Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes


Knowledge of hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Portuguese fiction

Original title – Conhecimento do Inferno

Translator – Clifford E Landers

Source – personnel copy

Well I can’t quite remember when i first heard of Antunes as a writer , I think it was back with an interview with Frank Wynne years ago. well the years went by I tried for a copy from the library they had one but it was a missing book. Then I had at times tried and failed to find him in book shops, but he seems to only be on shelves of larger waterstones or the LRB and then his books  seemed to have fallen behind what ever caught my eye that month. well a new shelf space at the new house has allowed me to bargain shop. Any way back to Antunes he was a psychiatrist and served in the portuguese army during the Angolan war he start to write a number of years after the wars, he mainly focused his early novels on the war years and its aftermath. This was his third novel.

The sea of the Algarve is made of cardboard like theater scenery, and the english don’t realize it: they conscientiously spread their towels on the sawust sand, protect themselves with dark glasses from the paper sun, stroll enthralled on the stage of Albufeira where public employees disguised as carnival barkers, squatting on the ground, inflict on them Moroccan necklaces secretly manufactured by the tourism board

The opening lines on leaving the Algarve Antonio Lobo Antunes is going home to Lisbon

There is almost a Borges type mirror to this story of a man driving home from his holiday in the Algarve back to Lisbon. Where the  narrator is working in the mental institution with the damage of the post war era of the Angolan conflict where he talks to those who suffered during the war. This si the journey home but almost like going back to hell as the spiral down the journey. As we see how the narrator who is also called Antonio Antunes like the writer himself struggles to control his role as listen helper and in a way god to those he is trying to heal.But he like many in his position is getting scared by those he is healing so the sadness falls as the near he gets to the centre.

I’ve never left the hospital, he thought as he received his change from the gasoline, observing the guy from whom the face, the gestures, the voice of Mr Carlos were slowly disappearing, the same way a smile dissipates in an old picture art the beach, or the acacias dissolves in the pale fog of October, as colourless and mute as the animals in dreams.Mr Carlos was slowly diappearing the employees were cleaning the windows of the station wagon in circular movements using a kind of sponge

he repeats the phrase I never left the hospital in this chapter as his mind wanders and he is remind of the hospital on his return journey.

This book is third in a trio of books he wrote on the Angolan war and its aftermath from the point of view of being a psychiatrist. I said this was like Borges with a mirror this is a reflective image of the writer himself but one with flaws like those old mirrors that twisted and bent the reflection in the light. I instantly got what everyone said about Antunes being a great writer , I don’t get the Faulkner comparison myself but there is a longing in his writing that almost sums up that portuguese word Saudade but a twist form of it a longing for what has happened not to have happened a sort of wishing the past away and want to remove the scars of a dark part of his country’s past. The wars in Angola were among the most brutal of african independence as Portugal struggled to keep a foothold in Africa. Have you read Antunes ?

Blank gaze by Jose luis Peixoto


Jose Luis Peixoto is a Portuguese  writer that grew up in the southern Alentejo region in Portugal  ,he is a journalist ,poet and critic ,he teaches languages and contemporary literature .he has a love of heavy metal and gothic music one of his other novels was a collaboration with the gothic band moonspell .he has written seven novels with this his début in English his latest in english is piano cemetery .

Well the main ingredients for Blank gaze are a Shepard ,a pair of Siamese twins ,an old man 120 years old Gabriel and a blind prostitute as you can see a strange mix all set in a southern portuguese village that is unnamed .when I first read the dust jacket II was expecting something  a little off the wall,but much to my size the novel is homely told in little tales as we see the village life births deaths and marriages through the eyes of the people who live there and a narrator .these moments are all caught vividly through Peixoto eye ,this is very much somewhere the writer new and char caters he grew up knowing adding to a real sense of reality to the prose .

People are a small part of the world ,and I don’t understand people .I know what they do and the immediate motives for what they do and the immediate motives for what they do , but to know this is to know what’s plain to see ,it’s to know nothing at all .I think : perhaps they exist ,with no explanation for it ; perhaps people are pieces of chaos on top of disorder they enclose .

some of Peixoto poetic writing .

This book has a real poets voice through out it and this has been wonderfully retained by Richard Zenith in the English translation .It in parts reminded me of stones in a landslide which I had read earlier in the year a similar sort of village isolated and timeless ,but there is a lot more wit in this book than stones in a landslide .I feel Peixoto is a talent to watch only in his mid thirties he may be the next big Portuguese writer to break through to the English market hopefully .



June 2017
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