Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saramago's Legacy

I could recap all that's been said about the Great Saramago, but there have been numerous postings already that have proffered a far better summation than I could slapdash together primarily because I'm not an authority on his oeuvre. Truth is, it took me a while to latch onto his prose. What has fascinated me however, has been is earnest writing style and the hot-aired balloon loftiness of his sentences. I first became acquainted with All The Names and I was enamored by his protagonist clerk dredging through files, a kind of Portuguese Harvey Pekar. The provocations he stirred with the Catholic Church didn't necessarily lure me into his books, but I must confess a spritz of controversy doesn't hurt. Not in my book.

What really got me interested in his writing was a friend of mine who was trying to emulate his style. She is, by the way, a brilliant writer, but didn't give me permission to use her name. Yet. If I coax her long enough maybe I'll update this blog and give her the credit she deserves. The funny thing is that the same comet tail of magical realism sweeps through her stories and chapters. Saramago, in her eyes, is the perfect muse. In both their worlds, characters lope through scenes with the zealous need to understand themselves within the incongruities of their surrounding space. This then is the engine that drives the work. I underscore this word engine because as you may or may not be aware Saramago had been a mechanic when he completed his studies, before he planted himself into the Portuguese bureaucracy that supported him for much of his life.

He was a later bloomer in that Malcolm Gladwell sense. Saramago started publishing his stories when he was in his fifties. You can imagine he had had ample time to accumulate layers of self-doubt, self-loathing, the witch's brew that makes for great prose. Critics seem to consider his art a clever amalgam of the Philosopher King and the Village Idiot, indeed there is a strange, but delightful dichotomy.

I feel there is a great deal to learn from his prose. I feel the labor in his writing not only the labor of revision, but the labor of life. He has peppered the nitty gritty into his prose, stirred our thoughts, and hinted at the profound.

No, I do not I wish to emulate him, but I want to read his work judiciously as my friend has so that I can better inform my own style.