Skylight by José Saramago


Skylight by José Saramago

Portuguese fiction

Original title – Claraboia

Translator – Margaret Jull Costa

Source – Personnel copy

I start this Spanish and Portuguese lit months with a Nobel winner. But this is one of those books that we wonder should have n=been published. Lost for years this was found at the publishers and dated from the early fifties thought Lost Saramago hadn’ t want it published in his lifetime. The publisher had wanted to release it in the 80s but Saramago said no and left it to his family to decide which they did. I am never sure about this type of work, I reviewed the lost debut novel of Georges Perec a few years ago that unlike this was different to the other Perec books I have read in this book there is a connection with the male characters to the other Saramago books I read years ago. I was surprised that I hadn’t review Saramago over the time of the blog anyway maybe this is a good intro to him on the blog the first work. I have a few others on my tbr pile to read.

Silvestre returned to his place at the window, wondering hiw the mistake could possibly have arisen. He knew full well that his handwriting was not of the finest, but it was, he thought pretty good for a cobbler, especially when compared with that of certian doctors. The only explanation seemed to be that hte newspaper had got it wrong. he sure it hadn’t been his mistake; he could see in his minds eye the form he had filled in and he had definetly put the ground floor, right. While engaged in theese thoughts, he remained focused on his work glancing out at the stree now and then, with the aim of spotting amoung the few passer bys anyone who migt be coming to see the room.

Silvestre misplaced the ad for the room but is at the window silent again .

Skylight is the tale of an Apartment building in Lisbon just after the end of world war two in 1952. Six flats mostly females that live in the flats. An elderly Cobbler Silvestre who we learned served in world war one and his rotund wife. They have been forced to take in a lodger a young man Abel a man who is about the age Saramago was when he wrote this book. I said this was the place to start with Saramago Silvestre is the typical male figure in a number of the other books I have read other the years by Saramago the working man getting on silently with life is a classic Saramago character. Then we have a pair of sisters spinsters as they would have been called then Adriana and Isaura listen to Beethoven turned up loud almost as they use their love of music as a substitute for Sex. Then a salesman Emilio and his Spanish with who have a very rocky marriage and use their young son as a weapon to try and can the upper hand in their marriage. A beautiful young typist who has a leary boss again sexual tensions.Elsewhere some one is selling their body for money.aetano and his wife coping with the loss of a child and in a brutal way at times.  A huddle of working class people some going up some of the level and other facing the void all living close to each other so much so that each of their lives is partly known to the others so.

Caetano was not looking at the photo, therefore his smile had nothing to do with his daughter’s. The smile in the photo bore no resemblance to his. The one in the photo was open and happy, and it was inly its fixed quality that made one uneasy. Caetano’s smile was lubricious, almost repellant, When grown up smile like that, they should not be in the prescence of childrens smiles, even smiles in photographs.

After leavinfg work, caetano had a little “adventure”, a sordid adventure – the kind he liked best. That’s why he was smiling. He enjoyed them twice over, once when he was experiencing them and again in retrospective.

Caetano a trubled character as shown above in this passage about a photo and a smile.

I have always been a fan of books set in buildings I mentioned Perec early on as this reminds me of his Life a user manual in a way as it shows the inner workings of this building. Another book I was reminded of was the yacobian building  by Alaa Al Aswanyt   the egypitian novel about another building like the Building in the Skylight a working class world a similar feel of fading world is in both worlds.  Another book was Taxi another egyptian novel with short glimpse and pictures of world as people catch a taxi. This is a discetion of the world Saramago saw at the time. The book has a strong undercurrent of sexual repression and desires were maybe to much for the Portugal of the time when he first wrote the book in the middle of the Salazar regime although this isn’t really about that more about being working class in the Lisbon of the time. and a great place to start with Saramago on the blog and his silent men.

Have you a favourite Saramago book?

What do you think about books that weren’t published in the writers life coming out ?

Fado Alexandrino by António Lobo Antunes









Fado Alexandrino by António Lobo Antunes

Portuguese literature

Original title – Fado Alexabdrino

Translator – Gregory Rabassa

Source – Personal copy

When I choose to expand out Spanish lit month to include literature from Portuguese, one of the  writers I had in mind was another book by Antunes, I read knowledge of hell a couple of years ago and after that brought a number of his books to read in recent years he has been on the list of possible Nobel prize winners. This book is considered his best book. Antunes like the men in this book served in the military in Africa, he also worked as a doctor with men after the wars in Africa as a Psychiatrist.

“I was married and had a daughter this high “the second lieutenant said, smiling at the spoons the waiter was serving the mear with. “I was living on the Rue da Mae d’Agua, below the fountain, and after intimacies, even with the light off, I could see the round ball of the paper lamp, looking like an enormus moon, sowing Japanese ghosts in the darkness.(The breathing of his wife beside him and of his daughter in the otger room flooded the floor with a murmur of sounds that rose and sank like the soft flutter of a dress.

The men recall better days at times but always with a sense of loss in the words the say.

Fado Alexandro is a book in three parts that follow five men through the periods of their lives. Thye five men although four tell the story the fifth the captain of the men is in the background, the men are all in the military a soldier, a Lieutenant Colonel, a communication officer and a second lieutenant. The book opens in the years before the Revolution in Portugal and the war in Mozambique they all take apart, in fact, not all came back. Then there is the fall of the regime in the Carnation revolution, it is part of what happens there that cause the rest of their lives to go on the paths they did. Both lieutenants marriages fail and they take up with the different woman as one wife was upper class and a large amount is remembered of how hard it was for them to get together. Then there is buying a young girl in Africa. A death and the communication officer’s daughter tells her father story in the later section. The book follows the four as they all are scarred by war and their relationships with woman.

“Four of these lady friends plus the four  of us make eight hot whores ,” the lieutenant colonel told the second lieutenant , still suspious of the champagne , massaging his stomach. “What will your neighbours say when they see us ?”

Me, for example, I’m my mother, he thought , a ridiculous old woman who wore gauze, rings perfume, makeup and creams , her artifical nylon eyelashes fluttering like insect winhs, clumsily attempting to seduce the grocer in hop of a little discount on a jug of wine, because I started drinking towards the end of my life,

THe view of woman isn’t the best at times

This is a complex book about the time that followed the fall of Estado Novo regime following a coup by the military. The many wars in Africa as the Estado Novo tried to keep the old Portuguese colonies under their rule, in this case, Mozambique, Antunes spent time in Angola but both wars were very brutal in what happened there. Through the five men we see the brutal nature of the war is recounted in the stream of consciousness of the men’s lives and relationships, in particular, the  wives, woman they fuck and women the don’t fuck these are very nasty men in their natures All this book like Ulysses happens over one night as the four remaining men meet for a meal and get very drunk and recount their stories as record in the novel. So there is a sense at times of lines of the men and their stories blending that thing you get as men with a shared experience and recounting it the who, what, why and how can get blurred sometimes.  A powerful of men and war from a European version of what happened to American Vietnam in Africa.

The painter of birds by Lidia Jorge









The painter of birds by Lidia Jorge

Portuguese literature

Original title – O Vale da Paixão

Translator – Margaret Jull Costa

Source – personal copy

Well, I managed to return after a busy while, my first lot of nights in my new job and a course and two long days meant the days off I had in between all this I hadn’t much chance to blog. But as I said last month I choose, to add some literature from Portugal, I looked up on Wiki a number of writers from the region and decided to choose those that were available second hand. Lidia Jorge is considered one of the leading voices of the new wave of writers that came after the Salazar regime. She spent time in Africa married to a military man then she lived with a well-known Journalist. This book won a number of prizes when it came out.THis book also covers woman in translation month.

For that reason,  on the night Walter Dias visited her, the bullets and the revolver were out of sight, and he wanted to take the gun away from her on that rainy night , he wanted to take the gun with him, but she realized that if he took it, when walter did disappearm he might disappear entirely. He even said to her “Don’t be silly!”But she couldn’t give him back the weapon. Giving it back would be like handing over the fragile link that bound his existance to hers.

They meet but she doesn’t want to let him go and break that bond that links them .

The painter of birds is the story when a young woman the narrator of the books starts to look back other her absent father’s life. SHe has a strained relationship with him and in the family farmhouse where she is just inland from the Algarve where Jorge grew up is salt worn from the sea. He painted pictures in his letter home from his many travels as she read through these letters and she sees the father she never really knew. There is no strong time line in the book so there is a real sense of the present and past drifting together as she reads and the world and place he went to coming alive.As the bits she knows the pictures family tales bring Walter Dias a man she only twice met in her younger years.A rogue of a man who left the nearest neighbours daughter her mother with child and started to travel the world with the army fighting in the various wars from the 30s onwards.

Francisco Dias used to talk about Walter too.

It was clear to him that black cloud hung over his youngest son. He would say so to anyone who would listen when he had free times on Sundays, before dozing off, though never speaking directly to Walter’s niece, but then he never spoke to her anywayy. He did not, however, conceal from her the difference between Walter and his other sons, should she care to hear, if she could hear.She walked among them as if she were deaf, and didn’t care whether she heard him or not.Francisco Dias put it all down to school, the place where, in his opinion, the life of a man was not only shaped but also summarized and foretold.THis is how he explained it.

Her grandfather had a very different view of his wayward son .

I like the narrative flow of this book it had a crime like pace but with a sense of  piecing  the past together piece by piece but also a sense of not seeing it all as Walter is a rogue but also does these wonderful bird pictures, but then there is the past of Walter from her  family tell her of him a man that ran out on her and her mother and briefly appeared in her she wants to love him, this will appeal to the fans of books like English patient as both share a sense of piecing  the past together from fragments and piece of gossip and side stories.


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 .



October 2020


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