Benjamin Lytal is at it again, this time reviewing José Maria Eça de Queirós’ The Maias. He is considered the greatest Portuguese writer, and I was just thinking about checking into him; Agualusa kept bringing him up in The Book of Chameleons. As usual, New Directions is way ahead of me. I wish they weren’t quite so good, but it’s nice to know somebody out there is looking after my interests.
But as I read on, into the long straightaway that, comprising only two years of the novel’s 70-year narrative, takes up the majority of its pages, I began to appreciate Eça’s emotional point. Where a character such as Homais, Flaubert’s pedantic pharmacist, stays face up, a fool, in reader’s minds, Eça’s aristocratic fools have a flip side: Their civic and national damnation. Ridiculous as they may be, they always have the excuse of whistling in the darkness. In Eça’s hands, a Flaubertian fool becomes a tragic symbol.
It’s not exactly a rave from Mr. Lytal—“But, as a builder of novels, Eça may deserve some immortality. “The Maias,” in its 600-page heave, does go somewhere.”—but it’s definitely going on the reading list.
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