Knowledge of Hell

Knowledge of Hell

by Antonio Lobo Antunes
     
 
Like his creator, the narrator of this novel is a psychiatrist who loathes psychiatry, a veteran of the despised 1970s colonial war waged by Portugal against Angola, a survivor of a failed marriage, and a man seeking meaning in an uncaring and venal society. The reader joins that narrator on a journey, both real and phantasmagorical, from his Algarve vacation back to

Overview

Like his creator, the narrator of this novel is a psychiatrist who loathes psychiatry, a veteran of the despised 1970s colonial war waged by Portugal against Angola, a survivor of a failed marriage, and a man seeking meaning in an uncaring and venal society. The reader joins that narrator on a journey, both real and phantasmagorical, from his Algarve vacation back to Lisbon and the mental-hospital job he hates. In the course of one long day and evening, he carries on an imaginary conversation with his daughter Joanna, observes with surreal vision the bleak countryside of his nation, recalls the horrors of his involuntary role in the suppression of Angolan independence, and curses the charlatanism of contemporary psychiatric “advances” that destroy rather than heal.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

demonstrates Lobo Antunes's impressive techniques for upsetting boundaries between past and present, reality and phantasm' -Alan Gilbert, The Village Voice

Dalkey Archive Press

Publishers Weekly

The narrator of this stark and elegantly translated novel is a psychiatrist named António Lobo Antunes, returning from vacation to his loathed job at Miguel Bombarda Hospital in Lisbon. Over the course of the trip, the narrator's mind ranges over the monstrosities he encountered in the colonial wars in Angola in the 1970s and in his work; through the layering of memories, he draws parallels between the destruction of the war and the questionable care offered to the mentally ill. The novel is both stylistically and emotionally demanding: the point of view shifts back and forth from first- to third-person as the narrative develops in a plotless associative collage, including a hallucinatory episode in which hospital employees gleefully consume the corpse of a soldier. The novel has a heavy autobiographical element and presents a bleak vision of humanity, except in the narrator's tender appeals to Joanna, his daughter, to whom much of the novel is addressed. In this early work (first published in Portugal in 1983), Antunes transforms rage into gorgeous, lyrical language. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Portugal spent much of the 1960s trying to retain control of its African colonies, Angola and Mozambique. An unwilling participant in these campaigns until 1973, Antunes wrote about them in Fado Alexandrino, first published in 1983 and translated into English in 1990, and in this earlier book, which was first published in 1980. Like Antunes himself, the narrator is a psychiatrist who loathes his discipline's contemporary pretensions. As he returns from a vacation in the Algarve to his institutional work in Lisbon, he engages in a spirited and imaginary dialog with his daughter. So repugnant is psychiatry to him that sometimes he is even nostalgic for the war, because at least in war, things are simple: one tries to stay alive, and there is no time for tricks or perversity. Yet the autopsies he performed outdoors in Angola amid swarms of panicked insects continue to haunt him. Influenced by Faulkner and Céline, Antunes is fond of cryptic similes and metaphors that translator Landers handles masterfully. His search for meaning in an uncaring and venal society is breathtaking and inspiring. Recommended for most libraries.
—Jack Shreve Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
The first English translation of Antunes's 1980 novel, third in a surreal, teasingly autobiographical trilogy having to do with a psychiatrist haunted by his participation in Portugal's colonial war in Angola during the 1970s. The plot is minimal. "Antunes" is on his way back from a holiday on the southern coast to his accursed job in a Lisbon hospital. (In real life, the author practices psychiatry in Portugal's capital city.) During the drive, he takes stock of himself, his country and his profession; he and his colleagues are "insipid lunatics...rich clowns tyrannizing the poor clowns their patients with slapstick psychotherapies and pills." He finds little to like, and he dislikes at length and grandiloquently. The real story in this book is its torrential prose, characterized by caustic rage and wit, by the alternation of salty vernacular and rococo literariness, with simile heaped upon simile heaped upon simile. Dreamlike and vengeful, built around the analogy between Portugal and the asylum, this is the novel-as-screed: daring, fitfully brilliant, but also often overwhelming. The most chilling scenes-and the most phantasmagorical, as when the protagonist, examining soldiers en masse in Africa, is menaced and pursued by the "flaccid snouts" of disembodied penises-are those that have to do with memories of Angola. The narrator's disgust for and guilt over the war suffuse everything else here. Not always coherent and sometimes over the top stylistically, but its intensity never flags, and in bursts the prose can be startlingly original.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781564784360
Publisher:
Dalkey Archive Press
Publication date:
03/28/2008
Series:
Portuguese Literature Series
Pages:
298
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Michael Pye
Antunes has empathy for the contradictions of human feeling. He is a warm-blooded writer.
New York Times Book Review
Washington Post
Deserves a wide audience of discerning readers.
The New Yorker
One of the most skillful psychological portraitists writing anywhere.

Meet the Author

António Lobo Antunes, GCSE, MD; born 1 September 1942 is a Portuguese novelist and medical doctor.

Dalkey Archive Press

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