes to the Colonel (1957)— was begun earlier in 1956, completed as This Shitty Town by 1959, and, in a shortened form (purged of “Faulknerisms”) and under its current title In Evil Hour (La mala hora, 1962), won the Esso Literary Prize and was subsequently published in Spain in 1962. About a year later, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1928–2014 ) noticed that the Spanish edition had been heavily edited, “purified” of the colloquialisms and linguistic barbarities peculiar to the language of Latin America in general and the Colombian town of the setting, so he repudiated it and had a second, restored edition published in Mexico in 1966.
In Evil Hour is an early novel by García Márquez, but it contains subjects—the horror of la violencia, the violent years, in Colombia—and techniques—elaborate construction and discontinuous episodes—characteristic of all of his work. The book is political yet broadly human; panoramic yet particular; highly symbolic yet rooted in realistic detail; organized in continuous, present-time narrative, yet also containing both the past and the future. The narrative emerges with energy and power, but it is essentially a story told by indirection. The tale of horror and repression is narrated without a protagonist by focusing on the reaction, futile or complicit, of an entire town. In Evil Hour contains some of the strange, extreme realism and the verbal dexterity of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), but it has none of that novel’s serendipitous magic.
In Evil Hour begins and ends with similar incidents: Father Angel is obsessed with mice in the church and sets his servant, Trinidad, to finding ingenious ways to trap them. In an early scene, she looks into the box containing the trap and finds her first corpses, “a small massacre . . . with repugnance and pleasure.” The last scene in the novel shows a new, younger servant, Mina, presenting the cynical Father Angel with an empty box. He refers, as in the first scene, to music he has heard playing in the night, but Mina says that the music was made “[of] lead . . . There was shooting until just a little while ago.” The seemingly trivial opening conversation and the obviously not trivial closing conversation frame the town mayor’s obsession with, and inability to get rid of, both a searing toothache and a series of writings, lampoons pasted like handbills on walls and doorways. The lampoons, running like a leitmotif through the narrative, contain humorous political commentary as well as oblique references to the secrets of individual residents. All the lampoons attack hypocrisy or power misused. The narrative does not reveal the exact contents of the missives but shows the consternation of the targets and the rage of the mayor as he realizes the political nature of the lampoons and becomes more and more determined to find the perpetrators.
Other more sinister events and powers beset the town, as well: the seemingly unmotivated murder of the town musician, a flood that destroys the homes of many residents, the putrefaction of a dead cow stuck in the river that runs through the town. Gradually, the reader learns by indirection that the mayor was installed by a “new government,” but that this government, although promising change, is just as repressive as the old one. The mayor’s gendarmes present him with a young man seen putting up a lampoon. The mayor orders torture in an attempt to find out the names of other participants, and the young man is killed, having revealed nothing. Earlier political violence also emerges, as in a secretary who says to the new judge, as he sits in his chair, “When they killed Judge Vitela, the springs broke, but they’ve been fixed.” The secretary adds, “And all because when he was drunk he said he was here to guarantee the sanctity of the ballot.”
García Márquez colors this depiction of political repression with absurdity. When the mayor has a new decree read in the town square, there is, ironically, silence “too great for the voice of the crier.” The narrator comments: “The decree had been read with the same authoritarian ritual as always; a new order reigned in the world and she [the widow Monteil] could find no one who had understood it.” The widow adds that “ever since the world has been the world, no decree has ever brought any good.” Only at the end of the novel does the reader learn, obliquely, that underneath the absurdity lies a long-standing, national plot against the regime: The dentist, who pulled the mayor’s rotten tooth, hides weapons underneath his floor, and those few who have not been shot have taken to the countryside to join rebels.
The pieces of García Márquez’s narrative thus come together in powerful protest of the political evil besetting his native Colombia. Underlying his political commentary, however, is a much more general, moral one, most powerfully expressed through an indictment of the church and of human complacency and desire for power in general. At the end of the novel, when Mina tells the priest about the shooting, he says, “I didn’t notice anything.” Although In Evil Hour is political, few areas of human experience portrayed in the novel remain apolitical. Yet the novel also upholds the power of life to survive. The undercurrent of bodily functions—characters are often shown eating, shaving, bathing, making love—shows that life goes on in spite of politicians and priests and fl awed human nature. In Evil Hour reveals García Márquez not as complex in technique as he later became but certainly as broadly human in his themes.
Bell, Michael. Gabriel García Márquez: Solitude and Solidarity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Janes, Regina. Gabriel García Márquez: Revolutions in Wonderland. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1981.
Minta, Stephen. Gabriel García Márquez: Writer of Colombia. London: Jonathan Cape, 1987.
Zamora, Lois Parkinson. Writing the Apocalypse: Historical Vision in Contemporary U.S. and Latin American Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.