I’ve had The Book of Disquiet in my TBR pile for a long time now; I’ve started it a couple of times, but put it aside in favor of something shorter, usually the fiction du jour I often get sucked into without much resistance. (I’m tracking my copy of Maqroll as it winds its way across the U.S. to my mailbox. I get wind of something new & interesting and I cannot resist. I have the benefit of knowing my associates/friends’ tastes fairly well, though, so usually when one of them speaks highly of a book, I have a sense straight away whether I would also get a bang out of said book.) I think of Disquiet as one of those books I’m saving, hording away for a time when I really need to be lost inside a book. This appreciation, though brief, prods me into bumping it upward, again, in the pile. Excerpt:
Have you ever finished a book and then gone back to the beginning to read it all over again because you can’t bear to let it go? I did that for the first time a few days ago when I came to the end of Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet. I’d make a terrible, skewed reviewer right now: my thoughts are all superlatives. The main one is: “This is the only true book I have ever read.” That keeps going through my mind: This is the only true book I have ever read.
It seems truer than non-fiction because it is openly subjective. If you removed the author’s right to his ‘I’ then the book wouldn’t exist. Disquiet takes the form of a diary without dates and without a narrative connection between the days. The diarist does not, for example, meet a woman one week and then chart a course of love with her across the months, ending in triumphant dating by the climax. There is no climax. The order of the entries is more or less arbitrary. No one knows the order Pessoa wrote them in, or how he meant them to be arranged. Like most of his writing, the Book went unpublished during his lifetime. It was assembled from his unfinished notes after he died. (Some of the entries begin or end in ellipses, or hint at supportive paragraphs that he never got around to writing. Small squares have been drawn in places where his handwriting became too illegible to decipher.) The edition of the book that I’m reading—Richard Zenith’s translation from the original Portuguese, published by Penguin in 2001—comprises 481 of these notes, and ends with a Disquiet Anthology of pieces that could potentially have made it into the main body of the Book, but, in the end, didn’t.
I was going to end the post there, but fishing around for a link for you to click on, I came across this review, and yes, I’m showering you with love and excerpts:
Pessoa’s genius, like Beckett’s or the philosopher E. M. Cioran’s, lies in his deliberate abandonment of the conventions of his genre. This is not the book to turn to for easy escape; it cannot be read quickly. It’s not the book to study for plot or story; voice and perception guide its movement, as does the dream-life. It’s fiction, philosophy, and poetry. It’s a book informed by solitude. Because of its leisurely fragmented style, the book, if read in one or two sittings, can feel tedious. This is all too fitting since this concept serves as motif. Like Bartleby, Soares sees the vacancy of production and consumerism, and feels the boredom and restlessness that results. Yet unlike Bartleby, who refuses to be a cog, Soares must be one. For him, tedium is not simply negative. He tells us straightaway in the early pages: "banality is a form of intelligence" and "much of what I feel and think I owe to my work as a bookkeeper since the former exists as a negative of and flight from the latter." For him, tedium is the necessary complement to the dream-life.