Cover image for The natural order of things
The natural order of things
Antunes, António Lobo, 1942-
Uniform Title:
Ordem natural das coisas. English
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
ix, 298 pages ; 22 cm
Added Author:
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On Order



A novel the Los Angeles Times Book Review called "a work of poetic and erotic genius from a master navigator of the human psyche", The Natural Order of Things is a tale of two families and the secrets that bind them. The voices of his characters -- an army officer being tortured in prison on charges of conspiracy; an elderly man, once a miner in Mozambique, now reduced to dreams of "flying underground"; a diabetic teenage girl and the middle-aged husband she despises; the officer's illegitimate sister, locked away to haunt the house like Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre -- create a portrait of a disintegrating Portugal, a personal political history that attains the brilliance and surreality of Elias Canetti and Nikolai Gogol.

Author Notes

Lobo Antunes, a psychiatrist and a soldier in the Portuguese colonial wars in Angola, was born in Lisbon. "South of Nowhere", his second novel, published in 1980, became the center of controversy both because of its daring content and its novel structure. The action is very brief: it lasts only one night. The author tells a silent woman companion his frank impressions about his experience as a medical doctor in the war of liberation against Portuguese colonialism. In some passages, the novel makes allusion to The Lusiads and its allegorical intentions. It denounces with lucid sarcasm the failure of Portuguese colonization in Africa.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Using the poetic resources of language, and hinging his plot less on everyday logic than on a dreamlike progression from character to metaphor to history, Antunes's fantastically complex and compressed novel illumines Portugal's crime-studded history in this century. An unnamed 50ish clerk in the National Tourism office falls in love with Yolanda, a diabetic teenager living with her crazy father, Domingos Oliveira, and her aunt, Dona Orquidea, in Hyacinth Park, a working-class district of Lisbon. Yolanda is scornful of the clerk, but allows him to sleep with her. A writer (perhaps of the novel) hires an ex-secret policeman, Ernesto Portas, to find out anything he can about the man, and the information Portas collects becomes part of the narrative. Ever since the oppressive regime established by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was overthrown in the mid-'70s, Portas has supported himself by running a correspondence course in hypnotism. His fantasy--that his hypnotic technique allows people to fly--matches Oliveira's fantasy, which is about flying underground in long dark mine shafts. Oliveira once worked in the mines in South Africa, and Yolanda was born in Mozambique. Her mother remains there still, in an insane asylum. The unnamed clerk is less certain about his past. His mother, Julieta, was locked up in the attic of the family house because she was a bastard, as is the clerk. His uncle Jorge Valadas was a military conspirator against the Salazar government. Episodes of Valadas's imprisonment and torture dominate the middle section of the novel. In the end, the unnamed clerk disappears, flying away like one of Portas's hypnosis students. The novel progresses through a series of monologues by the principal characters, mixing fantasy and fact in lyrical, impressionistic prose. It powerfully demonstrates the distortions inflicted upon history by secrecy and repression when, as in the Portugal of the '50s, brutality is sovereign. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Antunes (b. 1942), who was trained as a psychiatrist and who spent four years in the Portuguese army during the Angolan War, characteristically interprets the stagnation of modern Portugual. His themes are reminiscent of Faulkner's and C‚line's, and his style is as complex as Proust's. This novel, originally published in 1992, is a layered composite of several individuals and the secrets that bind them. First, there is the middle-aged man who lost his security job doing stakeouts and wiretapping once Portugal switched to democracy. He is shacked up with a diabetic girl young enough to be his granddaughter whom he loves madly while she fantasizes about younger men on motorbikes who will whisk her away from him. Their story is intertwined with that of an elderly man, once a miner in South Africa, who dreams pathetically of "flying underground," and that of an army officer, haunted by memories of prison torture, and his illegitimate sister, locked away like Rochester's wife in Jane Eyre. The work, a veritable assault on the past, manages to soar above the trivial toward allegorical relevance. Recommended.--Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.