The year of the death of Ricardo Reis, written by Jose Saramago is a rambling, brooding, melancholic and and a long novel. One must clarify first. Ricardo Reis is one of the many heteronyms used by Pessoa and Saramago wrote about this one.
The scope of the book, the atmosphere, the singularly dispassionate rain of the book, the mornings, afternoons and evenings and the walks that Reis walks are simply unrivalled as far as pure writing is concerned. Saramago is not the best prose master around. His concern is with the mood, the pain, the unhappiness of his characters. If Reis is so cynically cold today, the prose is simply descriptive beacause Saramago assumes the role of the observer and simply says that it happened perhaps because Reis might have had one of those bad headaches.
This is not the place to write about Fernando Pessoa because this is about Ricardo Reis. The disquiet anthology, the semantics of that is too well known to Pessoa lovers. Saramago's triumph, if indeed one can ever do that is in building up an atmosphere of gloom but not decay. This is somehow contradictory because it is the dead Pessoa talking to Reis, who was his own creation. the creator being dead, the normal relationship is thus turned upside down.
The dialogues between the two are fabulous. Here is no grappling , no sinister defeats or scoring of points. how can Pessoa do that anyway, as he is already dead. the quality of the conversations is in the atmosphere, the melancholic darkness of those passages. Right from the first page, when the initial descriptions of the sea and the land set the scene till the last pages, we join this desperate world of life and death.
This novel will live so long as we decide to live.