Full disclosure: I didn’t even bother to finish this book. I couldn’t get through it despite all my efforts. I had started to read it when I was wanting to read something that came in vignette form. I was after just something relaxing to read in short burst, as something I could tackle, nibble at a time, while I was living too busy a life.
Well, that didn’t work.
Normally these reviews have a rigid structure, and in the second paragraph I paraphrase the book as quickly as I can. Here I can’t do that because I somehow managed to get 65% done with the book and had no idea what the hell it was about. In this massive, unending tome, a Portuguese man bellyaches about his crummy life. He moans and goes on faux-philosophically about his life and his inability to integrate with the society around him and his outsider status. At the halfway point of the book, I didn’t envision there ever being any kind of resolution to this because there was absolutely nothing being driven forward. The first vignette and the 300th are largely replaceable as far as the book is concerned. There is no narrative, nor movement forward.
Which makes this a challenging read. What makes it a worthy read is that the vignettes are well written. I enjoyed many of them. I found myself agreeing with them as well, or enjoying how wisely he put together a metaphor. Many seemed to be applicable to my own life. Pessoa, it turns out, is mostly known as a poet, and there is a certain well-constructed beauty to his language in this book. But for me that was not enough. I like balsamic vinegar, but I don’t take large sips of it from a goblet. It has its place and its limited uses. I would have very much liked these tiny vignettes scattered about something else, giving context or theme to something broader. But I am now an old curmudgeon; I don’t want to simply hear about the problem of alienation unless it is accompanied by some kind of working solution.
None of this is to say that this book is either good or bad per se. Let me perhaps put it this way, if you can imagine yourself reading one large, book of poetry that hit the same theme over and over again, maybe you will enjoy this too.