Blank Gaze, By Jose Luis Peixetotrs Richard Zenith

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The Independent Culture

Among its cast of characters, Blank Gaze features a giant, a 120-year-old man, a blind prostitute, a devil who is also the local pastor and a pair of Siamese twins who are joined by one fingertip: magic realism, anyone? Set in a poverty-stricken village in rural Portugal where men tend sheep, seek shelter from the fierce sun in the shade of cork trees, and drink or get beaten up in the tavern at night, its theme is the harshness of life and the lifelong necessity of endurance.

The novel has little narrative drive; there are frequent changes of viewpoint, time-shifts and a total absence of dialogue. A page-turner it is not. But read as a prose poem, a few pages at a time, it offers plenty to delight the patient reader. It's full of lyrical, quotable thoughts such as, "Perhaps there's a light inside people, perhaps a clarity, perhaps people aren't made of darkness." Or, "perhaps suffering is tossed by handfuls over the multitude, with most of it falling on some people and little or none of it on others." Or the memorable image of death as the end of a race which everyone must run, and where the finishing line is the edge of a precipice.

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