Cruges, after a silence, shrugged and muttered:
“Even if I wrote a good opera, who would put it on?”
“And if Ega wrote a fine book, who would read it?”
The maestro concluded: “This country is simply impossible. I think I’ll have a coffee too.” (The Maias, Ch. VIII, 192)
Now just hang on a minute, pal! What have I been doing since August if not reading the finest Portuguese books?
When I launched the Portuguese Literature Challenge, I guessed that I would be sick of it all by the end of April. Pretty close. Know thyself. So this is a wrap-up. I do not have any original insights into Portugal or Brazil or their literatures but I did read a lot of good books in good company.
Although I wandered around plenty, three authors took up most of my time, as they should have. I have written so much about them that I will limit myself to notes and thank yous.
Machado de Assis. Shelf Love Jenny joined me for The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. The last five novels of Machado (I only got to four of them) are uniquely odd and inventive. My greatest surprise, though, was discovering Machado’s accomplishment as a short story writer. I came across a critic who credited Machado with “at least sixty world-class masterpieces” of short fiction, which is absurd, but a couple dozen, now that is not absurd at all. And how often does Machado show up in short story anthologies? So I understand the special pleading. I had no idea. Rise and mel u wrote about Machado’s short stories, and mel’s post has links to posts about some other Brazilian short stories.
Eça de Queirós. “[E]verything he wrote was enjoyable” says Borges, and with nine of his books behind me I will agree. His character work is especially good. Please see Richard and litlove, who both have interesting things to say about The Crime of Father Amaro, and Scott Bailey on The Illustrious House of Ramires.
As good as Eça typically is, though, his best book is clearly The Maias. Also his longest, by far, sorry, but the length is part of what makes it the best. The Maias has no more story or plot or characters than Amaro or Cousin Basilio, for example. Very similar, actually, which likely frustrates some readers. So the novel is not "epic Eça." For whatever reason, Eça chose this particular book as his masterpiece and worked on it more. It has a more complex, multi-layered pattern than the other books. I am not sure that it is more meaningful than his other novels, but it is more intricate. It has a higher thread count than his other tapestries. Not everyone, I know, thinks this means "best."
Fernando Pessoa. An original, an endless source of puzzles and ideas. You do not even have to read his work for him to generate ideas, but just read about him and his system of heteronyms. Please see seraillon for a recent post on The Book of Disquiet and a piece about Antonio Tabucchi and Pessoa.
I also want to thank Miguel of St. Orberose, whose blog and comments here pointed me in all sorts of useful directions.
What should I do next? Austria, Italy? 19th century plays? The 1890s? Maybe too big, that one. The late 1890s? 19th century literary criticism – but who would want to read along with that? Mountaineering books? Old timey kiddie lit? Ideas welcome.
And thanks again for everyone’s assistance, participation, spurs to thought, and generally enthusiastic attitude.