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Inês Pedrosa: Fazes-me Falta (Still I Miss You)
This novel consists of fifty, relatively small, two-part chapters. One of the parts is a woman talking, the other part a man talking. It soon becomes apparent that they are former lovers and talking to one another, even though the other one cannot hear what is begin said. The reason for this is simple. She is dead. This is not The Lovely Bones, nor is it a mawkish story about lost love (though lost love is a key feature of the book). It is only later in the book that we learn how she died.
We gradually learn that she is thirty-seven (the book starts also immediately after her death) and he fifty-two. They had met when he was at a bad period of his life, ten years previously. He had just had his second divorce and a close friend had recently died. He had decided to resume a study of history, which he loved, and had enrolled for a class. She was the teacher. Her teaching was very feminist and essentially aimed to show that behind many of the great men of history was a woman driving him on and , indeed doing much of the work. He was fascinated by this approach and was grateful to her for giving him these insights. They became friendly and started a relationship. She has since gone on to be a Member of Parliament.
Each section has them talking as though the other one was there even though, of course, the other one was not there. She can see him but not hear him. For him, an atheist, she is, of course, dead and gone. Indeed, he is very bitter about this. She is a firm believer and is convinced that she is currently in some sort of limbo waiting for God to come and fetch her. Despite his atheism, he does call on God more than once, blaming him for taking her away so young and asking for him to be allowed to see her one more time. He also sat and watched over body (she saw this and was impressed).
Much of the conversation, however, is about their relationship and about their views on life. They are different. He is fairly conservative – he will never go out without his Italian silk handkerchief in his pocket, for example – while she is more unconventional. He is bitter at her death, while she is more saddened than bitter. Indeed, she says she is prepared to forego heaven to be with him once more. Both regret the things that they did not say while she was alive, though she more than him. She sums up their differences by stating that she wanted to change the world, while he merely wanted to change the scenery. They have different tastes in many things. For example, he still likes the Rolling Stones. We do not know what she likes but we do know that he despised it while she was alive but now listens to it.
One of the things that Pedrosa does well is, in the adjoining segments, have them both discuss a particular event or perception of the other one but, of course, discuss from an often very different point of view. For example, he criticises her commitment to changing the world, which means that she is always writing to the papers or supporting some cause. There is an example they both discuss. She learns of a story of a single mother arrested for dealing heroin. The woman phones a friend to ask him to pick up her nine month child, left alone in her flat. He is not there so she leaves a voicemail on his mobile. Unfortunately, he no longer uses the phone because he cannot afford the charges so he does not get the message. A prisoner officer hears the woman phoning and contacts social services by sending a fax. The woman who normally dealt with faxes was on holiday. The head of the office was having a difficult time with her husband, saw all the many faxes and ignored them. The result was that the child died and the police only came when the neighbours smelled the rotting body. As a result, the narrator made the whole issue into a crusade. His perception, however, was that the mother had merely forgotten to contact anyone and he was annoyed that she had made such an issue of it. Another example is when she sees that his neighbour is abusing his two-year old daughter. She wills him to go and do something but, of course, he cannot hear her and, as he has the television on, cannot hear the child’s screams. The next day he comments that the man had killed his daughter and he feels somewhat guilty about it. There are many similar different perceptions and events, though, obviously, not as tragic.
On the face of it, it seems strange that these two had a relationship, given their differences. She is religious, he is not. He is conservative and she is not. He is measured and ordered, she is impulsive and chaotic. They have different tastes in music and literature. However, they do have similarities – their love of history, a difficult childhood (her parents were killed in a car crash when she was fourteen, his father ran off with another woman and moved to Sweden) and a concern for the downtrodden, albeit expressed in different ways.
As a dissection of a relationship and of the lives of two contemporary Portuguese people, this is a superb book. Pedrosa, with her clever approach of having one of the couple already deceased, allows her two protagonists to say things they clearly would have not have said while they were both alive. Indeed, this point is made more than once by both of them. It works very well and never descends into the mawkish and trite, as it might have done with a lesser writer.
First published 2002 by Dom Quixote
First published in English by Amazon Crossing in 2019