‘Act of the Damned’ by Antonio Lobo Antunes – “Hatred is Vital to Good Health.”

‘Act of the Damned’ by Antonio Lobo Antunes   (1985) – 246 pages            Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith

If you have not read Antonio Lobo Antunes before, please, please, do not start with ‘Act of the Damned’. It is a novel that is quite difficult, especially for a novice, to appreciate. It is not the best place to start with Antunes.

‘Act of the Damned’, this tale of familial sin and disintegration, is Antunes’ William Faulkner novel. It is an over-the-top cacophony of voices similar to ‘The Sound and the Fury’ but even more extreme.

Perhaps my personal experience with reading William Faulkner will be instructive. As a farm boy in school, I always did fine in school classes, especially in math and science. However I was a disaster to my parents on doing the work on the farm. After high school I set off for the University of Wisconsin – Madison to major in mathematics. However my interests started turning in different directions. During my sophomore year, I decided to take a course in Contemporary Literature. This opened up a whole new world for me, but one of the novels we were to read for the course was ‘Absalom, Absalom’ by William Faulkner. Now ‘Absalom, Absalom’ is a difficult novel with some of the sentences running on for pages. I couldn’t finish that novel and dropped out of the Contemporary Literature course.

However by this time I was so intrigued by literature that I signed up for the same Contemporary Literature course the following semester. This time the assigned Faulkner novel was the much easier ‘Light in August’, and I sailed through that and through the course.

I realize that William Faulkner is rather “out” today in the world of literature, but I still consider him one of the most powerful of writers. Later, I even read ‘Absalom, Absalom’ and ‘The Sound and the Fury’ and was much moved by both.

‘Act of the Damned’ is the nasty story of one of the old rich families in Portugal who helped the dictator Antonio Salazar stay in power for 36 years. The time is the mid-1970s, just after the Carnation Revolution, and the family is plotting to flee first to Spain and then to Brazil. There are nine separate narrators in ‘Act of the Damned’, each with their own tale of decadence and twisted motivation. This dissolute family is described in all its decreptitude.

All of the characters in ‘Act of the Damned’ are contemptible except for the mongoloid daughter, the result of incest, who is now a grown woman with the mind of a small child and who at least has an excuse for her behavior.

Some of the paragraphs in ‘Act of the Damned’ run on for four pages.

It would have helped the novel to have a list of the names and a short description of each of the characters at the beginning of the novel.

‘Act of the Damned’ is a novel that if I were to read it slowly a second time, I would probably find it to be brilliant. However, I don’t feel like doing that now.

This is not the novel you should read if you are just discovering Antunes. Antonio Lobo Antunes is still definitely one of the few major figures in world literature today, and a good place to start is ‘The Land at the End of the World’.

Grade:    C+

3 responses to this post.

  1. Advice taken!
    Why is Faulkner no longer admired?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • In his thousands of pages of fiction, they found a couple of examples where Faulkner was not as totally enlightened as to race as “everyone” is today. 🙂

      Like

      Reply

      • Ah. I see…
        Nowadays these things do make us wince, but they can be rich opportunities for discussion and personal growth. Not reading them gives a distorted view of how things really were…

        Liked by 2 people

        Reply

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