The Inquisitors' Manual

The Inquisitors' Manual

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by Antonio Lobo Antunes
     
 

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Like a Portuguese version of As I Lay Dying, but more ambitious, António Lobo Antunes's eleventh novel chronicles the decadence not just of a family but of an entire society - a society morally and spiritually vitiated by four decades of totalitarian rule. In this his masterful novel, António Lobo Antunes, "one of the most skillful psychological…  See more details below

Overview


Like a Portuguese version of As I Lay Dying, but more ambitious, António Lobo Antunes's eleventh novel chronicles the decadence not just of a family but of an entire society - a society morally and spiritually vitiated by four decades of totalitarian rule. In this his masterful novel, António Lobo Antunes, "one of the most skillful psychological portraitists writing anywhere, renders the turpitude of an entire society through an impasto of intensely individual voices." (The New Yorker)

The protagonist and anti-hero Senhor Francisco, a powerful state minister and personal friend of Salazar, expects to be named prime minister when Salazar is incapacitated by a stroke in 1968. Outraged that the President (Admiral Américo Tomás) appoints not him but Marcelo Caetano to the post, Senhor Francisco retreats to his farm in Setúbal, where he vaguely plots a coup with other ex-ministers and aged army officers who feel they've been snubbed or forgotten. But it's younger army officers who in 1974 pull off a coup, the Revolution of the Flowers (so called since no shots were fired, carnations sticking out of the butts of the insurgents' rifles), ending 42 years of dictatorship. Senhor Francisco, more paranoid than ever, accuses all the workers at his farm of being communists and sends them away with a brandished shotgun, remaining all alone - a large but empty shadow of his once seeming omnipotence - to defend a decrepit farm from the figments of his imagination.

When the novel opens, Senhor Francisco is no longer at the farm but in a nursing home in Lisbon with a bedpan between his legs, having suffered a stroke that left him largely paralyzed. No longer able to speak, he mentally reviews his life and loves. His loves? In fact the only woman he really loved was his wife Isabel, who left him early on, when their son João was just a tiny boy. Francisco takes up with assorted women and takes sexual advantage of the young maids on the farm, the steward's teenage daughter, and his secretaries at the Ministry, but he can never get over the humiliation of Isabel having jilted him for another man. Many years later he spots a commonplace shop girl, named Milá, who resembles his ex-wife. He sets the girl and her mother up in a fancy apartment, makes her wear Isabel's old clothes, and introduces her to Salazar and other government officials as his wife, and everyone goes along with the ludicrous sham, because everything about Salazar's Estado Novo ("New State") was sham - from the rickety colonial "empire" in Africa to the emasculate political leaders in the home country, themselves monitored and controlled by the secret police.

Once the system of shams tumbles like a castle of cards, Francisco's cuckoldry glares at him with even greater scorn than before, and all around him lie casualties. Milá and her mother return to their grubby notions shop more hopeless than ever, because the mother is dying and Milá is suddenly a spinster without prospects. The steward, with no more farm to manage, moves his family into a squalid apartment and gets a job at a squalid factory. The minister's son, raised by the housekeeper, grows up to be good-hearted but totally inept, so that his ruthless in-laws easily defraud him of his father's farm, which they turn into a tourist resort. The minister's daughter, Paula, whom he had by the cook and who was raised by a childless widow in another town, is ostracized after the Revolution because of who her father was, even though she hardly ever knew him.

Isabel, the ex-wife, also ends up all alone, in a crummy kitchenette in Lisbon, but she isn't a casualty of Senhor Francisco or of society or of a political regime but of love, of its near impossibility. Disillusioned by all the relationships she had with men, she stoutly resists Francisco's ardent attempts to win her back, preferring solitude instead.

We have to go to the housekeeper, Titina, this novel's most compelling character, to find hope of salvation, however unlikely a source she seems. Unattractive and uneducated, Titina never had a romantic love relationship, though she secretly loved her boss, who never suspected. She ends up, like him, in an old folks' home, and like him she spends her days looking back and dreaming of returning to the farm in its heyday. Old age is a great equalizer. And yet the two characters are not equal. Titina retains her innocence. But it's not the innocence of helpless inability - the case of João, Francisco's son - nor is it the pathetic innocence of Romeu, the emotionally and mentally undeveloped co-worker by whom Paula has a son. Titina isn't helpless or ingenuous, and she isn't immune to the less than flattering human feelings of jealousy, impatience and anger. But she never succumbs to baser instincts. She knows her worth and cultivates it. She is a proud woman, but proud only of what she really is and what she has really accomplished in life.

At one level (and it operates at many), The Inquisitorssssss' Manual is an inquiry into the difficult coexistence of self-affirmation and tenderness toward others. Their correct balance, which equals human dignity, occurs in the housekeeper.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
"We forget everything, we forget everything forever and ever," an old soldier declares about the nearly four decades when Portugal languished under the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. But no one can, and "The Inquisitors' Manual" is a swirl of narratives and perspectives revolving around the family of a powerful, eccentric oligarch in Salazar's government. These orbits are wide: not only ministers but veterinarians, housekeepers, and social workers all have their say. Lobo Antunes, one of the most skillful psychological portraitists writing anywhere, renders the turpitude of an entire society through an impasto of intensely individual voices. Unable to filter present from past, dialogue from echo, his multiple narrators bring us with them as they eddy through the dark backwaters of a lost half-century.
Publishers Weekly
Antonio de Oliveira Salazar is not the best known of 20th-century dictators, but he was as cruel and ruthless as any of them in his rule over Portugal from 1932 to 1968. In his 11th novel, Antunes (The Return of the Caravels; Act of the Damned) recreates the harrowing story of Salazar's regime, building gradually from the petty problems and thoughts of a host of characters, related in stream of consciousness, to blunt exposition of the inhuman inner workings and brutal violence of authoritarianism. An unseen contemporary inquisitor interviews a series of individuals, whose identities are gradually revealed to the reader. These shadowy characters stammer, lie to themselves and compulsively repeat phrases; occasionally, they are sarcastic to the questioner. The central figure is a minor eminence of the fascist government, Senhor Francisco, or "the Minister," whose triumphs and decline are narrated in fragmented and nonsequential fashion. Old, fat and abandoned by the Party as the novel begins, he is spending his last years in a hospital, derided by his nurses: "Time to go wee-wee, Senhor Francisco, time for wee-wee." The minister's son, Joao, is unambitious and simple, and Joao's illegitimate half-sister, Paula, is unattractive, jealous and vindictive, convinced her brother has cheated her out of her inheritance. Supporting characters include Titina, the minister's aging and vain housekeeper; Romeu, a slow-witted dreamer; Cesar, brutally beaten by plainclothesmen; Alice, who shares harsh recollections of Africa. Many of these speakers conjure up a collage of voices as they tell their stories, and the interviews become progressively more narrative, graphically describing the regime of Salazar. With this tapestry of harrowing testimonials, the supremely confident Antunes illuminates a dark corner of European history and produces a stunning piece of narrative art. Agent, Thomas Colchie. (Jan. 25) Forecast: Released just two months after Jos Saramago's The Cave (Forecasts, Nov. 4), this latest novel by Antunes may prompt reviewers to take stock of contemporary Portuguese literature. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his 11th novel, Antunes (The Return of the Caravels), who trained as a psychiatrist, analyzes la Faulkner, Celine, and Proust the decadence and corruption of contemporary Lisbon after the collapse of his tiny nation's world empire. Confined to a nursing home in the wake of a stroke and now spoken to in baby talk, Senhor Francisco, former adviser to Portuguese dictator Salazar, sorts through the snarling entanglements of his life. His son, Joao, is a booby who is defrauded by everyone, and his illegitimate daughter, Paula, once fawned over, is ostracized for her father's part in the now-despised regime. Antunes's razor-sharp eye dissects the outsized shadow cast by this fallen minister of state in all of its paranoia-induced variations. Remarkable for its descriptive exuberance, this book is recommended for larger collections.-Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Portugal's years under the fascist Salazar are portrayed in a succession of bad dreams, each vividly recalled as characters comment on that dark night of the national soul.

Antunes experiments with language and ideas in a story both allusive and surreal: sinister dogs haunt the landscape, and one narrator is building a boat as a means of escape though the sea is some distance away. But what counts is the cumulative effect and an atmosphere rendered so that history is both judged and understood-in a read that's challenging as various voices pick up the narrative or circle back on what has just been revealed. It opens as the middle-aged Jao enters a Lisbon courtroom for a divorce hearing. Jao, a gentle soul, is the only son of Senhor Francisco and his wife Isabel, who ran off with another man when Jao was still a small boy. Jao has been living on the family farm, once a prosperous place where the Senhor, a senior minister in Salazar's fascist government, lavishly entertained the dictator and his cronies. Now, it's a rundown, falling-apart place where Jao is building a boat to escape while he's still sane, unlike his father, who ended up demented and in a hospital. As the case proceeds, Jao recalls how his father used the farmwomen and how he panicked when Salazar fell, fearing that communists were coming to get him and the farm. Jao, the Senhor, life on the farm, and the excesses of the former regime-arbitrary imprisonment and brutality in Africa-are remembered by a string of characters like Dona Titina, the aging housekeeper who raised Jao; Sofia, Jao's socialite wife; the Senhor's mistresses; his illegitimate daughter, as well as the senile Senhor himself.

In so dark a tale therecan be no chirpy affirmations, but only telling indictments of the corrupt, the cruel, and the unjust-and these Antunes memorably accomplishes.

Agent: Thomas Colchie

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802140524
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
05/10/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
732,672
Product dimensions:
4.94(w) x 8.76(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Inquisitors' Manual


By António Lobo Antunes

Grove Press

Copyright © 1996 António Lobo Antunes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0802117325


Chapter One

REPORT

And as I walked into the courtroom in Lisbon I thought about the farm. Not the farm as it is today, with the garden statues all smashed, the swimming pool without water, the kennels and the flower beds overrun by couch grass, the old manor house full of leaks in the roof, the rain falling on the piano with the autographed picture of the queen, on the chess table missing half the chessmen, on the torn-up carpet and on the aluminum cot that I set up in the kitchen, next to the stove, where I toss and turn all night, afflicted by the cackling of the crows.

as I walked into the courtroom in Lisbon I didn't think about the farm as it is today but about the farm and the house in my father's day, when Setúbal.

(a city as insignificant as a provincial small town, a few lights dancing around the bandstand in the square, flickers in the dark night pierced by the dogs' anguished howls).

hadn't yet reached the main gate and the willows along the wall but sloped straight down to the river in a jumble of trawlers and taverns, Setúbal where the housekeeper did the shopping on Sunday mornings, dragging me along by the elbow under the flurrying pigeons.

the house and farm from my father's day with the staircase flanked by granite angels, with hyacinths growing allalong the walls, and with a bustle of maids in the hallways like the people bustling in the lobby outside the courtroom.

(it was July and the trees on the Rua Marquês da Fronteira twisted in the sun against the building façades).

in clusters that hurriedly formed and disbanded around the elevators, and amid all the witnesses and defendants and bailiffs, my lawyer, holding the sleeve of my sweater, pointed out the steps.

"This way, Senhor João, divorces are this way."

and I, oblivious to him, oblivious to the courtroom, remembered that long-ago July in Palmela.

(I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old because the new garage next to the beech trees was being built, the tractor rumbled beyond the vegetable garden, and the metal blades of the windmill creaked in the heat).

when I heard murmurs and whispers and steps in the chapel, not the sounds of chickens or turtledoves or magpies but of people, perhaps the gypsies from Azeitão making off with the Virgin Mary and the carved candlesticks.

(women in black skirts, men blowing on flames under coffeepots, sad scrawny mules).

and I grabbed one of the canes from the stoneware umbrella stand in the foyer and trotted across the dining room.

"This way, Senhor João, divorces are this way."

where the chandelier sprinkled glass shadows onto the tablecloth, I leapt over the flower bed with birds-of-paradise, I leapt over the petunias, the chapel door was open, the candles fluttered under the arches, but I didn't find the gypsies from Azeitão.

(women in black skirts, men blowing on flames under coffeepots, sad scrawny mules).

I found the cook lying flat out on the altar, her clothes all tousled, with her apron around her neck, and my father beet red, cigarillo in his mouth and hat on his head, holding on to her hips and looking at me without anger or surprise, and on that same Sunday, after yelling his responses to the priest's Latin along with the steward, the housekeeper, and the maids, lighting up his cigarillos during communion, my father.

(the wind shook the withered dahlias and the swamp's eucalyptus trees, which expanded and contracted to the rhythm of the algae's breathing).

called me into his office whose window faced the greenhouse of orchids and the murmur of the sea.

"Let's hope your wife is on time, so the judge doesn't reschedule your divorce for the Greek calends". (but there weren't any seagulls, you don't find seagulls on that side of the mountains).

and he stood up from his desk, walked around it toward me, pulled his Zippo lighter from his vest, and placed his hand around my neck as if he were inspecting a lamb or a calf from the stable.

"I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won't forget who's boss."

My father with his hand on the neck of the steward's teenage daughter, a dirty, barefoot redhead who squatted on a wooden stool while squeezing the cows' teats, my father grabbing her by the neck and forcing her to bend over the manger while still holding on to the pails of milk, my father once more beet red as he rammed his navel into her buttocks, the tip of his lit cigarillo pointing at the rafters without the steward's daughter ever once protesting, without the steward ever protesting, without anyone ever protesting or thinking of protesting, my father lifting his hand from my neck and disdainfully waving toward the kitchen, the maids' quarters, the orchard, the whole farm, the whole world.

"I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won't forget who's boss."

My father who on Saturdays, after lunch, would have the chauffeur buy half a pound of arrowroot cookies and drive him into Palmela, to the house of the pharmacist's widow up near the castle, a duplex with crocheted curtains and a plaster-of-Paris cat on the sideboard, and he'd return to the farm in the evening reeking of cheap perfume, within half an hour I'd hear him snoring in the living room, asleep in the easy chair with his hat covering his eyebrows and the last cigarillo hanging from his lips as the owls from the swamp whooed in the garden, and the lawyer, who dressed like an expensive lawyer, the color of his shirt matching that of his socks, tapped his fingernail against his watch.

"If your wife is late for the divorce hearing, we're cooked."

the lawyer hired for me by my oldest daughter after she showed up at the farm and laid into me, shocked by the windows without windowpanes and the rotted floorboards, shocked to find a pot of cold soup next to the queen's picture on the piano, shocked to see fruit skins strewn on the rug.

"How can you live all alone in a pigsty like this?"

the expensive lawyer whose hair was cut by an expensive barber and who received me in a fancy office with expensive pictures and expensive leather-bound books on expensive shelves, his expensive wife and expensive children smiling at me from out of a silver frame, and the furniture almost as expensive as my father's, the lawyer pretending not to notice the piece of rope I used for a belt, my unpolished shoes, my socks hanging limply at my ankles, my threadbare trousers, eyeing me with the same bored contempt my mother-in-law displayed when for the first time, knocking over bibelots and all embarrassed, I entered the mansion in Estoril, my mother-in-law who was playing bridge with her sisters-in-law, scooping up a trick in a blaze of flashing rings, and she raised her eyebrow as if at a gardener whose incompetence had ruined the shrubs on the terrace.

"And do you have the means, young man, to maintain Sofia at the level she's accustomed to?"

the lawyer frowning at my sport coat that was too short, at the patch on my trouser seat, and at my joke of a mustache, playing with his silver mechanical pencil in a cloud of aftershave as he tried to pull out of my case without letting down my daughter.

"We'll see what can be done, Senhor João, but I can't make any promises."

and when I left, the receptionist stared at me as if I were a Jehovah's Witness or sold encyclopedias, and my oldest daughter, poking through the kitchen drawers where my underwear was mixed in with the silverware.

(the forks bent out of shape, the spoons turning green, the knives too dull to cut).

"Don't you at least have one decent suit?"

and Sofia brushing my shoulders with the back of her hand.

"You could dress up just a little to meet my mother."

and my mother-in-law forgetting all about the cards when I knocked over a lamp.

"Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?"

I in the courtroom in Lisbon, escorted by the lawyer whose fingernail tapped on his wristwatch and remembering the windmill's rust-darkened blades that no wind could turn anymore, the vacant kennels, and the hungry German shepherds running wild over the mountains or howling in the swamp as a court clerk began to read out names, making an X with a pencil for each person who answered, remembering when I took my fiancée to the farm in August and my father was in a rocking chair in the courtyard drinking lemonade with the sergeant's wife, a woman dressed in baroque satins who caught the bus in Setúbal on the afternoons when her husband was on duty at the barracks, and I said.

"Dad, this is Sofia."

and from behind his drooping eyelids my father ogled her as he ogled the cook, the steward's daughter, the gypsy women, and the maids, pressing his hat down with a flick of his finger.

"Do whatever she wants except take your hat off, so that she won't forget who's boss."

and the nervous lawyer showing me his watch.

"What do you suppose happened to your wife?"

Sofia shyly blushing and fiddling with her hair band, the crows cackling in the beech trees, the house's reflection trembling in the swimming pool, the sergeant's wife offering us godmotherly smiles, my father sizing up Sofia, speaking in the same distracted voice he used when speaking about the animals in the stable.

"She's a skeleton, a coat hanger, you never understood squat about heifers."

and the lawyer suddenly calm, suddenly serious, turning toward the elevator while pulling on his shirt cuffs.

"Here at last, Senhor João."

and there was Sofia not wearing a hair band not twenty years old not blushing shyly and not brushing my shoulders with the back of her hand, flanked by a lawyer who was the mirror image of mine, his replica, his twin, both with their hair cut by an expensive barber, both with custom-tailored Cheviot suits, both self-confident, authoritarian, severe, floating in the same aftershave with the majesty of conger eels, Sofia with my mother-in-law's ring on her wedding finger, Sofia with my mother-in-law's haughty effrontery.

("Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?")

not looking at me not smiling at me not telling me.

"You could dress up just a little, João."

and I to my lawyer who looked just like her lawyer.

"I should never have taken my hat off, so that no one would forget who was boss."

and the lawyer, bewildered, from the pinnacle of his Cheviot suit.

"What?"

the lawyer who resembled the lawyers, bankers, finance managers, national assemblymen, and government ministers who came to the farm in my father's day, invisible in the opaque windows of their hearselike cars that proceeded up the cypress-lined drive leading from the main gate to the house, and they would distractedly stroke my chin and remark, without looking at me.

"How you've grown."

before disappearing into the room with the piano for the rest of the day amid a whirl of trays carried by white-gloved maids, the housekeeper ordering me to play out back, the steward chasing away the crows and quieting down the dogs, the lawyers, bankers, finance managers, assemblymen, and government ministers who left in their huge cars when it was already night, vanishing from view on the road to Lisbon as my father, forgetting about them, turned back to the breathing of the swamp where the last turtledoves were already taking refuge, Sofia walking past me with her mother's haughty effrontery and my bewildered lawyer leaning closer to hear better.

"Excuse me?"

I not in the courtroom but on the farm, talking to my father over the wailing of the frogs.

"I should never have taken my hat off, so that no one would forget who was boss."

and the lawyer, whose startled eyebrows almost touched his hairline.

"Excuse me?"

as if he weren't there in the courtroom but in Estoril, at the bridge game in Estoril where the window looked out onto the palm trees of the casino, and he had snapped at me in anger because of the lamp I'd just broken.

"Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?"

the mansion in Estoril where I took my father, who had dressed up like a hillbilly, with sheepskin boots, a copper chain on his vest, an old hat on his head, and a cigarillo between his teeth, who had left the Nash in the garage with the uniformed chauffeur buffing the chrome and had hired Palmela's only taxi, driven by a kind of clown who wore a peak cap with a shiny visor and who stopped at every tavern on the pretext of cooling off the motor while he spent hours among the vine bowers and flies, my father accompanied by the pharmacist's widow, who hid behind a pearl cameo, a Spanish fan with missing ribs, and a yelping, microscopic lapdog, the widow and I roasting inside the taxi that smelled like an old shoe box as my father and the clown with a shiny peak cap quaffed glasses of wine and cooled down the radiator with straw fans, their bodies covered with car grease, so that we didn't make it to Estoril until long after lunch, when they'd stopped waiting for us and were playing bridge on the terrace looking out onto the beach and the seagulls, and my mother-in-law didn't shudder at my father's bad manners as he pushed the widow and her microscopic dog into the house.

"Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?"

leaving the clown in the courtyard to reel among the hydrangeas and to screw and unscrew the engine of the taxi that shook in spasmodic fits of agony, my father with teacup in hand ogling Sofia's mother and her sisters-in-law from behind his drooping eyelids in the same way he ogled the cook, the steward's daughter, the gypsy women, and the maids, without taking his hat off or putting out his cigarillo, all set to push any one of them into the first vacant room, lift her skirt, and flatten her buttocks against a cabinet or a dresser whose drawers would creak, all set to tell whoever might walk in.

"I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won't forget who's boss."

my father with a teacup, the pharmacist's widow feeding cookie crumbs to her horrid little mutt, which was protected by a woolen sweater, and my mother-in-law not angered or outraged but indulgent.

"What a pity your boy didn't inherit your sense of humor, Francisco."

and past the palm trees lay the sea and the pontoon where white seagulls calmly perched, so different from the unruly crows on the farm.

"What a pity your boy didn't inherit your sense of humor, Francisco."

Continues...


Excerpted from The Inquisitors' Manual by António Lobo Antunes Copyright © 1996 by António Lobo Antunes
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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The Inquisitors' Manual 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of 'The Inquisitor's Manual' is that of a once powerful minister in the Salazar cabinet, who, at the onset of the novel lies helplessly in a nursing home. Each of the book's main characters narrate parts of the story, technique which helps bring the reader very close to the events and characters depicted. The author artfully projects the characters' actions and thoughts onto the perfect natural setting, the effect being that of a very acute, cutting reality. His style is elegant and precise, delivering a very pictorial story.