A friend recommended this book to me and another lent me a copy. Hopes were high, then, if a little nervously so. There’s always the possibility of that awkward moment when you both realise that you’ll have to agree to disagree. C’s a proofreader which is how she first came by Martha Batalha’s novel. She’s also a bookseller and I suspect has been pressing this novel into as many hands as she can. From its exuberantly colourful jacket to its playful author’s note, The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao is an absolute treat. It spans twenty or so years in a Brazilian housewife’s life, beginning in the 1940s.
Euridice is a clever little girl. Everything she puts her hand to, she excels at. Her older sister Guida is the worldly one. Beautiful and flirtatious, she’s a skilled tutor in the art of catching a man. These two help out at their parents’ shop – Euridice when she’s done her homework, Guida when she has no choice. When Euridice is told her musical talent will take her to the conservatoire she and her parents become locked in a battle so intense that a mere exchange of glances is enough to reignite their anger. It’s her first act of rebellion but then Guida disappears leaving Euridice with a gaping hole in her heart and parents who pin all their hopes on her. She marries a respectable banker who fails to understand his wife’s brilliance, channelled first into cooking, then into sewing. When both these projects are firmly squashed along with her hopes, Euridice retreats quietly into herself again. One day, out of the blue, Guida knocks on Euridice’s door.
Euridice’s story is expertly told, liberally laced with a smart, playful humour sharp enough to flag the serious side of this tale of frustrated housewifery and self-sacrifice. Batalha peoples her novel with a vividly drawn cast of characters, each rounded out with their own backstory. Her women are strong, resourceful and capable; her men likely to become caught up in worries about the absence of blood on the wedding sheets. There’s a broad, deep vein of humanity running through this book: even the malicious Zélia, whose sole joy is spreading poisonous gossip through the neighbourhood, has a sad story of bitter disappointment which she keeps to herself. A salutary tale about the dangers of becoming a good girl entertainingly told, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable novel. I’d echo C’s recommendation loud and clear.