Nathaniel, from Senegal, wrote about «Act of the Damned» in Goodreads.com

Grove Press edition, 1996
Act of the Damned” is an absolute lunatic novel. The disturbingly besotted and predatory air of Antunes’s work is reminiscent of dark and frenetic passages from Hunter S. Thompson, Ignacio de Loyola Brandao, Boris Vian and perhaps the creepiest bits of Roald Dahl. This is to say that the prose is unusually visceral, coarse, disorganized, playful and interested in avoiding pretention in favor of a swaggering strangeness.

A few scattered sentences like, “After endless nights of talk and drink and syringes, of God knows how many grams of pills and heroin, I return to the world at two or three in the afternoon, surrounded by your collection of old hats, the overflowing ashtrays and the smell of urine from the Siamese that struts over the covers while we sleep, I return with the weariness of a septuagenarian frog, my kidneys splitting with pain as I flounder in a swamp of algae” made me feel like I could imagine what sort of influences went into the scattershot construction of this multi-generational festival of avarice, decay and retardation. 

The novel is challenging, not least of all because there are at least nine different narrators (members of the family, the family’s doctor, a hapless notary), many of them unannounced and few of them in absolute control of their chapters. A reader suddenly realizes, based on rare instances of direct address in imbedded dialogue, that someone new inhabits the first person perspective, around whose discomfort and frustration Antunes layers his ubiquitous, over-the-top prose. (He could be faulted for failing to differentiate these narrative voices more clearly.).

For long stretches, Antunes will also narrate several things at once, overlaying them in alternating sentences. Sometimes it is clear that he is doing this to show how the surroundings (usually noise, heat and squalor) are so oppressive and irritating that they literally intrude upon the happenings and at other times, it seems to a bit more haphazard and “cut up.” For instance, “ ‘Wackawackawacka,’ said my cousin in Turkish to the Saint Bernard, who immediately withdrew his submissive finger. The mongoloid finished her oatmeal in a typhoon of soggy morsels, and the maid used the torn shirt to wipe her clean before unstrapping her. The procession trampled over the already twisted, tortured lanes to the accompaniment of clarinets, trombones, and tambourines in a heart-rending display of miserable splendour. The fireworks burst into luminous flakes in the air and we only heard them once they were fading in powdery threads. ‘What are you nosing around her for?’ asked my aunt, her eyelids heavy with rage. ‘We got you that cabin and bought you the looms on the condition that you never again set foot in this house.’”

Antunes is also quite comfortable, cobbling together virtuosic sentences that, with the addition of the retards, had me thinking of a more substance-addled, more embittered and less fussy William Faulkner, “My shotgun was tucked under my armpit and my cartridge belt held four or five dangling birds that had interrupted their flight (the hounds fetched their riddled corpses) to fan my haunches, and I arrived at the bedroom door trailing dust from my boots on the carpet and smelling of gunpowder, the earth, the woods and the blood of rabbits and turtle-doves, and my wife, who didn’t look at me, was pulling dresses from the closets and laying them on the bedspread, folding blouses, gathering up her underwear and shoes, and tugging on the leather straps of the open suitcases, knowing I was watching her—my gun in hand and my navel crowned with partridges, looking like a holy card of Our Lady surrounded by murdered angels—watching her move forward and backwards and sideways in the mirrors, as if it were twelve instead of one that I’d married, until I asked, ‘What the hell’s going on?’” 

I’m letting Antunes’ prose speak for itself. While it fits into the cluster of authors I mentioned at first, it is unique and will either repel a reader within five pages or make him tolerate heaps of cruelty, mockery of retards, incest, random violence, scheming and confusions. As I read the novel, I was, at times, unsure what I thought of it and unsure of whether or not I would read Antunes again. In retrospect, I may just have been too overwhelmed and off-track to enjoy it properly. Skimming it again and reviewing the passages that I marked, made me certain that I will tackle another of this man’s books.

by Nathaniel
in Goodreads.com

Sue, from Whispering Gums, about «The Natural Order of Things»

Grove Press edition, 2001
Virtuosic? Tour de force? These are such clichéd terms to use in a review – and yet, I can find no other words to better describe Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes’ 1992 novel, The natural order of things. This is one of those beautifully written, but rather challenging, books that you know you really should read again to get all those nuances, relationships, and connections that you sense but can’t quite fully grasp. If that puts you off reading the book, so be it, but in doing so you’ll miss something quite special.

As you might expect the title is ironic – there is very little natural order here. The novel does not follow the “natural (aka chronological) order” either of fiction or of life. The characters – including a middle-aged man living with a schoolgirl, a miner who “flies” underground, a girl/woman who spends her life in an attic, an ex-secret policeman who teaches hypnotism by correspondence – do not fit the “natural order” either.

The imagery is rich, evocative and effective in building up a picture (mostly of disorder and decay) and a feeling (mostly of melancholy, if not despair). The rhythm – produced by repetition, and by run-on paragraphs that don’t begin with new sentences – compels you on. The characters are convincingly drawn despite their often mad-sounding confusions. The mixing of the surreal with the real works – as does the weaving of two scenes from different points in time in the same sentence, not to mention the telling of a story by two voices in the same sentence. Somehow he makes it work. Here is an example:

…and eleven months later I met Mr Valadas at a restaurant and liked his double chin, he wasn’t as handsome as the skin doctor who hated Verdi, but I felt sorry for him, always by himself, eating lunch all alone,
and my sister Teresa, who kept looking at you and shaking as if she’d been hit by the world’s worst tragedy, “When is the wedding Fernando?” [p. 186]

Two voices alternating in one long run-on sentence – and for some reason, you go with the flow and know who’s speaking when. But that is the thing to do with this book – go with the flow.

So, what is it about? In superficial terms it’s about, as the blurb on my back cover says, “two families and the secrets that bind them”. But really, there’s not a strong plot, though several stories are told. The novel comprises 5 books, each of which is broken into chapters told from two alternating points of view, resulting in 10 voices. The stories are set between 1950 and around 1990 and deal, in their various ways, with post-1974 Carnation Revolution Portugal and the resultant disintegration of Portuguese society (not only in Portugal but in its African and Timorese colonies). This said, the over-riding sense of the book is one of personal stories, of past, present and the way memory works, and not of politics:

Relax, don’t lose your temper, I swear I’m doing the best I can, but that’s how memory is, it has its own laws, its own rhythm, its own whims, … (p. 23)

In a bit of self-consciousness that brings us back to earth, the second last voice in the book, the dying Maria Antonia, says:

I amused myself by imagining that the redheaded girl was the sister of my neighbours at the Calçada do Tojal, I moved her to the house of the Vacuum Oil employee and the imprisoned army officer … my nephew announced with a smile , “You’re going to live forever, Aunt Antonia”, and I nodded so as not to upset him, I stuck a Tyrolean hat on his head and place him in Hyacinth Park of Alcântra, married to a diabetic girl from Mozambique or … [p.263] 
because we who are from here but are not from here, who are from a here that no longer exists, have filled up these buildings with the silt of mementos and albums and letters and faded pictures from the past, and our present is occupied by these ruins of memory, not only the memory of those who preceded us, but the memory of ourselves, because we also forget, because names and images and faces get lost in a fog that makes everything equally blurry, … [p. 274] … with me will die the characters of this book that will be called a novel, which I’ve written in my head, fraught with a fear I won’t talk about, and which one of these years someone, in accord with the natural order of things, will repeat for me in the same way that Benefica will be repeated in these random streets and buildings, and I, without wrinkles or gray hair, will water my garden with the hose in the late afternoon, and the palm tree at the post office will grow again, … [p.277-8] … even if we’re not very large trees, and even if they knock us down, we’ll remain in photos, in scrapbooks, in mirrors, in the objects that prolong and remember us, … [p. 278]

And so here is made clear what should already be clear through the way the book is written and structured – though the repetition of phrases, the recurrence of bird and tree images, and the intertwining of stories and voices –  and that is that the present and past intermingle and repeat each other, that the real and the unreal both have a place, that nothing really ends or begins, and that, perhaps, no matter how bad things are there is hope. What also seems to be made clear is that this has all been the fabrication of Maria Antonia – or has it? After all it is not she but the redheaded girl (Julieta) who has the last say. Read it and decide for yourself.

by Sue


ABC Cultura - «Los hijos de Lobo Antunes»

La sombra del escritor portugués, eterno candidato al Nobel, es alargada en la literatura de su país

foto ABC, Yolanda Cardo

La literatura de la mente y sus recovecos se escuda en António Lobo Antunes para proyectarse al límite. Las fronteras del cerebro se abren de par en par a través de su pluma estilográfica (¿o es que alguien puede imaginarse al eterno candidato al Nobel apostado, a sus 73 años, tras un impersonal ordenador?), guiada no sólo por su imaginación trufada de memoria histórica y recuerdos periodísticos angoleños. Su hermano João, eminente neurocirujano que ejerce de profesor emérito en la Universidad de Lisboa después de su carrera como investigador en Nueva York, se encuentra en la recámara. De sus conversaciones sobre los retos de la humanidad se infieren miles de matices que se alojan en los libros del desasosiego de este expsiquiatra rendido al poder de la palabra.

Cuando Svetlana Alexiévich fue la elegida en octubre por la Academia Sueca, todo Portugal sintió una vez más que aún no era tiempo para reverdecer aquellos laureles de 1998 encarnados en José Saramago. Pero su pulso literario continúa impasible: «Comisión de las lágrimas» o «Camino como una casa en llamas», sucesores de «Tratado de las pasiones del alma», «Exhortación a los cocodrilos» o «La muerte de Carlos Gardel».

La sombra de Lobo Antunes es tan alargada en la literatura portuguesa de hoy como lo es la octogenaria Paula Rego en la pintura. Expresionismo y dolor en ambos casos.

Los «hijos»literarios de don António aseguran la extensión de su legado, de su estela, de su marchamo, de sus enseñanzas… porque él se abre en canal cuando las palabras fluyen desde su convulso interior.

Tierra de nadie

José Luís Peixoto bebe de él y de Saramago, también de la calle, hasta del universo «hip hop» o de la liturgia más autóctona, la que deriva de las apariciones de Fátima. Tal cual refleja «En tu vientre», su 15º libro, donde se abandona a un «tour de force» de la memoria histórica del país vecino.

Y, precisamente, es una devoción casi religiosa la que despierta esa literatura hipnótica del maestro de 73 años, entre la racionalidad y su antagonista, en una tierra de nadie que sólo habita el artífice de «Tratado de las pasiones del alma».

Aureola fantasmagórica de raíz arquetípicamente portuguesa, lejos de los caprichos formales y sujeta a una autenticidad a prueba de bombas. Hondura. Estados alterados.

Otra de sus discípulas lo ha reconocido abiertamente, Dulce Maria Cardoso, después de dar a luz a «criaturas» como «Campo de sangre», «Mis sentimientos» o «El retorno»: «Sólo él consigue escribir lo indecible como ningún otro».

El resultado es que la deuda literaria crece en su honor, como atestigua Ana Margarida Carvalho, «madre» de «Qué importa la furia del mar». Ella se adscribe a sus rotaciones metafísicas, a una «prosa torrencial» que nos inunda. Obsesiones en gerundio herederas de quien dijo: «Mi oficio es traducir voces».

Rui Cardoso Martins da fe de una comunión similar a través de títulos como «Y si me encantase morir» o «Dejen pasar al hombre invisible». Su creatividad fluye de manera sinuosa, a veces cavernosa, nunca meliflua. Por si fueran pocas sus evidencias, acaba de poner en pie un montaje teatral surgido de su desbordante imaginación y encarnado en algunos manuscritos que le marcaron especialmente. Así nació «António y Maria», una especie de combate dialéctico con sabor a tragicomedia doméstica.

Tampoco podemos olvidar a Valério Romão, autor de «Autismo» o «De la familia» y permanente observador de la obra excelsa del «padre» de «Memoria de elefante», aquel debut de Lobo Antunes que antecedió a otra de sus creaciones más inquietantes, «Fado alejandrino», retrato vivo del Portugal que avanzaba con pies de plomo en la centuria anterior con un sentimiento de culpabilidad neocolonial palpable en aquellas páginas.

La metáfora como herramienta principal, de acuerdo con su reencarnación en manos de Frederico Pedreira, que reunió sus magníficos cuentos en «Un bárbaro en casa», una faceta que le otorga una dimensión muy diferente a la que suelen transmitir sus elegías.

Honestidad brutal

La arquitectura desconcertante se halla también presente en José Riço Direitinho, incapaz de conformarse con la epidermis en «La casa del fin» o «Una sonrisa inesperada». Eso sí, se ha atrevido a indicar que la conversión de su universo particular en una suerte de «club con el derecho de admisión reservado» constituye la única piedra que ve en su camino. Quizá porque sus intenciones son menos crípticas. Una confesión que rezuma honestidad brutal, especialmente si tenemos en cuenta que procede de quien se benefició de una ayuda personal por parte de don António en sus orígenes. Porque Riço Direitinho pudo encontrar editorial gracias al consejo de su tótemico modelo.

No es, por supuesto, la única generación de escritores que venera al arquitecto verbal transcrito en «La muerte de Carlos Gardel». Ya se había acreditado como tal José Cardoso Pires, alquimista de «Vals lento« y «Lisboa. Diario de a bordo», además de aguerrido azote del salazarismo.

El ADN «antuniano» se ha colado hasta en el reciente Festival de Berlín, pues se estrenó allí la adaptación cinematográfica de «Cartas de la guerra», una película de Ivo M. Ferreira basada en las misivas que un alférez de veintiocho años apellidado Lobo Antunes escribía a la que fue su segunda esposa en los días de la liberación colonial de Angola.

Hay quien proclama su firma en la antesala de una especie de subgénero literario, formado por el «progenitor» y su creciente número de «hijos», protagonistas de todo un renacer literario en la patria del fado, que tuvo a bien definir Fernando Pessoa como «la música del pueblo».

texto de Francisco Chacón

Crónica «Nós» com reflexão sobre a sua leitura por Olga Fonseca

Nós Não precisávamos de falar. Como ele dizia – Tu sabes sempre o que eu estou a pensar e eu sei sempre o que tu estás a pensar ...