It tells the story of a family, the Buendías, in the small, isolated town of Macondo which is supposedly based on Aracataca, Márquez's home town in Columbia. The patriarch of the family is José Arcadio Buendía, who marries his cousin Úrsula, and from them come seven generations. She initially refuses to consummate the marriage out of fear of the incest they will commit, which leads people of the town to torment him. He duels with another townsman, Prudencio Aguilar, and kills him. Finding himself tormented by the ghost, he and Úrsula move away and found the town of Macondo with their friends.
From here we follow the events of the seven generations of the family. The novel goes back and forth, making it rather tricky at times to follow, but it is a beautiful read. Such is the isolation of Macondo the news is generally brought to the town via gypsies, who bring things from ice to magic carpets. This sets the tone for the magic realism of the novel, but oddly enough there's the slightest of hints of Émile Zola with the idea of the heredity traits of the family such as the physical strength of the male line and the idea of clairvoyancy. We see the family triumph, and we see the family suffer, we see them united and we see them divided, and for that it did remind me a touch of Tolstoy's War and Peace and Woolf's Orlando for the treatment of time as a concept. But One Hundred Years of Solitude is very much it's own novel, there really is nothing quite like it. It explores the idea of reality, and subjective reality. In that we see how the characters cope with external change, modernisation for example, and war. Because of this, the 'validity' of 'truth' and what is real is challenged. Another key theme is the notion of past, present, and future. The back and forth nature of the novel fits in with the idea that the past, present, and future are not altogether as separate as one might imagine. It is an absolute blend of time, fact, fiction, and myth, and poetry and prose. It is an outstanding novel.
It's also not an easy novel to grasp and, indeed, write about so I apologise for this very brief and flitting review (I'm also trying to drag myself out of politics, so I must admit I'm a little distracted at present!). But I do love it, hard as it is, however much I still don't feel as though I've fully understood it. Happily though, it's a novel I will certainly re-read once more in the future.