H. is a struggling artist with a commission to paint a portrait of a well-known industrialist. Whilst the industrialist sits for the portrait, H. begins an affair with his subject’s secretary. Meanwhile the painting starts to fail. For inspiration H. takes a trip to Italy to contemplate the works of the great artists, but when his friend back home is arrested by the secret police of Salazar’s regime, H. is pulled back to Portugal. Art, sexuality and politics collide in Saramago’s first novel.