Friday 7 May 2021

The Maias

Having been laid low – or semi-laid semi-low – by a painful mystery ailment affecting what can only be described as my left groin, I've been spending more time than usual on the sofa. So I thought it was a good opportunity to take on a heroic reading project, something comparable to last year's The Betrothed.  
  For some years I've been reading and enjoying the novels of the great (and still too little known) Portuguese writer Eça de Queiros, but I had never got round to the one widely regarded as his greatest achievement – The Maias, all 633 pages of it (in my Carcanet edition). It looks forbidding – a great brick of a book – but, as always with this author, it is wonderfully easy to read. Eça is a fine no-nonsense storyteller, but it is his distinctive tone that makes his work so attractive – endlessly ironic but sympathetic, ever alert to human folly and to the comedy and pathos of the human condition, always proceeding with a light tread, never getting heavily 'serious', still less telling the reader what to think. He is, if you like, at the very opposite end of the authorial spectrum from Dickens – though there is something strangely English about him, or at least something that makes his works particularly appealing to English readers.
  Eça conceived The Maias while working at the Portuguese consulate in Newcastle on Tyne, and wrote most of it while living in Bristol (and it's striking how many of his characters spend time in other countries, especially England, though Portugal, in particular Lisbon, is always the focus). The novel traces the history of an aristocratic family against the background of the 19th-century decline of the Portuguese monarchy – and of Portugal itself – but it is in no way a political novel: it is about people (and places), not Ideas. According to Wikipedia, Os Maias is a compulsory text for year 11 students in Portugal; their 15-year-olds must be a good deal more literate than ours. And it was even made into a soap-opera style drama series by a Brazilian TV network – clearly this novel is in the Portuguese cultural bloodstream.
  I'm only about a tenth of the way into The Maias so far, but already I am completely hooked. I'm going to enjoy this...


  1. Again I am sure You Will love It. João da Ega Is a Very funny guy.

  2. Thanks Ricardo. Certainly going well so far...