Let me confess this I found PG Wodehouse too frivolous to handle after reading Jose Saremago. I found PG so bland, can you believe it? Yes I could not progress with with Wodehouse so I picked up Umberto Eco - The Mysterious flame of Queen Loana (new york times calls it the book of forgetting) link. Now Uberto is really finding it difficult to keep me going , thats the power of Jose Saramago in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.
If you are one who wants a plot a story then you have problem, if you like narratives and details go for it.
Fernando Pessoa Portugal’s most influential modern poet, created Ricardo Reis as one aspect of himself. The book begins by Ricardo Reis aged 48, a bachelor doctor who lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, reading about the death of Fernando Pessoa in the papers and decides to go back to his place of birth Portugal.
He takes a Royal Mail Line Steamer and arrives at Lisbon at time (1936) when republicanism is dying in Europe, while Spain sees the rule of fascism and moves towards a civil war. Portugal is now a police state. Ricardo checks into a waterfront hotel and registers himself as a reader and not as a poet or physician.
Now he starts interacting with a whole lot of characters, particularly three of them. One being a 30 year old chambermaid who comes to the Ricardos bed after having entered his room as a one, who scrubs the floor, makes the bed and serves break fast. Then a 23 year old woman with a deformed arm and finally the ghost of Fernando Pesso who is unstoppable by heavily laden doors with symbolism and mystery.
Let me give you some extracts that are interesting
Fernando meets Ricardo for the first time and they look at each other with affection. They exchange pleasantries, remember Fernando is already dead. The Fernando says :
For the time being its allowed, that have about eight months in which to wander around as I please. Why eight months, Ricardo Reis asked, and Fernando Pesso explained, the usual period is nine months, the same length of time we spend in our mothers womb, I believe its a question of system of symmetry, before we are born no one can see us yet they think about us every day, after we are born no one can see us yet they think about us every day, after we are dead they cannot see use any longer and every day they go on forgetting us a little more, and apart from exceptional cases it takes nine months to achieve total oblivion......
I liked this too
If its sleep you’re after, you’ve come to the right country. If I accept sleep, its to be able to dream, To dream is to be absent, to be on the other side, But life has two sides, Pessoa at least two, we can only reach the other side through dreams, you say this to a dead man, who can tell you from his own experience that on the other side of life there is only death. Well I don’t know what deat is, but I am not convinced that it is this other side of life we are discussing, because death, in my opinion, limits itself to being. Death is, it does not exist, it is. Are being and existing not the same thing then, No, my dear Reis, being and existing are not the same thin, and not simply because we have these two different words at our disposal, on the contrary it is because they are not the same thing that we have these two words and make use of them.
The final part of the book is splendid. I like the way Reis walks off with Fernando, after having given into some carnal passion. I saw a similar stuff happening in the Mel Gibson movie EDGE OF DARKESS . The movie starts with Emma dying of Thallium poisoning and Craven finds his daughter being shot. The movie has Emma coming back to Craven on and off, and finally as Craven lies dying in the hospital, Emma is shown walking into his room and leaning down at his bedside comforting her dying father and finally leaving the hospital together, strolling down the corridor and toward a bright, while light.