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WHAT CAN I DO WHEN EVERYTHING’S ON FIRE? by António Lobo Antunes

WHAT CAN I DO WHEN EVERYTHING’S ON FIRE?

By António Lobo Antunes (Author) , Gregory Rabassa (Translator)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-32948-3
Publisher: Norton

A prolonged tempest in a demitasse in the demimonde of contemporary Lisbon.

Stealing marches on Faulkner and Joyce, Portuguese novelist Antunes (The Inquisitors’ Manual, 2003, etc.) turns in a contemporary gothic tale delivered in stream-of-consciousness prose, or perhaps better, stream-of-consciousnesses. The ostensible narrator, Paulo Antunes Lima, is a soul both tough and sensitive, not quite sure what to make of his own background, with a father who was one of Lisbon’s preeminent drag queens and whose appetites were catholic and many. “When I was little I would settle down outside there near the horses and the sea so the waves would muffle the voices inside the house and thank God that for an hour or two I could forget about them, my father next to the refrigerator with the dwarf from Snow White on top, turning it round and round without looking at it, my mother asking him in a hiss that carried to the pine trees and made me call to them,” Paulo reflects in a Proustian, underpunctuated moment that is, strange to say, one of the narrative’s more accessible, as voices come and go and events get increasingly ugly. Dad—Carlos or Soraia, depending on hour and mood—dies in an episode both ghastly and politically charged. His lover follows, brought down by poor lifestyle choices. And just about everyone else who comes into contact with Lisbon’s uncharted side, with its victims and victimizers, suffers or doles out pain, violence and bullying (“Doesn’t anybody love you, faggot?”). There is little joy in these pages, but plenty of redemption. Reader be warned, however—this most literary of novels requires a great deal of work to suss out the outlines of a story, for if Antunes seems bent on turning in a homegrown version of Joyce, it is the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, and of Faulkner, the Faulkner of As I Lay Dying.

Strictly for those who like experimental fiction.