My rating: 4 stars
Os Armários Vazios (Empty Wardrobes in the translation into English) by the Portuguese author Maria Judite de Carvalho seems to be a story about how three women let their lives be influenced by men. And “seem” is a precise and deliberate choice of verb, because the novella has an unreliable, albeit interesting, narrator, who makes readers question whether the characters actually acted in the way she is telling us they did.
When Dora Rosário’s husband died, she had to overcome many financial and emotional problems. It was only when her friend Gabriela got her a job at an antique shop that she managed to turn her life around and send her daughter, Lisa, to a good school. For ten years, Dora mourned her husband, engulfed in great sadness. Contrary to Dora, her mother-in-law, Ana, didn’t lose the will to enjoy life. She, one day, tells Dora about something that happened in the past and that completely changes her daughter-in-law’s outlook on life.
The feelings of the characters are not explored in depth throughout the entirety of the book. Nevertheless, at the specific moments that the focus is on their most intimate tribulations, the emotions are palpable. Dora’s grief at the beginning of the tale and her relationship with her daughter are believably portrayed. Lisa is very perceptive for her age, a characteristic Dora appears to find uncomfortable.
Although, at first, Empty Wardrobes seems to be narrated in the third person from Dora’s perspective, that is not the case. The story is told by a woman who knows her. Sometimes we can almost picture the narrator telling the story to someone she is having a conversation with, which makes the book engaging. Gradually, the narrator becomes a character as well. Her own feelings may have had a significant influence on the way she perceived events. It’s impossible for her to be the most reliable of narrators, not only because she didn’t witness the majority of the events, only having second-hand accounts, but also because her life is shaped by what happens. For that reason, it’s easy to wish for alternative perspectives to the one presented, despite the type of narrator being one of the novella’s highlights.
Maria Judite de Carvalho penned a short but engrossing book that manages to be impactful without comprehensively exploring the actions of the characters.