I read The Maias by Portuguese writer José Maria de Eça de Queiroz for #Tometopple, and it’s taken me a week to write the review. The truth is that I still don’t know how I actually feel about this book. The story is very simple, Carlos Eduardo de Maia is a wealthy, literary doctor (don’t ask me what literary doctor is, the book tried to explain it but I didn’t get it, I think it is meant to be a doctor that writes poetry and is emotional) who has a string of affairs with married women in the late 19th century, until he falls in love with one of them.
This book is studied in upper secondary education (18 year old) in Portugal and I can see that. One of the reasons I’m so ambivalent is that I can see there are a lot of great things in this book, that I’m not getting because of my lack of knowledge of Portuguese history and culture. I had a similar discussion about The Overcoat by Gogol in a book club. The other person didn’t get why the book had become the game-changer in Russian literature. You have to know about the ideal of the’ strong man’ to get what Gogol is critiquing. I don’t get all the things Eça de Queiroz is commenting on, and what he wants the reader to do with it. It even took me a while to understand how I was supposed to feel about Carlos and his friends.
At the same time, I did enjoy the book. While the emotional aspect of it (so much melodrama) was a bit tiring, I did get a feeling for what kind of man Carlos was and why he did the things he did. I didn’t always agree with them, but I don’t think that was the point either. And the story of him falling in love with a married woman was entertaining.
The book is big, but it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging. While it can go slow, it does this deliberate. Grabbing you by the hand and leading you down the streets of Lisboa on a hot spring day pointong out all the folish people you pass. If you like books that delve into things, a character study more than a book with a lot of plot, I would recommend this to you. As long as you don’t mind a bit of heated blood.