One of the greatest novels of Brazilian literature by one of its most important authors. These are the facts behind Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas. Latin America has given birth to numerous amazing authors and it seemed Machado de Assis was going to be yet another one. Excited and eager to read the novel, I didn’t expect it would take me four days to finish it and nearly a week more to force myself to write about it. Because, besides to say I didn’t like it, I have neither motivation nor inspiration to say anything else. For the sake of this blog and the idea behind it, I would attempt to write something, warning you in advance this might be among the worst reviews I have ever written.
I am far from a literature revolutionary and I have rarely read and utterly disliked a novel the majority of the world has deemed a classic. Not that I am a conformist (or may be I am, but not regarding books) – it just seemed I liked the novels that have proven themselves by transcending through time. And yet The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, a classic novel by the widely accepted definition, was among the definite tortures this year.
The title says it all – Brás Cubas is telling his life story from the save harbour of the grave. Wondering where to star from, death or birth, the hero rejects the conformity of novels and begins from his death – a quiet and simple death at a sort of reasonable age. However, Brás Cubas feels he has left something behind – untold and unaccounted for – and goes on to describe his childhood, youth, adulthood and eventually senility. Frankly, nothing particularly amazing happens to our hero – he grows up a normal boy, he falls in love a little too many times than healthy, he doesn’t get married and he never has children. The latter is probably his biggest accomplishment (according to him of course):
This last chapter is all about negatives. I didn’t attain the fame of the poultice, I wasn’t a minister, I wasn’t a caliph, I didn’t get to know marriage. The truth is that alongside these lacks the good fortune of not having to earn my bread by the sweat of my brow did befall me. I didn’t suffer the death of Dona Plácida or the semidementia of Quincas Borba. Putting one and another thing together, any person will probably imagine that there was neither a lack nor a surfeit and, consequently, that I went off squared with life. And he imagines wrong. Because on arriving at this other side of the mystery I found myself with a small balance, which is the final negative in this chapter of negatives – I had no children. I haven’t transmitted the legacy of our misery to any creature.
Life is miserable through the pessimistic outlook of the protagonist – there is scarcely anything worth about it so why bring on the misery to another human being by reproducing? Well, I can’t answer that, but I can certify that after finishing The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas I certainly had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I am attempting to understand the hype behind this novel – and so far utterly failing to do so. Whether it is because I have been reading a lot of contemporary and modernistic novels lately, or whether because I always associated Latin America with brilliance, originality and magical realism, but Machado de Assis’s realism was way to cumbersome and to be honest boring. I realize this is the 19th century and realism is what I should expect and what I should get. I have no particular objection to realism in novels (and to be perfectly honest to Machado de Assis there were some successful metaphors out there) but the Brazilian takes it to another level. I wasn’t excited about the story, I wasn’t excited about the characters, I wasn’t excited about the setting, I was simply excited about ending this and moving on to something better. Nevertheless, I gave it two starts – not my cup of tea but from times to times there was inspiring philosophy I didn’t mind reading. Overall, though, a cataclysm must have occurred if I turn back to Machado de Assis in the very near future.