I read books from a variety of genres. When it comes to books by Portuguese authors, however, I mostly only read literary fiction, poetry and classics. I don’t have a definite explanation why. It’s probably a consequence of various factors: the types of books published from some genres don’t usually have the specific characteristics I enjoy; the work of some authors is not well publicised, as there seems to be an unending prejudice against some genres; and the book genres that are easily available and sell the most are not the ones I like reading.
Although the majority of the books by the most celebrated Portuguese authors can be categorised as literary fiction, sometimes mixed with other genres, there are various authors writing books in other genres as well. I selected four book genres – historical fiction, crime fiction, fantasy and romance – and went on an online quest to find authors who have primarily written books from those categories.
Historical fiction is one of my favourite book genres. That doesn’t mean that I find all books from the genre appealing, though. I’m not usually interested in reading stories focusing on royal families, for example, since I much prefer when the characters and the stories are fictional (or them being real is mostly irrelevant, as in Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell), but the time period and the settings are real and believably portrayed. I’ve read various books by Portuguese authors that are a mix between historical and literary fiction. Their entire body of work just doesn’t fit neatly in the historical fiction genre.
Some Portuguese authors, whom I’ve never read, write mostly historical fiction, though. Three of the four I’m about to mention I have no intention of ever reading. Isabel Stilwell has many books published about a myriad of Portuguese royal figures, particularly women. Maria João Fialho Gouveia has written fewer books, but the focus is also mostly on the royalty and nobility. José Rodrigues dos Santos is a best-seller author in Portugal who was already famous as a news presenter. There’s something curious, and not in a good way, about his body of work. Many of his books have similar premises to those of previously published successful books by English-speaking authors. One of his latest books is about a magician in Auschwitz, for example. Do you see my point?
Another Portuguese author that mainly writes historical fiction is Domingos Amaral. I had no interest in his work until I’ve heard about the book Quando Lisboa Tremeu. It takes place during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed Lisbon and introduces readers to five people whose lives were about to change.
Crime Fiction / Thrillers
It was the lack of Portuguese authors writing crime fiction and thrillers that first sparked the idea for this post. There is no shortage of books from this genre on sale in bookshops, but the majority is translated from other languages. Reading in translation is very common in Portugal and no fuss is made about it.
O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra (The Mystery of the Sintra Road in the English translation) by Eça de Queirós and Ramalho de Ortigão is considered the first crime story in Portuguese literature. First published in 1870 in a newspaper as anonymous letters, it is about the kidnapping of a doctor and his friend. Neither of the authors are famous for writing crime fiction, though.
Despite the lack of “tradition” in writing crime fiction and thrillers in Portugal, some contemporary authors have written books from this genre. Francisco José Viegas is the Portuguese author that is probably more prolific and famous when it comes to writing crime novels. He created the character Jaime Ramos, who solves crimes in the city of Porto, around 30 years ago. João Tordo has also published a couple of thrillers, although his body of work also features books from the historical and literary fiction genres. I’m still to read books by these two authors.
Fantasy is a genre that is too often wrongly dismissed as for children in Portugal, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve never ever seen a fantasy book by a Portuguese author in a bookshop. But they exist according to that famous search engine! Sandra Carvalho has two book series published – Crónicas da Terra e do Mar and A Saga das Pedras Mágicas. Filipe Faria has also written an epic fantasy series, Crónicas de Allaryia, which comprises seven books.
Despite fantasy being one of my favourite genres, I have to admit that I’m wary of reading fantasy books not written by English-speaking authors. It’s still a genre that I can’t imagine a Portuguese author succeeding at, maybe because there’s no one renowned for being a great writer in that genre in Portugal. What can I say… I’m not immune to literary prejudices.
Although I don’t read books from the romance genre, all that cheesy melodrama is just not for me, I thought it would be important to mention it, as so many readers enjoy it. There are various Portuguese authors that write romance books. It’s not difficult to find them in supermarkets. Two of the most prolific seem to be Margarida Rebelo Pinto and Pedro Chagas Freitas.
Had you heard about these authors before? Why do you think authors in some countries tend to write more books from specific genres than others? Tell me in the comments!