The last effort from Portugal I endeavoured to read through was the utterly futile Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. It is with great thankfulness that I can report Saramago is nothing like Pessoa. He is, in fact, very readable.
The novel is set in 18th century Portugal and centres on Baltasar, returning from war with a hook in place of his left hand. He meets Blimunda and they fall in love. They then meet Bartolomeu Lourenco, an actual historical figure, who they end up working for on a project to create a flying machine.
Saramago writes with in a lovely mixture of historical fiction and magic realism. This means that both sides of your brain get involved. He switches back and forth regularly enough so that neither side gets bored and this keeps you moving along nicely.
Story and writing style aside, the absolutely showpiece of this novel is the description of the inception and construction of the immense Convent of Mafra. It’s so easy for us in the 21st century to forget just how much manpower went into these monuments. Saramago makes it a captivating read.
Ultimately though, this is a love story, and that permeates every page.