This young writer is reminiscent of Hesse’s Stepenwolf and Bolaño’s Savage Detectives. Like Bolaño, he is an observer in a world of bizarre literary characters, and like Hesse’s Harry Haller he takes place in a bizarre world of magic and hallucinations. His perceptions are intense and he is able to convey them in writing. He is able to evoke the melancholy and attractive fin-de-siecle life that unfolded in Parisian bars and restaurants. No doubt that he is a talented poet but he would have hugely profited from a good editor or a true friend, as the whole book can be condensed in the form of a short story. The second part, taking part in Lisbon, is a modernist exploration of homosexuality, madness and alienation and these pages are responsible for crediting him, alongside Fernando Pessoa, with the introduction of modernism to Portugal. Other than this historical credit I fail to find any lasting literary value in this part of the book. The two parts are barely connected making me think of a youth who desperately wants to write something (as he should!) but not really heaving a strong subject due to lack of experience, contemplation and study. It is a pity he did not have the chance to write more, his talent could have aged nicely.
I feel sad imagining his Portuguese family reading this book which for them must have been a bizarre, provocative, incomprehensible and immature attempt of their son, and looking for signs of troubles which led him to commit suicide at the age of 26 in Paris where he went to study law. Especially disturbing is the fact that he used strychnine, likely the worst way to go. Your muscles are paralysed at full consciousness and you end up waiting untill you are too weak to breathe and suffocate.
Another bizarre twist of fate ist the fact that the english translation which I read was financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation. He was a Turkish Armenian from Istanbul, who grew immensely rich before WW2 by acquiring rights to the Iraqi oil trade. He and his wealth ended up leaving Istanbul for Portugal where he founded a major museum and a foundation which organizes classical music concerts and literary translations. It is nothing new that real life is stranger than the strangest literary attempts, and for me, a Turkish Armenian’s found financing the english translation of this poor Portuguese guy’s literary attempt is just another confirmation of this. Who knows which Turkish writer would have been supported if Gulbenkian stayed in Istanbul and who knows if Sá-Carneiro would ever been translated into English? I am glad he was, I enjoyed reading his short novel while staying in Lisbon.