The pleasures of reading a book that’s set in the place you happen to be are both obvious and subtle. On the one hand, you easily identify landscapes and landmarks mentioned in the text and see how they match the author’s descriptions, even if the book’s time period resides in the distant past. But there are other forces at work, “the inaudible friction of thoughts” as José Saramago calls them. Moods and shifts in perspective within the sentences seep into you while you’re reading and looking up from the pages at the surrounding areas. You’re not really looking at anything in those moments but allowing the meaning and setting to meld.
Unconsciously, the present sounds and smells contribute extra character, with the story of the novel becoming your story as you exist in the same city, town or locale as the novel. The transference of your desires and doubts onto the protagonist’s becomes complete, the strongest it’s ever been. So it was with me as I read Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis while in Lisbon.