‘O Círculo Virtuoso’ by Maria Isabel Barreno

My rating: 3 stars

A collection of five short stories, O Círculo Virtuoso by Maria Isabel Barreno isn’t particularly memorable. The characters and storylines won’t be vivid in my mind for very long. Although it features a couple of auspicious moments, they leave an impression of unfulfilled potential, as they promise a type of narrative that is ultimately not achieved.

The first story in the collection, ‘O Diamante Roubado’, at first appears to be a crime mystery, but in fact it’s mostly about how writers will have to deal with failure sooner or later, which left me disappointed. Helena is one of those authors who sometimes struggles to write. Once, however, a story seems to come into her mind fully formed in a moment of glorious inspiration. The heroine of her story, which is part of the one we are reading, has the same name as her. In the story being written, Helena’s husband died close after the disappearance of a diamond from their house. The police are investigating.

Though ‘A Descida aos Infernos’, the following tale, features one of the same characters as the first, it doesn’t provide any answers. It is certainly philosophical, but not noteworthy. A speleologist encounters a man called Veloso in a cave. He is searching for Helena.

A story being short is not necessarily a hindrance. ‘Significado Oculto de um Corpo Velho’ is one of the shortest, but it’s also the most impactful. An elderly woman opens the door to a young man who is delivering the milk. It delves into late life and the need to accept the inevitability of getting old without self-pity.

‘A Filha do Mercador’, which at times reads like a fairytale, on the other hand, feels excessively long, despite touching on interesting topics. When a trader disappears at sea and his family starts struggling to make ends meet, his daughter pretends to get married and disguises herself as a man. She is extremely successful in getting the trading business running smoothly again. This is a story about how women can be as successful as man when given the opportunity. Her life hasn’t stopped changing yet, though.

The last tale in the collection is the most lacklustre and confusing. In ‘A Mãe-loba’, a man tells a story to a woman whom he encounters sitting on a garden bench. It may well be about the power of stories.

In spite of a small couple of moments of brilliance, Maria Isabel Barreno’s writing style in this collection, which hasn’t been translated into English yet, didn’t impress me nor grab my attention. I probably won’t continue to explore her work.

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