The Book of Disquiet

Bernardo Soares, to whom is attributed THE BOOK OF DISQUIET, articulates the seriocomic self-awareness of the modern age. One reads this memoir as one trails a sleepwalker, whose traces are effaced by dreams and doubts.

Prefaced by a letter to the author’s colleague, a suicide, THE BOOK OF DISQUIET recoils from the vagaries of daily existence. At the same time, it yearns for the immediacy that blesses a life lacking in self-consciousness. Now claustrophobic, now agoraphobic, Soares reflects the restlessness of the urban landscape that circumscribes his ambitions. In a near-chronic state of insomnia, he readily dissolves into terror or fades into indifference. Disoriented and alienated, he awakens only to the artifices of literature. The memoir thus surrenders to a transcendence that is ultimately manmade.

A chronology, duly noting the “birthdays” of Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa’s various heteronyms—including Soares—supplies a context for the memoir, which collects scattered vignettes and narratives from the final two decades of the writer’s life. Pessoa’s writing reflects the spirit of surrealism, with which it was contemporary. The flat surfaces of things and haunted recesses of longings and imaginings coexist uneasily on the page. Loosed from secure moorings, the imagination must create its own order from the memoir’s random musings.

Its language often highly elliptical and compact, THE BOOK OF DISQUIET reads very much like poetry. Pessoa is in fact best known as a poet.

Alfred MacAdam’s introduction offers a reasonably lucid orientation to Pessoa’s scrupulously specific if deranged world. MacAdam judiciously provides, as well, notes to his translation, which successfully fulfills its intention to serve as a reading rather than a critical text.