Country Focus: Portugal
The Implacable Order of Things
By José Luís Peixoto
Translated by Richard Zenith
Originally published in Portugal as Nenhum Olhar by Temas e Dabates, 2000.
My edition: Anchor Books, 2009
Time period: Timeless
Notes: José Luís Peixoto, one of Portugal’s most highly acclaimed authors, has published ten novels in his native country. The only ones translated into English are The Piano Cemetery and the short story collection Antidote, written to complement an album by heavy metal band Moonspell.
World Lit Up Rating:
(On a scale of 1-5, with 1 book = turned off and 5 books = lit up)
“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things,” said musician Tom Waits. Readers who like beautiful sentences telling them terrible things could do worse than enter the strange world of Peixoto’s The Implacable Order of Things. The story spans two generations and follows four ill-fated couples: a shepherd married to a woman rumored to have relations with a giant; a set of conjoined twins wedded a to cook who produces culinary marvels; a coward married off to a woman in love with his cousin; and a master carpenter missing a leg, an arm, an ear and an eye who takes a blind prostitute for a wife.
You’re probably not wondering anymore why Tom Waits came to mind.
The ever-changing mix of multiple first person and third person narration challenged me at first. I had to read slowly, but eventually figured out who was who. The characters parade through, taking turns revealing the love that they feel, and then, one by one, they reel from the pain that befalls them. The coward’s wife and her would-be-lover, who both lament the night that could have been, narrate the most heartbreaking portions of the novel.
Peixoto’s use of repetition, both of philosophical musings—”Perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitudes, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others”—and of portions of sentences (see quote below), was initially a turnoff. As I warmed to the style, I got the feeling that I was reading incantations to summon his imaginary world. Considering that the devil plays a integral role, I’m glad it all stayed on the page. Move over, magical realism…diabolical realism is here.
Don’t go. And I didn’t go. Even though I’d waited all day, all my life, for that moment, unique among all moments, even though I’d imagined in detail the world just beyond the boundary of that moment, I didn’t go. Don’t go. Even thought a stork rose up in flight, gliding like an embrace we’ve never known but imagine to be possible, even though I looked at her with my whole being, even though I said wait for me, tonight I’ll come and fetch you, even though the twilight had seen us where only sincere souls go, I came into this room, lay down on this bed, let that unique moment pass by indistinctly and let my life become a painful place of squandered moments, moments squandered before their time, during the weariness of their time, after the bad memory of their time, in the tedium of having and expecting nothing. Don’t go. And I didn’t go.