And Other Stories £10
Book review: All Dogs Are Blue, By Rodrigo Souza Leao (Trs by Stefan Tobler and Zoe Perry)
The brilliant chaos of a frenzied mind
Saturday 24 August 2013
At no point in this firecracker of a book do we really know what’s going on – not with any certainty, anyway. We’re in a Brazilian insane asylum, shackled to one of the inmates, who raves – paranoid, delusional, fragmented – at us for 90-odd pages with barely a pause to draw breath.
He is obsessive, repetitive, insistent, returning compulsively to the same details: the cricket he swallowed as a kid, his toy dog (the same blue as the Haldol pills his doctors prescribe him), the day he saved a house from termites, the implanted chip that allows him to be controlled by the CIA and the KGB. He is constantly horny, somewhat scatologically inclined, and highly literate. He’s also energetic and bracingly funny, and as a fictional character, bounded within the pages of a book, he’s fine company indeed. In the real world he would be heart-breaking.
Having smashed up his mother’s house, the narrator now finds himself consigned to this little cubicle, getting bayoneted by the nurses with injections, taking (or not taking) the blue pills, and submitting occasionally to electroshock therapy. He passes his time observing the antics of his fellow inmates; receiving visits from his family; thinking about one particular nurse (and/ or various other people) to fuel his masturbatory fantasies; and making conversation with Rimbaud and Baudelaire, two inhabitants of his imaginary world. (Rimbaud’s the easier friend, even if you do have to fight off his advances occasionally; Baudelaire can be a bit of a grouch.) Sometimes he knows for sure that they’re figments of his delusion; but they’re also absolutely real to him (he misses them when back on his meds), and as a result they populate the story as real characters for us.
A book like this is all voice – it fails or succeeds by the strength, consistency and sheer irresistibility of the narrator’s voice, his ability to grab readers by the sleeve, saying, Listen to me, I have something to tell you … and somehow making you do as he says. Part of the praise here, then, is due to the book’s translators, the creators of this perfectly modulated bit of high-propulsion English prose. It could so easily have flattened out in the translation, or else stretched into something too shrill, too flashy. But it’s just right – poetic in the detailed carefulness of its craft, but also direct, uncomplicated, unfussy.
All Dogs Are Blue is neither easy nor reassuring. The narrator’s sense of chronology shifts and collapses, and, however lucid he is, the edges between his reality and fantasy are often disorientatingly blurry. But he carries you confidently along, discouraging you from stopping to notice just how bleak it all is – himself, the asylum and his world beyond. It’s the brilliant chaos of a frenzied, unfettered mind, locked away, he says, with the rest of the hospital’s “human debris”. It only adds to the pathos to know that the author died in a psychiatric clinic soon after this book was published.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 2 Why this father didn’t hide his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 The most powerful passports in the world
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove