‘O Amante do Crato’ by Maria Velho da Costa

My rating: 3 stars

The plot is not at the centre of the four short stories in the collection O Amante do Crato by the Portuguese author Maria Velho da Costa. If occasionally the writing style is enough to enchant, the lack of meaningful actions throughout the majority of the stories affected my reading experience. Some of the tales could have been far more interesting hadn’t they been so short.

The first two stories in the collection come to an end before anything is fully explored. ‘A Prima Odília’ starts after the death of the narrator’s mother in 1912. He seems unaffected by such a loss, because it was not unexpected. For most of the story nothing happens, but when there are only a couple of paragraphs left to read a mystery is introduced. It is never solved, however, which infuriated me. In ‘Poder Fatal’, the relationship between the characters is also not delved into either. Although the beginning is gripping, thanks to the detailed descriptions, the story doesn’t go anywhere interesting. A man and a woman meet, but readers never get to learn who they are.

‘A Ponte de Serralves’ is slightly more impressive. It focuses on a day in Miss Laura’s life. The narration of her actions is interspersed with descriptions of her house and garden. The descriptions are evocative and there are moments of remarkable work of language, but there isn’t much substance to the plot either.

Only in the last story in the collection, ‘O Amante do Crato’, did Maria Velho da Costa managed to create a gripping combination of plot and prose. Though the narrator states at the beginning that she may be misremembering some of the events, this is the only story in which the action plays a significant role. This is a tale about memories from childhood that establishes a contrast between how a child is treated by her strict parents and her kinder grandmother.

O Amante do Crato comes illustrated with paintings by Ilda David. But, sadly, neither the words nor the images mesmerised me.

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