Where there’s a will there’s a disappointed relation.

Posted on May 22, 2013

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dasilvaWhen carrying an elephant’s flesh on one’s head, one should not look for crickets underground – Cape Verde proverb

… I have no idea what this means, but one day when I’m scrabbling for crickets in the dirt with a trunk on my head I may work it out.

Well, this feels tough to get down to after a long break.  The reason for the break is that I’ve been doing some journeying of the foot kind in the form of a month’s walk on the Camino de Santiago.   The short of it is that it was an experience that was body firming and life affirming. The long of it would take too long to describe here. Somewhere between the short and the long of it I would say, if you can put one foot in front of the other and don’t mind sharing a room with an orchestra of snorers, then do it for yourselves (the walking and the snoring).  It is beyond doubt the single most enjoyable journey I have ever taken.

Now back to travelling (feet stilled) of the reading kind. I’m thankful that my first book on returning is Germano Almeida’s The Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo.   It’s a nice read.  Nice, in so far as I think you’ll enjoy it. Nice, because it isn’t too taxing either in theme or language.  Nice, because its pace is as strong and gentle as a wide river. Nice.

The plot is small, there is the reading of a will – some who expect to get money don’t; some who expect nothing, do. Not exactly groundbreaking.  However, the twist, if that’s not too strong a word for it, is that the will is 387 pages long and acts as a memoire (testament) for the eponymous da Silva Araújo.  Through his bequests, the hidden life of da Silva Araújo becomes apparent. We learn that the seemingly upstanding, rich, loveless, childless industrialist is in fact only one of those things – rich.  Instead of his only living relative, his nephew Carlos, getting everything, the bulk of the fortune goes to an illegitimate daughter, Maria da Graça.   There is a bequest, a book, to a lost love, Adélia.  And I use the word ‘lost’ advisedly as despite numerous attempts to find her, she remains lost throughout the 152 pages.   The thing that raises this novel above bland niceness is that out of the simplicity of the narrative a complex portrait of da Silva Araújo slowly emerges. A bit like Rolf Harris’s ‘Can you see what it is yet?’ approach, we begin to know the hidden heartbreaks, dirty deals, and self-deceptions of a man who, on face value, seems a bit of a buffoon.  Furthermore, with great skill, Almeida manages to pull off a multi-viewpoint narrative while remaining true to the dominant voice of the dead da Silva Araújo.  These shifts in perspective can often be clunky if not handled properly.  Almeida is a consummate voice handler.

My only complaints (just two) are first that like a woman wearing diamond earrings, necklace, and bracelet with a chic evening dress, there are too many elements.  For instance, the slight mystery of who Adélia is, and the subsequent search for her, takes up too much time, goes nowhere, and feels overworked.   Second, the ending is so abrupt that you wonder whether Almeida, having forgotten to hit ‘save’, lost the next 100 pages of the novel and couldn’t be bothered to re-write them.  Perhaps these are Almeida’s point. A life finishes before we’re ready.  What’s important to one person seems irrelevant to another.  And we are none of us completely knowable, even if our lives are long and our wills lengthy.

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