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António Lobo Antunes: A Ordem Natural das Coisas (The Natural Order of Things)

In his earlier books, the technique where different parts of the narrative were written alternatively, was quite effective. The juxtaposition of two events, two different stories, could be both funny and illuminating but, frankly, after a while, it gets tiresome. You are not always sure who is doing what to whom, when it is happening and why. It ceases to be particularly funny and is certainly not very illuminating. OK, rant over. This is still not a bad book at all.

It tells the stories of a bunch of Portuguese no-hopers. There is Yolanda, the young diabetic woman, who is pushed into an affair with the civil servant much, much older than her and who listens to his ravings while he sleeps. The narrator hires an ex-secret policeman to investigate the civil servant. The policeman – Protas – is the most interesting character, believing, as he does in his hypnotic technique, which allows people to fly. The civil servant has as his aunt a madwoman in the attic, his Aunt Julieta, who was locked in the attic, as she was illegitimate (and who still haunts the house long afterwards) and, as his uncle, a military officer who concocted a plot against Salazar but is caught and tortured and may or may not have confessed (he doesn’t remember but everyone seems to think he did) and who is locked in a prison where he can hear but not see the sea. All, of course, are tied together by modern Portuguese history and its sad tale of repression and cruelty, which brought with it the sad state of affairs that Antunes depicts so well in his books. We can only pity the sad, semi-illiterate Julieta, the diabetic Yolanda, even the unnamed and tortured civil servant and admire Antunes’ portrayal of them.

Publishing history

First published 1992 by Editora Dom Quixote
First English translation 2000 by Grove Press