Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Inquisitor's Manual - Antonio Lobo Antunes

There are certain books, when finished leave you in a state of void. You need time to sink it in and realise.  They continue to haunt you for a while by their sheer brilliance.  This one is one such book. I have been pondering over it ever since I have finished it - a good ten days back. I have completed another two in the meanwhile.

His name have been going round during the Nobel speculation of last year. Honestly, I haven't heard his name before that. The book, I could get hold of was this ( after some mention about this in dictator novels). I must say, this writer has amazed me with his style, language and ability to create an atmosphere of brilliance in writing.

This is not a traditional novel. The story does not flow in sequence, not does it comply to any of the norms of story telling. As the name suggest, its a collection on events, reminiscence, and history unearthing the story to the reader. Circling around Francesco, a minister in the Salazar's regime which ruled Portugal over 50 years, the story looks at the events that followed the fall of the regime and a socialist government is taken control.  Francesco, in his farm house far from Lisbon, where he conducted his official duty, where he received the who and who of the regime, including the regular visit of Salazar himself, accompanied by the militia. Now, the place is deserted, he sending away all the support staffs from his house.

The story is build very slowly, through various people going through their association with Francesco , often getting into their own life rather than that of Francesco ( their past, present and dreams). The unknown narrator, of present day, prepares his manual with interviews , rhetorics  of individuals who are revealed gradually to the reader as his son, his foster daughter, his maid, mistresses, his wife, his driver and others.

Now, dispossessed of his stature, lying in the hospital bed, being controlled/abused by the nurse ( "Wee wee, Senhor Francisco, time for wee-wee, you dont want to wet your nice clean pyjamas, do you, Senhor Francisco?" ) , he is no more the once feared cruel ( who sent his team to kill his estranged wife and her lover) individual. As his daughter recounts " my father without any majesty, whom no one consulted on how to run the country, whom no one asked "And what Minister, should we do about Europe at this time? "

The power and arrogance of the landowner, his brutal rise and fall. His disappointment over the failure to become the successor of Salazar, the fear and torture of the people under the dictatorship, his lack of class ( often ridiculed by the people of higher society), his eccentric choices of mistresses (a girl half his age who wasn't pretty, or even cute, or even very clean, a girl you wouldn't even notice if you passed her in the street, a bit dumpy, a bit awkward, a bit lethargic, I can't imagine what the man saw in her, if at least she were intelligent or charming, but she wasn't, she was a bashful dishrag, a frightful blob... ) and the funny way of lovemaking .. Antonio Antunes makes a powerful story of a dictatorship through the example of the minister.

Book is often funny.. very subtle dark humour at most places and occasional silly ones ( the soldiers taking positions and shooting in the directions of clouds, because a rain drop had fallen on the face of Salazar). While tragic in nature, the writing has a detached style in it and it does not get to the reader as open as it is. On the negative side, I found most people reminisce in the same way, bitter and sarcastic. There are clever use of repetitive sentences, abruptly ended hanging sentences through out the book, including the ending of the novel
how can I say this, how can I make it clear, please tell my idiotic son that I may not have been but that, tell him that I may have made mistake but that,
tell my idiotic son, do you hear, tell my idotic son

please don't forget to tell my idotic son that in spite of everything I

Unique writing style, rich in vocabulary, deep and engrossing novel.. fantastic..


The Inquisitors Manual ( 1996)

Antonio Lobo Antunes ( translated from Portuguese  by Richard Zenith )

Grove Press

435 Pages


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