Rarely has a novel with a publication delayed as long as this one's proven such a pleasure.
The so-called “Lost Novel” by the Nobel Prize–winning Portuguese author has a peculiar history. Saramago (Blindness, 1995, etc.) submitted the book, likely written in the late 1940s or early ’50s, for publication in 1953. He never received an acceptance or rejection from the publisher; instead, the manuscript by the then-unknown novelist just sat there. It didn’t resurface until 1989, when the publisher discovered the manuscript while moving offices and informed the now-renowned author that it would be eager to publish this early work. He refused, apparently because it was a painful reminder of his struggling days, and didn’t want it published during his lifetime. Since his death in 2010, it’s been well-received wherever it’s been published, suggesting that quality was not the issue. Unlike the author’s later allegories, this is more of a dark romantic comedy with philosophical undertones, set in an apartment building occupied by six families. A cobbler and his wife, the only happy couple here, take in a young lodger who has a sense of his destiny unfettered by the usual entanglements: “I have the sense that life, real life, is hidden behind a curtain, roaring with laughter at our efforts to get to know it. And I want to know life.” Occupying the other apartments are two married couples, a kept woman, two young sisters with their mother and aunt, and a family with a beautiful young daughter. After introducing all these characters in a confusing rush, the novel lets the reader sort them out as various entanglements reveal themselves, some more interesting than others. Ultimately, the young boarder comes to suspect that “the hidden meaning of life is that life has no hidden meaning.”
More conventional and less political than the later work that established the author’s reputation but an early sign of considerable promise and spirited storytelling.