Wednesday 30 June 2021

Nearing the End of the Big Read

It's getting on for two months since I embarked on my latest Big Read – The Maias by Eça de Queiróz, a hefty Portuguese classic of which I've written briefly before (here). I'm now nearing the end, having been swept along enjoyably by Eça's superb storytelling, marvelling at how he manages to do so much with so little: for a novel on such a grand scale, it has surprisingly few characters and surprisingly little action, and yet those characters come fully alive, and there is plenty going on under the surface. The succession of apparently static set pieces, often with a satirical edge, add up to a rich panoramic portrait of life at a certain level of Lisbon society in the later 19th century. But what else is the author up to? For a long while, The Maias seems (or seemed to me) to be going nowhere in particular – but, oh boy, is that a misleading impression! This novel turns on what is surely one of the most breath-taking twists in fiction. Even though I'd half guessed what it was going to be, it still came as a jaw-dropping shock, so brilliantly does Eça choreograph the scene in which the big revelation is made, and such is the excruciating moral dilemma it presents. Twists being what they are, I cannot reveal any more. All I will say is that, if you feel like a big read from the field of classic European fiction, make it The Maias – you won't be sorry.  And stick with it... 
(You might like to get the flavour of Eça de Queiróz by reading one of his shorter novels first – Cousin Bazilio is probably the best, or for something really short you could try The Yellow Sofa.)