When you read a Saramago novel you have to adjust to his way of doing things. He punctuates in his own way, he does not capitalize words, at least in this book, and of course he writes dialog in a pattern that I’ve only seen in his books. All this works well enough. This book is most notable for the prose, which is comic, a bit arch, but very natural, and in which the author presents himself as the shaper of the work, and uses this device to explain the past to us while never attempting to recreate it. He has heard this story of an elephant given by the King of Portugal to the Archduke of Austria and it becomes a novel as we watch. It is that aspect of the book that makes it most readable, that it feels as if we are reading the novel as it unfolds in Saramago’s mind. His mind in this book is an amiable and delicious place to be. But because this is the process going on in the foreground of the reading, the story never has much urgency. It is an easy book to put down. It is equally easy to pick up again, but it never feels all that important to do so. But Saramago’s idea of comedy is charming and erudite and fun all at the same time, and I read the book with pleasure if not with excitement.