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What Can I Do When Everything's On Fire?: A Novel
     

What Can I Do When Everything's On Fire?: A Novel

by Antonio Lobo Antunes
 

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A soaring, symphonic epic by the Portuguese master novelist, considered to be the "heir to Conrad and Faulkner" (George Steiner).

The razor-thin line between reality and madness is transgressed in this Faulknerian masterpiece, António Lobo Antunes's first novel to appear in English in five years. What Can I Do When Everything's On Fire?, set in

Overview

A soaring, symphonic epic by the Portuguese master novelist, considered to be the "heir to Conrad and Faulkner" (George Steiner).

The razor-thin line between reality and madness is transgressed in this Faulknerian masterpiece, António Lobo Antunes's first novel to appear in English in five years. 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.

Editorial Reviews

Jaime Manrique
…translated into English with a pitch-perfect ear for colloquial speech by the legendary Gregory Rabassa…A writer's writer par excellence, Lobo Antunes has a profound relationship with his literary predecessors. Though he is a philosophical novelist, he doesn't present us with theories about existence; he gives us instead his own grim vision of humanity. It is this vision, imbued with sadness, absurdity and existential despair, that held me captive throughout. It is as if Lobo Antunes believes that in our chaotic and mad age, a writer can be truthful to what we have become and where we are heading only if he delivers his stories piecemeal, as if to reflect the media-crazed nature of reality as perceived today, when we are bombarded by the important and the banal as if there were no distinction between them. No other novelist alive is as unblinking, or as prescient, in trying to capture this aspect of our time.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

This ambitious epic novel about the life and loves of a Lisbon drag queen is also a page-turner, but only in the sense that one must constantly refer to the provided Dramatis Personae to keep the characters straight. Lobo Antunes (The Return of the Caravels) is that rare contemporary writer who treats the page as a canvas; his prose is rich in lyrical and psychological detail and filled with repeated phrases and enigmatic symbols-a jackdaw, a mastiff with a bow, the figure of a dwarf from Snow White atop a refrigerator-that evoke memories or dreams. While most of the novel is narrated by Paulo, son of the drag queen Carlos (based on a real Lisbon transvestite, Ruth Bryden, who died in 1999), the occasional passages related by other narrators are written in the same unique style, which makes it difficult to tell them apart. This is a fine introduction to the work of a highly rewarding author but may require a commitment of several months to digest. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
—Forest Turner

Kirkus Reviews
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 onturning 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393069532
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
09/17/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
480
File size:
704 KB

Meet the Author

António Lobo Antunes, born in 1942, is the author of novels including What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire? and Act of the Damned. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal.
Gregory Rabassa (1922-2016) was the recipient of multiple prizes including a lifetime achievement award from the PEN American Center for contributions to Hispanic literature and a National Medal of Arts. He was the translator of One Hundred Years of Solitude, among other classic works.

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