22 May 08 | Chad W. Post

In addition to Bolano’s 2666, the other big (in every sense of the word) galley I’ve been waiting for is Antonio Lobo Antunes’s What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?, which is due out in September from W.W. Norton.

Well, it arrived yesterday:

It’s only 585 pages long and is prefaced with a “Dramatis Personae” and maps of the Lisbon region and the city itself in order to help orient readers.

I’m one of those people (and there really are quite a few), who feel that Antunes should’ve won the Nobel over Saramago. His books are more dense, complicated, and “challenging” than Saramago’s, but also have a wider range of style and tone. He’s a very rewarding writer, who writes in the Joyce/Faulkner vein. (In fact there’s a quote on the back of this galley from George Steiner claiming that Antunes is the “heir to Conrad and Faulkner.” His books are also frequently compared to those of Dos Passos and Celine.)

Here’s the jacket description:

The razor-thin line between reality and madness is transgressed in this Faulknerian masterpiece, Antonio Lobo Antunes’s first novel to appear in English in five years. [sic — see Knowledge of Hell ] What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire?, set in the steamy world of Lisbon’s demimonde—a nightclub milieu of scorching intensity and kaleidoscopic beauty, a baleful planet populated by drag queens, clowns, and drug addicts—is narrated by Paolo, the son of Lisbon’s most legendary transvestite, who searches for his own identity as he recalls the harrowing death of his father, Carlos; the life of Carlos’s lover, Rui, a heroin addict and suicide; as well as the other denizens of this hallucinatory world. Psychologically penetrating, pregnant with literary symbolism, and deeply sympathetic in its depiction of society’s dregs, Lobo Antunes’s novel ventriloquizes the voices of the damned in a poetic masterwork that recalls Joyce’s Ulysses with a dizzying farrago of urban images few readers will forget.

I promise to review this without a single mention of Joyce or Faulkner . . . And now I’m seriously booked in terms of my reading through the end of the year . . .


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