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Sunday, 28 July 2013

All Dogs Are Blue - Rodrigo De Souza Leao

But I’m fragile and delicate like anyone who feels life. Not everybody knows what they want out of life. If you do know, you live life. If you don’t, you feel life.

As I’ve mentioned with other works that have come my way from “& Other Stories”, their pursuit of “collaborative, imaginative and ‘shamelessly literary’” works fits nicely with my own philosophies of independence and pushing the boundaries. And in “All Dogs Are Blue” I’ve come across something which is shamelessly BOLD, a work that you wouldn’t ordinarily come across in your day to day reading.

Rodrigo De Souze Leao died aged 43 in a psychiatric hospital in Rio de Janeiro in 2008. A schizophrenic, his fragile mental state had him rarely leaving his home and it is through his poetry and, more importantly, this novel that he was held in high regard by a large number of Brazilian writers and poets.

Here we have a novel written in broken thoughts, fragments of sentences, visions and musings. But one that shows such complexity and a vivid understanding of narrative style that you cannot help but be dragged along with the author’s torment.

Set in a psychiatric ward our narrator is attached to the memories of his childhood toy blue dog, memories of a more stable time before he swallows a cockroach at age 15. His “friends” in the ward are Baudelaire (a Nineteenth Century French poet who’s most famous works draw heavily on the themes of sex and death) and Rimbaud (another Nineteenth Century French poet who was part of the “decadent movement”). A misunderstood genius is our man….

What is loneliness? It’s living without obsessions. But sometimes in life we have to choose between pounding the tip of a knife or letting ourselves get burned in the fire.
Which is worse?
A man dressed in jelly bew a kiss inside a Coca-Cola bottle.
You shouldn’t write about asylum life.
No everyone has an asylum nearby. Either your handbag is an asylum, or your home, or even your wallet. Lots of things can be an asylum. I’m not talking about untidiness. I’m talking about real asylums.
Rimbaud showed up dressed like an Apache Indian. He said I was turning into General Custer.
There were lots of flowers around the clinic. It was a nice place. That’s why I say asylums are such pretty places that they remind you of cemeteries. Those cemeteries with huge gardens.
Rimbaud liked playing with fire. He lit candles. Baudelaire liked the dark. But he didn’t like fighting and he often disappeared with Rimbaud showed up. Rimbaud was my friend all the time. A real wild child.

Forget the ramblings of the unknown protagonist in Doris Lessing’s “Briefing for a Decent Into Hell” or even Norman Zweck from Burnice Ruben’s fine “The Elected Member” or the ever popular Randle Patrick McMurphy from “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest”. This is a harrowing tale of life in an asylum written by the person suffering the consequences of their internment.

The ongoing drugs, the hallucinations, the reality of shock treatment, the family break down and visits, the disgusting food, the fact that the drugs give him weight problems, drunks treated as mentally ill, criminals in the wards, paranoia and more. A rich tapestry of ideas all melded into one short work, more a like a Van Gogh palette than a tapestry – one chapter is called “It all went Van Gogh”. If you like reading works that challenge the norm then you’ll surely like this.

Another amazing work brought to English language readers, from & Other Stories, wonderfully translated from the Portuguese by Zoe Perry and Stefan Tobler (founder of the publisher). Definitely not a novel for all tastes but to understand the inner machinations of a suffering mind and the sorrow that brilliance may never be realised you should find a copy.

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