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

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.

 

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen