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António Lobo Antunes: O Manual dos Inquisidores (The Inquisitors’ Manual)

Antunes continues his examination and condemnation of the Portuguese military dictatorship and the people that supported it and profited from it. This story is about Senhor Francisco who was a senior minister in Salazar‘s government. Most of the action takes place in and around his farm in Palmela, with the story told by Francisco and the various people associated with him. He had been very powerful, with regular visits from Salazar himself and influence all the way to the top. He had been brutal to his family and staff. However, he clearly loved his wife. When she cheated on him, he tried to have her lover killed but the lover was a rich and important businessman and he failed. However, Francisco had a stroke and was left in poor health, dependent on the ever faithful Titina as well as nurses. After the Revolution, he drives all the staff away, accusing them of being communists, and is left with no-one. His useless son, Joâo, hates him for having bullied him but is forced to move to the farm when his wife – the niece of the businessman lover – dumps him.

Antunes tells this story from multiple perspectives. Most of the family members get their say, as do Titina and other staff and a variety of other people who come into contact with Francisco. Most poignant is the story of his mistress, a young woman who works in her mother’s haberdashery, who is pulled away from that background and then is just as unceremoniously dumped and has to return – with her controlling mother – to the shop, where they are now despised by the populace. After the mother’s death, Milá, the daughter, struggles on alone, still dreaming. Antunes continues to have the annoying habit of mixing in bits of different stories, even in the same sentence, so that you are never sure who is speaking and when they are speaking but, apart from that, the novel is a very telling story of a corrupt and cruel regime and the people who supported it.

Publishing history

First published 1996 by Editora Dom Quixote
First English translation 2003 by Grove Press
Translated by Richard Zenith