I mistakenly thought this was a novel. A novel with very short chapters – and I do like short chapters.
Actually it is a series of philosophical contemplations, by a character (Bernardo Soares) which Pessoa described as a ‘mutilation of my personality’. Whilst reading, I often found myself flicking back to look at the photograph of Pessoa that is printed inside the front cover – so intimate is the voice in this novel, that it becomes tempting to see Soares and Pessoa as one and the same. In fact, Soares is more like Pessoa taken to his extreme.
The structure is fascinating. Each section is labelled with two numbers: the first being the order in which they appear in this edition; the second being the order they appeared in the original 1982 publication. In fact, this book is built out of random fragments which Pessoa wrote throughout his lifetime, and left in no particular order. The opening sentences in this version appeared as the 90th section in the original. The work that must have been done to put all these fragments in a logical order is simply mind-boggling.
It took me a long time to read this book, for the simple reason that it is unrelentingly miserable. Thoughtful, complex and beautifully written, certainly, but I could only take so much detached melancholy at a time. Soares is utterly alienated from life, to the extent that he barely feels himself to be human at all. He lives in order to dream and to analyse any vestige of emotion that passes through him. Probably the fact that each section was written independently – in a sort of diary form over a long period of time – is the reason why certain tropes (e.g. life is sleep) are repeated almost ad infinitum.
This book is eminently quotable. Perhaps my favourite passage is:
‘… just like everyone else. I’m just the same. But behind this sameness, I secretly scatter my personal firmament with stars and therein create my own infinity.’
I think, although I’ll probably never read it cover to cover again, I will return to dip into ‘The Book of Disquiet’. Pessoa is a master of articulate sadness.
After spotting this book’s incredibly pretty cover in Waterstones in Nottingham, and giving it a cursory flick through, I added it to my Christmas wish list.
My friend gave it to me as a Christmas present – she’s a graphic designer, so she appreciated the cover art!
I found quite a few typos and punctuation errors in this copy – perhaps the publishers need some sort of freelance proofreader…
– gildius –