Posted by: roamingolivia | January 22, 2011

Review: Jose Saramago’s Small Memories

(The original version of the review, with quotes from the book, is on my Goodreads.)

I got this book through Net Galley, which is a great way to get books in ebook format before they come out, for free. I’m just bragging, but it is really great. This is the first one I’ve read all the way through (a lot of the books on there are kind of crap – to such a degree that it really astonished me that someone is agreeing to publish those books, and not beating down my door asking for my next (read: first) novel). Despite the bad stuff, I really love Net Galley, and if you blog about books you should get it.

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Okay, as the star rating shows, I “really liked” this book. It is not a “great” book, but it is pleasurable to read. It covers Saramago’s childhood, not with the aim of explaining his books (although a few times he mentions that he got ideas for his books from something in his childhood), but more with the aim of presenting himself as a human.

The writing is engaging, and has an appropriate child-like quality, and a lightness. This would seem appropriate, of course, because it’s about childhood, but actually his childhood seemed really intense. He was extremely poor – in a way that sits there in the background and isn’t emphasised except when necessary for the narration. I like the way it captures the child’s bewilderment with the strange, duplicitous and somewhat mean life of adulthood. There’s no plot, or even connecting themes, but it flows pretty well, despite this. It’s charming, and I am sure that is also due in no small part to the translator Margaret Jull Costa, who also translated the Javier Marias books.

The main annoying things are his kind of opening and occasional turning of attention to “youth today” – with all their electronics, etc. – and the fact they are not outside using their imagination or having these adventures. But, I mean, he’s Jose Saramago, and he’s kind of old, and I think it’s fair enough if he wants to view that as a loss. It’s just that I felt it was a bit too cliched, and sets a strange tone at the beginning, considering how interesting the rest of the book was.

(Quotes are on the Goodreads page.)

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