Although the front flap for the latest novel from the Nobel-winning Portuguese author promises ”an essential book of our time,” not even SparkNotes could write a more succinctly plot-spoiling story synopsis than the one on that same front flap. In brief, an old potter living in the country fends off his family’s attempts to relocate him to a metropolis of apartments and ridiculous diversions. But story, as the jacket writers at Harcourt well know, is less useful to Saramago than language. His omniscient narrator, writing in page-long sentences and 10-page-long paragraphs, is by turns a philosopher, gossip, crank, sage, pedant, tease, and rambler. In the process, the teensiest bit of plot is meaningfully, accessibly stretched into something enormous.