by David Slavitt ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1988
From the uneven, occasionally pretentious author of Jo Stern, Alice at 80, and The Hussar: an uninspired exercise in meta-fiction and meta-history--centering on the role of a literary man in a politically warped society. It is the late 1960's; Portugal's dictator Salazar lies paralyzed by a stroke, near-speechless, yet seemingly fully conscious. So, though a new government has in fact taken over, Salazar's cabinet continues to meet in his presence, pretending to be carrying out his wishes (as interpreted by the dictator's devoted housekeeper). Furthermore, to make the elaborate hoax complete, narrator Carlos--a plump, balding ""poet/journalist"" imprisoned by Salazar for irreverent writing--is compelled to recite phony radio-news dispatches that are broadcast to the old dictator alone. Carlos, however, rebels against this monstrous absurdity. First, wanting to humiliate Salazar, he inserts tipoffs about the hoax into the broadcasts. (To Carlos' dismay, Salazar--via the house-keeper--thanks him.) Then, as the narrative switches to and fro between first-person and third-person, Carlos blackmails one of Salazar's ministers into taking the poet's manuscript (the one we've been reading) to the woman he adores from afar, a rich young beauty named Sidonia de Castro. And finally, when Carlos is unexpectedly freed from his palace jail, he goes to retrieve the manuscript from haughty Sidonia, recoils from her decadent circle, but does manage to bed her. . .despite serious reservations about her political/literary vacuity. Slavitt has obviously read Kundera, Skvorecky, and the Latin American ""magic realists""--but this short novel is a strictly minor-league imitation, without imaginative force, comic conviction, or richness of language. The post-modernist plot, with those overfamiliar manuscript games, seems halfhearted. The requisite meditations--on Portugal as a ""joke country,"" on Salazar's fascist banality, on Angola and the sadistic PIDE (secret police)--are perfunctory. The prose strains to be ironic and aphoristic but is more often hollow, precious, even American-cutesy. Some marginal appeal for those with a preexisting interest in the Salazar era, then; otherwise--an academic doodle.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1988
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1988
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