PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa, this novella holds the classic foundations of a medieval fairy tale yet told in a modern voice. Three trials, magic objects and an erotic devil are all at play in the ironic story of religion, science and politics.
The main character, a man never named and only described by his beauty, was sold to the devil and then lived his life waiting for the invisible lover to caress him, until three maidens told him of their widowed mistress.
The funny and erotic play of doubles between the three maidens and the three goddesses creates a wonderful uncertainty of reality and truth.
Margaret Jull Costa has done a marvellous job translating the confusion of ownership, ethics, and politics with this intriguing and witty novella.
No short review can possibly do justice to this complex, fascinating parable of the brutal, puritan Salazar regime... But every event, every character, all the wonderful language has multiple interpretations. Is the Devil an endearingly love-sick, very funny shadow or is it Dona Urraca? Is the youth, prodigious not just in healing, a physician or a magician? Does he represent sexual freedom or is he an evil revolutionary? Only the Inquisitor is reasonably straightforward: Salazar. De Sena’s technique is brilliantly original. Often he uses two dialogues printed side by side, complementary or contradictory. The novel is as ironic and funny as it is erotic and cynical. The marvellous linguistic word-play is superbly translated, no easy task, I suspect. There is an excellent introduction which is very helpful. This is a novel to be re-read. Highly recommended.
Ribald and raunchy, The Prodigious Physician is nevertheless tinged with pessimism. Unlike the neo-realists, Sena was too realistic to know that utopias never work. Although their books have aged badly, this novella continues to resonate in our time in the way it celebrates equality between women and men, sexual freedom over prudery, reason over fanaticism, and the individual over the state... In The Prodigious Physician's 100 pages we find all the main elements in the best contemporary Portuguese fiction. Jorge de Sena's obscurity is a mystery, but the solution to that is simple and begins with reading this little masterpiece.