19 December 2011

Baltasar and Blimunda, by Jose Saramago

It took me weeks to get through this book. The language is absolutely gorgeous, but it's the kind of beautiful where if you don't do it all at once, you get exhausted. Especially because there's not much in the way of plot.

I was utterly charmed by the style from the very beginning, especially when I got to this:

Inflamed with holy zeal and indignation, the friar turned on St Antony and rebuked him, as if he were a servant caught neglecting his duties, Some saint you are, to protect only your own silver while watching the rest get stolen, well, in return you'll be left without anything, and with these harsh words, the friar entered the chapel and began to strip it of all its contents, removing not only the silver but the altar cloths and other furnishings as well, and once the chapel was bare, he started stripping the statue of St Antony, who saw his removable halo vanish along with his cross, and would soon have found himself without the Child Jesus in his arms if several friars had not come to the rescue, who feeling the punishment was excessive, persuaded the enraged old man to leave at least the Child Jesus for the consolation of the disgraced saint. (14-15)

Lovely, right? Notice, however, that it's all one sentence. This is the kind of prose that you need to sink into and bask in for hours to get the proper effect. It really doesn't work in fits and starts. When you're reading in short bursts, you're looking for a story, not a three page sentence, even if it is a beautiful one.

There is a story, kind of, but it has no real suspense, momentum, or even point. There are Baltasar and Blimunda, who love each other. Blimunda has a spooky power that allows her to see inside people when she's fasting, and to collect their wills. This isn't in any way necessary to the plot, but nothing really is, so why not. They are friends with a priest who is building a flying machine. Meanwhile, there are also the King and Queen of Portugal, and their children. That's basically the story. Wait, you say, that's not a story, it's just a bunch of characters! Indeed.

But the writing really is quite beautiful.

1 comment:

TB said...

There is a book by Andrzejewski called Bramy raju which consists of two sentences - one that is nearly the entire book an the last one that has three or four words.
It is tough read as well...