[Antonio Lobo Antunes] Incest and dictators

Act of the Damned offers readers another another look at Antunes' complex, vile brilliance.
June '22

Act of then Damned, which won the Portuguese Writers’ Association Grand Prize for Fiction, offers readers another another look at Antunes’ complex, vile brilliance.

A bourgeois family attempting to settle the estate of their dying patriarch, Diogo, and flee the country before what they believe would be a perilous communist takeover is the subject of this mid-1970s Portuguese drama. The story, however, centers on Rodrigo, Diogo’s voraciously greedy son-in-law, who plots to obtain what money is left after Diogo’s career of dishonest investments.

Diogo’s three children—Leonor, Rodrigo’s resentful wife who was married to him for years, Goncalo, a simple-minded man who was wed to Francisco and Ana’s nameless mother, and a mentally handicapped woman whose daughter (by Rodrigo) is referred to as “the cousin”—are also rivals for the money.

The story is told from the perspective of each character, and it just just manages to emerge from Antunes’ (Elephant Memory) dazzlingly tangential writing. A doctor and a notary are two outsiders who are horrified by the clan’s corruption, which manifests itself most disturbingly in Rodrigo’s compulsive incest. Of the 10 perspectives given voice, that of Nunu, Ana’s corrosive husband, makes up the first third of the book.

Over the course of five days, the story switches in darkly humorous imagistic riffs between the protagonists’ recollections, imaginations, and reality. As two dictatorships—that of Portugal and that of this family—die, this story of familial sin and dissolution chillingly mirrors the country’s political context.

Antonio Lobo Antunes: Towards the darkness of the unconscious

Every time someone says they have read a book of mine I am very disappointed by the mistake. The thing is my books are not to be read, in the way we usually mean reading: the only way to approach the novels I write is, as it seems to me, to catch them, like you catch a disease.

That which, out of convenience, I called novels, as I could have called them poems, visions, or whatever, will only be understood if taken as something else. One has to forego one’s own key, the one we all have, with which to open up life, ours and others’, and just use the key that the text provides. Otherwise, it will be incomprehensible, since words are just signs of intimate feelings, and characters, situations and plot are but the superficial pretexts I use to lead to the deep background of the soul. The true adventure I am setting forth is the one narrator and reader will undertake together, towards the darkness of the unconscious, the very roots of human nature. Who doesn’t understand this will only be aware of the most partial and less important elements of the books: the country, the man-woman rela- tionship, the issue of identity and the search for it, Africa and the brutality of colonial exploitation, etc…, themes that are maybe very important from a political, social, or anthropological point of view, but have nothing to do with my work.

What I intend to do is to transform the art of the novel, the plot is the least important thing, it is a vehicle I use, the important thing is to transform that art, and there are thousands of ways to do it, but each one must find their own

The Sound and the Fury has the characteristic of being a novel which, like great poetry, can be re-read with the wonder of rediscovery: with every step, we stum- ble into details that had gone unnoticed, we feel moved by every page. I have visited this book more than 30 times, and I will surely continue to do it with the same bedazzlement and enthusiasm. ✪

Amenra, Photo Credit: Renzo De Ceuster

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