“A labyrinth, my friend, a veritable labyrinth, just think of all the surprises in a labyrinth, there were even tree roots in the tunnels, trees are even worse than teeth, which reach through our gums to our ears and neck, as we all know, but we look at a tree and never dream how far it goes in search of the deceased and the world’s silence that sprouts as fruit on its branches.”– António Lobo Antunes, The Natural Order of Things
“Labyrinth” is the perfect word to describe this book’s structure and storyline. Antunes is an amazing writer and I’ve already made a vow to read more of his books. He’s not an easy read; he definitely requires your full attention but it’s so worth it.
I’m always excited to come across a writer who writes in a style that I’m not familiar with, and this book fit the bill. It has a dreamlike quality and it’s a story that reveals itself over time. It was definitely reminiscent of Proust due to its stream of consciousness style, and also its focus is on memory. Structurally, this book is very different; its very long sentences are further complicated by surrealism and sentences being divided up, the first half of the sentence being the thoughts of one person in one time and place, and the second one by another in another time and place, and you get an idea of how tricky this book might be to read.
The book’s focus is also on history: personal history and world history, communism in Portugal, mining in South Africa, things happening in the former Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. There’s a lot of travelling back and forth between time and place, and it’s very clear that for many, their past and present are intertwined:
“There are those who fly in the air and those who fly under the earth, although they’re not yet dead, and I, daughter, belong to the latter group, having flown at a depth of a thousand feet with a lamp on my forehead, surrounded by blacks, in the tunnels of the Johannesburg mines…”
I do wish I had some Portuguese history knowledge, at least as much as I do of Portuguese influence in Southern Africa. What I did pick up on was the discussion on colonialism, communism, war, migration, and how people in general are often pawns and never really were appreciated for their sacrifices:
“Look around and all you see is indifference and selfishness, the way people have treated me, for instance, assaulting me on the street, insulting me, calling me a murderer and a scoundrel, spitting in my face, kicking me out wherever I go, leaving me homeless, penniless, friendless…”
Beautiful writing and imagery throughout, interesting and unique characters, very melancholy too. Ironically, in this book “The natural order of things” doesn’t exist. Highly recommended!