Group Read for July, 2013: Baltasar and Blimunda

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Group Read for July, 2013: Baltasar and Blimunda

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1george1295
jul 1, 2013, 1:00 pm

This is our group read for this month. Please be watching for the group read posting for the next two month's to come out in mid-July.

2amerynth
jul 2, 2013, 7:21 am

I picked up a copy yesterday... just finishing up a couple of library books that are due shortly first.

3annamorphic
jul 7, 2013, 9:33 am

I've restarted Baltasar and Blimunda after a break to finish Volume II of Kristin Lavransdatter. For two European historical novels these could hardly be more different, particularly the style of writing. Undset's style is so spare as to be almost naive; Saramago's is so lush as to be overwhelming. This sort of "magical realism" is hard to read fast. Every paragraph can potentially go off into some completely unexpected direction. I remember being very frustrated by the first several hundred pages of A Hundred Years of Solitude. B&B is also very entertaining, though.

4puckers
Redigeret: jul 8, 2013, 7:28 am

One hundred pages in to this now. Initially the book looks intimidating with page long paragraphs, and paragraph long sentences, but the writing is humorous and the story is interesting.

5Deern
jul 8, 2013, 6:33 am

I finished the book last month ahead of the GR. It took me several weeks, as I had to take it in small portions of max 5% a day (I read on Kindle). I liked it a lot though, but during my 'work' on the list I found out that I clearly have a weakness for good magical realism. If you don't like that you might be in for a hard read, also considering Saramago's special style.

I don't want to spoil anything here early in the month, but I'd like to say that I really enjoyed those first chapters around the king and queen. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the feasts and processions at first, though later in the book those became a welcome occasion to skip forward a bit. I read in Italian and there were just too many words I didn't know and I was sure were not important for the main story line or my future life.

It was my 2nd Saramago after Blindness and this time I felt quite at home with his writing and often enjoyed those pagelong sentence-constructions.

6amerynth
jul 8, 2013, 7:53 am

So far, I've liked the book (and I'm definitely not a fan of magical realism at all.) But as others have said, I've found it a slow read... lots of interesting bits in each paragraph to digest. I think I'm about 75 pages in... so far I've found the characters interesting and I'm enjoying the overall story.

7sjmccreary
jul 9, 2013, 12:52 pm

My ILL copy came sooner than expected, so I just finished the book this morning and will be rushing to return it to the library today, past due. I didn't know what to expect, having never read Saramago before. The long sentence/paragraphs were off-putting at first, but for me they were easier to read if I didn't read so carefully. When I relaxed and read quickly, the words just flowed and were wonderful. I liked the book better as it went on, being able to read more and more at each sitting.

I agree with #5 that the long descriptions of the processions became tedious, but there were just enough delicious nuggets hidden in them to keep me engaged.

The book was dense and there is a lot to think about and talk about - I'm looking forward to the discussion.

8puckers
jul 10, 2013, 4:48 am

Finished the book this evening, and enjoyed it right to the end. As sjmccreary states above, there is a flow to these long sentences and I found myself tumbling along through them - it helps that Saramago is generous with his commas even if not with his full-stops! Definitely well worth the read, and one I probably would have avoided at first glance given the unforgiving appearance of the pages, so well done fellow voters. 4/5

9annamorphic
jul 11, 2013, 7:38 pm

I'm about 75 pages in and am finding that this book is just not catching on for me.
That being said, I thought it was interesting that we've read two books this year, for group reads, that were historical novels written within 2 years of eachother in the mid-1980s, both about the early 18th century and the struggle between enlightenment and invention vs. religion, magic, and superstition. I mean, wasn't this also Hawksmoor's big theme? And both books are written in ways that seem deliberately difficult, inside-the-head kind of ways, trying to recreate the minds of men of that time. We read Hawksmoor in January and I think it would have been interesting to read the two even closer together because they are so intriguingly parallel.
According to the note at the end of Baltasar and Blimunda, the priest who wants to build a flying machine is a true historical character like Nicholas Hawksmoor was, and the other characters weave a tale around him. I have not yet figured out, in B&B, what that man stands for and what the big questions are, so maybe I'm seeing more parallels than there really are. I just find myself thinking "wow, it's Hawksmoor again!" It's what keeps me going through the really, really long sentences.

10amerynth
jul 14, 2013, 8:38 am

Finished up the book today and I am surprised to say I enjoyed it, because it isn't my style of book at all. Mainly I liked it on the strength of the characters.

This took me a long time to read, and that usually means I'm not enjoying a book, but in this case I was just savoring all the descriptions.

Like annamorphic, I was reminded of Hawksmoor too.

11annamorphic
jul 20, 2013, 8:08 pm

This book is incredibly difficult and not very rewarding to read. I'm still trying to figure out why the Nobel Prize. In many ways it is technically wonderful, and the EIGHT PAGE LONG sentence describing the Corpus Christi procession was in its own way a marvel. But it's a way sort of like the flying machine. Amazing that it actually works but in the end what does it prove, why does it matter?
I do recall that A Hundred Years of Solitude, the last work of "magical realism" that I read, took a while to grow on me. But I'm over half way through this one and the spark has yet to ignite.

12soffitta1
jul 21, 2013, 4:57 am

There is a lot going on - the building of a cathedral, a woman with second sight, a love story as well as comments on religion. I did like it, I read half of it a few years ago in Portuguese, but ran out of time. I found it slow going as there was a lot of specific building vocabulary. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to, as he skips between narrators and direct speech with a lack of punctuation. Like Deern, I recently read Blindness and I have read a couple of his other books, so that really helped.

I just regret not making it to Mafra when I lived in Portugal, but I hope to go back to do this.

13annamorphic
jul 25, 2013, 2:31 pm

I'm getting near the end, finally. I think that I have more or less figured out that the key theme here is the visionary and how vision negotiates reality. It is incredibly confusing to embed this theme in a work of "magical realism" where so much is earthly, historical, and real, and then other things totally are not. In the end I will be glad to have read this book but I will also be glad when I'm done with it!
I also want to know things like, was there really a convent at Mafra, how big did it end up being, did it involve removing a mountain... I mean, are we talking about conflicts between true historical visionaries and what a writer can do with their visions? What was the flying machine that actually was designed? Would it be important (to the author's purpose) to know these things?

14puckers
jul 25, 2013, 4:23 pm

#13. According to 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die (will these lists ever end!) the Royal Palace at Mafra, completed in 1730, was originally intended to be a monastery but ended up being "the largest palace in Europe and the most sumptuous Baroque building in the world".

15JonnySaunders
jul 28, 2013, 7:20 am

Thanks to unprecdented good weather here in the UK I have spent very little time reading this month so have only just finished Baltasar & Blimunda I find myself in general agreement with the sentiment of this thread. I found it quite tough going, but still very rewarding in it's own way. I found the characters, places and ideas in the book very interesting but it seemed that something about it made it hard to pick up and I couldn't read it in long sittings, but couldn't quite put my finger on why.

This thread has made me wonder whether it is the long sentences that did this. Bizzarely until I read this thread, after finishing the book, I hadn't actually noticed that the sentences were that long! I never actually found the book hard to read in the sense that I had to re-read anything, or felt like I wasn't understanding what was going on. In fact I found the writing flowed very nicely, I just found myself exhausted after only a few pages!

One question for the group...and I don't want it to sound flippant...but why does he not use quotation marks? It sounds simplistic, but presumably he has made the conscious choice to write dialogue in this bizarre run-through way with no indication of who is talking. Combined with the sudden switches of narration from third to first person etc this was sometimes very confusing! Since he made this decision, presumably he had a reason for doing this, or an effect he was trying to create, but I just can't get my head around what it achieved. Any opinions?

Final thought of the day...my paperback copy had an error in the blurb! It says that Blimunda's mother is burned at the stake at the auto-da-fe but if my memory isn't playing tricks on me, and I didn't miss a metaphor somewhere, she was actually exiled. That's the first time I've ever seen an error in a blurb. Please correct me if I'm wrong though...my memory does funny things some times.

16sjmccreary
jul 28, 2013, 10:07 am

#15 Jonny, I thought Blimunda's mother was exiled, too. I read a library copy so I can't look to see if mine included the same blurb yours did. I'll be reading them more closely from now on, though, looking for another error!

I've run across several books in the last couple of years where the author has been creative with punctuation. Not using quotation marks seems to be especially popular. I have no idea why that is - maybe some desire to impart a dreamy, hazy quality to the scene, as in things were said but now it's unclear just who said them or what their exact words were. It's a fad I'll be glad to see fade.

17annamorphic
jul 28, 2013, 10:21 am

I thought that both the long sentences and the lack of quotation marks were actually deliberate devices to slow down the reader and make him/her dwell on the text. I mean, this was definitely a book one could not skim! And I feel sure that the author wanted it that way. I'm about to write up my review but when I went to check it off in my copy of the 1001 books, I was rather dismayed to find that this one was not included (presumably is in a later edition) but THREE more books by Saramago were. I'm not sure I have enough time in my life for that much dwelling.