11 June 2011

The Land at the End of the World by Antunes, 1979

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 3:01 pm

Do you fancy another Drambuie? Talking about elixirs always makes me long for syrupy, amber-yellow liquids in the vain hope that, through them and the gentle, cheerful dizziness they provoke, I might discover the secret life of people, an emotional squaring of the circle. Sometimes, by the sixth or seventh glass, I feel that I’m almost there, that I’m about to grasp it, that the clumsy tweezers of my understanding are about to pick up, with surgical caution, the delicate nucleus of the mystery, but then I immediately sink into the formless glee of inarticulate idiocy from which I only extricate myself the following day, by dint of aspirin and antacids, stumbling over my slippers on the way to work, carrying with me the hopeless opacity of my existence, as thick with the mud of enigmas as the half-dissolved sugar in my morning cup of coffee.

. . .

Whenever you examine people closely, they begin, imperceptibly, to take on not so much a familiar aspect but a kind of posthumous profile, which we dignify with our fantasy about their future disappearance. Fondness, friendship, even a degree of tenderness all become easier, being pleasant becomes effortless, idiocy takes on the amiably seductive quality of ingenuousness.

. . .

Like this bar and its Art Nouveau lamps in dubious taste, its customers, heads together, whispering delicious banalities, caught up in the sweet euphoria of alcohol, the background music lending to our smiles the mysterious depth of feelings we have never had: another half bottle of wine and we’ll think ourselves Vermeer, as skilled as he was at translating, through the domestic simplicity of a gesture, the touching, inexpressible bitterness of our condition.

. . .

I had become a man: a kind of sad, cynical greed made up of lascivious despair, egotism, and an eagerness to hide from myself had replaced forever the fragile pleasure of childish joy, of open, unreserved laughter, embalmed in purity, and which at night, when I’m walking home down a deserted street, I still seem to hear echoing at my back like a mocking cascade.

. . .

Why the hell doesn’t anyone talk about this? I’m beginning to think that the one million five hundred thousand men who went to Africa never existed and that I’m just giving you some spiel, the ludicrous plot of a novel, a story I invented to touch your heart — one-third bullshit, one-third booze, one-third genuine tenderness, you know the kind of thing — just so that we can cut to the chase more quickly and end up watching the dawn together in the pale blue light that seeps through the shutters and rises up from the sheets, revealing the sleeping curve of a buttock, the profile of someone facedown on the mattress, our bodies fused in an entirely unenigmatic torpor.

. . .

Sitting on the back seat of the taxi, with the sound of the ticking meter pulsing like suppressed throbs in my throat, I was trying desperately to recognize my city through the windows covered in pimples of water that slid down the glass, slow as glycerin, but all I could see, in the precarious tremor of the headlights, were the swift profiles of trees and houses that seemed to me swathed in the atmosphere of devout, solitary widowhood that I associate with certain provincial towns when the parish hall isn’t showing some pious film bemoaning the lack of candidates for the priesthood.




  1. “the sleeping curve of a buttock”

    The geriatric exhaustion of a resting penis.

    Not sure this guy’s any good from what you put down here. Do you like the book?


    Comment by NB — 19 June 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  2. I selected passages illustrating the narrator’s (and perhaps also the author’s) sense of human opacity, of impenetrability to insight and perhaps even to empathy. Antunes is a psychiatrist, which adds piquancy to the inter- and intrapersonal isolation he observes. He served as a physician in the longue-duree Portuguese incursions in Angola and this experience is integral to the story, so there’s also the war trauma aspect to the dehumanization. Is he good? I’d say yes. He heaps metaphor on metaphor in a way that creates a kind of prismatic effect, like he’s never showing you anything directly while connecting his subject to everything else in the world. I read the first 40 pages or so rather casually before going to sleep, but realized that I wasn’t devoting sufficient attention and getting lost in the poesie, So I started again, reading it entirely during daylight hours of highest attention, On those terms I found the book engaging, though not particularly moving or thought-inducing.


    Comment by ktismatics — 20 June 2011 @ 11:14 am

  3. i’m ok it’s not false ! good job


    Comment by marc78 — 24 June 2011 @ 5:21 am

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