Oh my, is it even possible to summarize a Saramago book... not necessarily, he packs a lot into one sentence let alone an entire book (and if you've eOh my, is it even possible to summarize a Saramago book... not necessarily, he packs a lot into one sentence let alone an entire book (and if you've ever read anything by Saramago, you will know what i mean), but... I will try:
This story takes place in Portugal in the year 1974. H is a portrait-painter recently commissioned by S, a business man of the nouveau riche of the Salazar era. H is painting this portrait and simultaneously writing a journal entry to fill in on his musings which he feels the portrait alone cannot evoke.
As H takes us through his portrait-painting-musings he also walks us through the various events of his life starting with the commission of a Portraite from S, and culminating with the Portugues Revolution of April 1974 and the overthrow of Salazar's dictatorial regime. H [Saramago] in effect parallels life with art, thus taking linear story telling to a higher level of sublime poetry.
An excerpt from the front end of the book:
"My clients appreciate me as a painter. No one else. The critics used to say (during the brief period many years ago when they still discussed my work) that I am at least fifty years behind the times which, strictly speaking, means that I am in that larval state between conception and birth: a fragile and precarious human hypothesis, a bitter and ironic interrogation as to what awaits me. 'Unborn.' I have sometimes paused to reflect on this situation which, transitory for most people, has become definitive in my case, and to my surprise I find it painful yet stimulating and agreeable, the blade of a knife one handles cautiously while the thrill of this challenge makes us press the living flesh of our fingers against the certainty of that cutting edge. This is what I vaguely feel (without either blade or living flesh) when I start on a new picture. The smooth white canvas waiting to be prepared, a birth certificate to be filled in, where I (the clerk of a civil register without archives) believe I can write in new dates and different relationships which might spare me once and for all, or at least for an hour, this incongruity of not being born. I wet my brush and bring it close to the canvas, torn between the reassuring rules learned from the manual and my hesitation as to what I shall choose in order to be. Then, certainly confused, firmly trapped in the condition of being who I am (not being) for so many years, I apply the first brushstroke and at that very moment I am incriminated in my own eyes..."
And an excerpt from the back end of the book:
"...We became as one and as one we rolled over once more, with me back on top of you, your hair glistening, my hands now spread on the floor as if I were supporting the world on my shoulders, or the heavens, and in the space between us tense looks, then blurred, the noise of blood ebbing and flowing in our veins and arteries, beating in our temples, surging beneath our skin as our bodies came together. We are the sun. The walls go round, the books and pictures, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, tiny Pluto, the Earth. And now here is the sea, not the great wide ocean, but the wave from the depths trapped between two coral reefs, rising up and up until it explodes in frothing spume. The quiet murmuring of waters spilling over mosses. The wave retreats into the mysterious recesses of submarine caves, and you whispered 'My love'. Around the sun, the planets resume their slow and solemn journey and here from afar we now see them at a standstill, once more there are pictures and books, and instead of that deep sky there are walls. Night has returned. I lift you naked from the floor. Resting on my shoulder, you tread the same ground as me. Look, these are our feet, a mysterious inheritance, soles which leave imprints as they claim the little space we occupy in the world. We are standing in the doorway. Can you feel the invisible veil which has to be penetrated, the hymen of houses, torn and renewed? Inside there is a room. I cannot promise you the clear sky and drifting clouds of Magritte. We are as wet as if we had just come out of the sea and entering a tiny cavern where you can feel the darkness on your face. The faintest of light. Just enough to see each other. I lay you on the bed and you open your arms and hover over the white sheet. I bend over you. It is your body that is breathing, the mountain ledge and source. Your eyes are open, forever open, wells of glistening honey. And your hair is shining, a golden harvest. I whisper 'My love' and your hands travel down from the nape of my neck to the small of my back. There is a fiery torch inside my body. Once again your thighs spread like wings. And you sigh. I know you, I recognize where I am: my mouth opens on your shoulder, my outstretched arms accompany yours until our fingers clasp with a superhuman strength. Like two hearts our bellies throb. You call out, my love. The entire heavens are calling out above us, everything seems to be dying. We have already unclasped our hands, they have lost and found each other on the nape of our neck, in our hair, and locked in embrace we now await approaching death. You are trembling. I am trembling. we shake from head to foot and cling to each other on the brink of the fall. It is inevitable. The sea has just swept in, rolls us onto this white shore or sheet and explodes over us. We call out, close to suffocation. And I whisper: 'My love.' You lie sleeping naked beneath the first light of dawn. I see your bosom outlined against the light of that intangible veil covering the door. I slowly rest my hand on your belly. And sigh peacefully."
Manual de Pintura e Caligrifa was first published in 1976 This translation (into english) was first published in 1994.
R.I.P. Jose Saramago (16 November 1922 – 18 June 2010)...more