Stephen Durrant's Reviews > The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by José Saramago
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's review
Mar 06, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

Saramago novels are always worth reading, but this one perhaps less so than works like "Seeing" and "Blindness." The premise is an interesting one. Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet, has just died. Shortly thereafter, one of the fictitious persons under whose name he wrote poetry, Richard Reis, returns to Lisbon from Brazil where he has lived for sixteen years. He meets Pessoa, now a sort of revenant, who tells him that the dead have nine months to return from the grave from time to time before ultimately perishing--a sort of balance to the nine months we spend in our mother's womb. The reader will no doubt surmise soon after beginning the novel that Reis, who is really just a creation of Pessoa, will also perish with his master (no spoiler alert for such an easily guessed outcome that is, moreover,announced in the title). The novel follows Reis' life, loves, and encounters with Pessoa during this brief period of time. All of this is set against the backdrop of the first months of 1936, when fascism is on the rise in Portugal and throughout Europe, political events that will eventually entangle Reis. It is a complex novel in which Saramago is juggling so many themes and issues, that I think he difficulty deciding how to keep them all in play. I found the ultimate outcome of the political theme, for example, somewhat unsatisfying, although other readers may strongly disagree. Also, Saramago's unique narrative style, which is so startling and appealing for a few novels, begins to get a bit tedious and even predictable. Saramago is a very important novelist who deserved the Nobel Prize he won in 1998, but I need a long vacation from his novels so I can rediscover the sense of freshness and excitement I once felt in his writing. Finally, I should add, that I read much of this novel while in Lisbon, the perfect setting in which to enjoy both Saramago and the great poet Pessoa. I was inclined to give this novel three stars, but the reverberations between the novel and Lisbon itself earned it, for this reader, the fourth star!
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