Escapism with Satirical Bite: Martha Batalha

It has been a horrible couple of weeks to follow a few anxious years, so I was in the mood for something light and escapist, and the promise of this bright yellow cover was something I couldn’t resist. Brazilian writer Martha Batalha’s novel The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao (transl. Eric M.B. Becker) might be set quite a few decades back (in the 1940s-60s) and in a macho culture such as Brazil, but it will bring a wince of recognition to women everywhere.

Euridice is the daughter of Portuguese immigrants growing up in 1940s Rio. Although she is bright, talented and ambitious, the only career path which seems open to her is to marry and be a good wife and mother. She certainly doesn’t want to rebel and be disowned by her family like her older sister Guida. So she marries the very conventional Antenor, raises two rather ungrateful children, gets bored and frustrated… and tries to find creative outlets for her talents. She becomes a fantastic chef and writes a cookbook. She learns to sew and becomes a hugely popular seamstress. But every time she finds a new way of expressing herself, her family and her gossipy neighbourhood crush her dreams. But Euridice doesn’t give up – and when her long-lost sister reappears, the two of them manage to find a way of life that suits them both.

This potentially serious subject matter is treated with much humour and sly, sassy irony. Whole families or lives are deftly handled in just one paragraph of wry description. There is a delightful air of fable about the story, and so many archetypes parade through its pages. Perhaps there is a tendency for some of the secondary characters to become caricatures, but this merely adds to the enjoyment of this quick, fun read. Yet it’s not just fun and games – it has quite a bit of satirical bite to it.

I amused myself by comparing the fictional characters with people I’ve met in my life.

For instance, this one sounds like my Greek ex-father-in-law:

That man, she knew, was a good husband. Antenor never disappeared for days and never lifted a hand to her. He brought in a good salary, complained very little, and conversed with the children. The only thing he didn’t like was to be interrupted when he was listening to the radio or reading the newspaper, when he slept until late or when he took a nap after lunch. And as long as his slippers were set parallel to the foot of the bed, his coffee was nearly scalding, there weren’t any fatty bits in the milk. the children didn’t run through the house, the sofa pillows were arranged the right way, the windows were closed no later than four o’clock, no racket was made before seven in the morning, the radio was never too loud or too soft, the bathrooms smelled like eucalyptus and he never had to eat the same dish two meals running, he didn’t ask too much.

In the following paragraph, it sounds more like my own marriage (not through lack of trying to change things, I might add):

Antenor’s familiarity with the house was almost nonexistent. He had no idea what was in the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets, much less the kitchen sink… Everything else was everything else, and everything else was the domain of Euridice. Antenor was there to bring a paycheck and to dirty plates and rumple sheets, not to know how the clothes were laundered or the dinner made.

The incompetent doctor from a privileged background, although rooted in the history of slavery in Brazil, nevertheless sounds a lot like some of the politicians we see today, especially Trump:

Despite having rejected his family, the young man retained the haughtiness of his caste. He thought he could do with his studies what his ancestors had done with Brazil: he thought that money could buy his diploma and arrogance would bring him knowledge. His grandfathers and great-grandfathers had been made barons and landowners for much less. Graduating with a medical degree would be the fulfilment of a dream, and with the Monteiro Godoys, dreams were transformed into reality with a snap of the fingers, followed by vast sums of money to buy possessions and to buy off people, along with a few swords, rifles, and whips to accelerate the process.

Of course this is escapist literature: although it starts out from a similar premise to Tales from the Vienna Woods, with a girl very much expected to meet the needs of the men in her life, it ends on a much cheerier note. Whether that is because of the setting or because the author couldn’t resist injecting a contemporary note in a story that is set several decades ago, it felt good to read about women emerging victorious for once.

WWWednesday, 13 Nov 2019

Roughly once a month, I manage to take part in this weekly Wednesday meme, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words

The three Ws are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

However, thinking how my reading always reflects either my current preoccupations or moods or even the things I am running away from… I thought I would extend this into a kind of ‘diary’. What am I reading and why? What do I expect to get out of it? What is my state of mind as I read books simultaneously, especially when they contradict each other?

Currently reading:

For #GermanLitMonth I decided to do my own personal Germans in November reading session. However, for some reason I’m not feeling it this year and am struggling to get any reading done in German. Perhaps the anniversary of 30 years since the fall of the Wall made me melancholy rather than celebratory, as I thought of all the missed opportunities and how since then the world seems to have become more divided than united.

Perhaps it’s the choice of books.

Julia Franck’s Die Mittagsfrau is an exciting enough read – it starts with the abandonment of a child by his mother, but then we go back in time to find out the mother’s back story. Let down by family and fatherland, hurt by trauma and inability to relate to others after repeated disappointments, the book does not excuse the mother, but certainly makes her three-dimensional rather than a monster. I am enjoying the crisp language and lyrical but unsentimental descriptions of childhood impressions, but oh my goodness, the subject matter is grim!

The second German book is also about a mother but we jump forward to 1967, with Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries. We follow Gesine Cresspahl, a fairly recent German immigrant to the States, for a year in her life. Each diary-like entry contains some headlines from the New York Times, which she likes to buy and read every single day, but also thoughts on her current life with her young daughter (who is becoming more American every day) as well as her family history during the rise of the National Socialists. I initially joined the weekly readalong organised at Mookse and Gripes, but have fallen behind. I expected the ‘one entry a day’ reading method to be completely appropriate, but perhaps it is too little and makes me feel too detached from the book? On the other hand, when I try to binge read, it is such a dense work that I risk suffering indigestion.

By way of contrast, I am really enjoying the third book I am reading at the moment. Bogdan Teodorescu’s Nearly Good Lads is political crime fiction with a great satirical edge. Although it takes place in Romania (and is sharp and witty, making fun of certain Romanian foibles and political or social scandals), there is a lot there for readers in other countries to relate and enjoy. I am very excited about potentially translating this book in the near future!

Finished reading:

I’ve been a bit slow with my reading, since I had a lot of paperwork to look at and a lot of emotional stress with going to court for the divorce settlement last week. There was an initial moment of euphoria on Wednesday evening, when I thought that at last everything was finished and I could move on. However, just like Brexit, this is just the end of the beginning, there will still be many things to sort out over the next few months, plus I am beginning to wonder whether it was worth fighting so hard to keep the house.

Appropriately enough, the book I read last week was a domestic thriller by Bogdan Teodorescu called Liberty. A successful female doctor, married to a surgeon, has a book dedicated to her, although she doesn’t know the author at all. Worse still, the book, though fictional, seems to mirror her life but accuses her of being a slut and comes close to pornography in many instances. It is so accurate in some of the non-sexual descriptions that even those closest to her, family and friends, even her husband, believe that she has indeed done those dubious deeds. So who is out to destroy her reputation and why? An indictment also of the macho Romanian society, where a married man is encouraged to have multiple affairs if he is successful, while a woman is shamed for it.

Reading next:

I realise that all of my German reads are rather dark and melancholy, so I might have to delve in something more cheery in the immediate future. The bright yellow cover of The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao by Brazilian writer Martha Batalha (transl. Eric M.B. Becker) attracted me, as did the story of a talented musician turned housewife who attempts to introduce a bit of fun and creativity into her humdrum life and finds her long-lost sister in the process. I believe there is a film adaptation too, which won the Un certain regard prize in Cannes this year, although it seems to be more haunting in depiction of female resilience than the comic delight I am hoping for.

Too Close for Comfort: Three Quick Reviews

All three of these recently read books were a little too close to home for me: on a personal, social or political level. Absolutely compelling reading, although each one required some coffee and cake or deep breathing breaks.

Rodrigo de Souza Leao: All Dogs are Blue (transl. Zoe Perry and Stefan Tobler)

This was part of my Brazilians in August personal challenge, the only man who sneaked onto my list of Brazilian authors in translation. Much like Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, it gives you an insight into what it must feel like to be deeply depressed, paranoid and schizophrenic. Regardless of diagnostic, the morbidly obese narrator finds himself in an asylum in Rio. He believes he has swallowed a chip that makes him behave out of character and do things he doesn’t want to do. His descriptions of life both inside and outside the asylum, in all its madcap noise and grossness, are hilarious. Knowing that the author himself suffered from mental health problems and died at a young age, soon after the publication of this book, gives a bitter edge to the comedy. It is the black humour of despair, and it’s not surprising that his chosen fantasy chums are Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

To read this book is to abandon yourself to its rhythm and let its waves overpower you. It’s not a pleasant experience, it tosses you about and can feel like drowning at times.

I swallowed a chip. I swallowed a cricket. What else is left to devour in this world? Carnival only wears the colours of short-lived happiness. Dealing with lunatics or with normal people: what’s the difference? What is reality? How many pieces of wood do you need to make that canoe? How many mortars do you need to sink that boat?

But Souza Leao is very clever and also has a poet’s felicity of expression: he tosses a throwaway line into the mix that you simply have to stop and wonder over.

I left the hotel and went to the bus station. I was possessed by a fertile spirit of modern madness, one that had helped twentieth-century poetry many times and had put contemporary literature in its rightful place. My persecution complex had reached the pinnacle of its glory.

Deborah Levy: The Cost of Living

At the age of fifty, Levy leaves her marriage and makes a new life for herself and her children. This slim volume is the story of her reinvention, a sort of ‘swimming home’, finding herself and her purpose, while also dealing with the irritating, intractable, unforgiving day to day. As a woman, mother and writer who is struggling with many of the same things, it has simply meant so much to me. It’s a book I’ve filled up with post-its and shall be returning to again and again. It is also very insightful into gender relations and often feels like she has been inhabiting my head and heart. Here are just a few favourite quotes:

At first I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to the boat and then I realized I didn’t want to make it back to the boat. Chaos is supposed to be what we most fear but I have come to believe it might be what we most want. If we don’t believe in the future we are planning, the house we are mortgaged to, the person who sleeps by our side, it is possible that a tempest (long lurking in the clouds) might bring us closer to how we want to be in the world.

I will never stop grieving for my long-held wish for enduring love that does not reduce its major players to something less than they are. I am not sure I have often witnessed love that achieves all of these things, so perhaps this ideal is fated to be phantom.

To strip the wallpaper off the fairy tale of The Family House in which the comfort and happiness of men and children have been the priority is to find behind it an unthanked, unloved, neglected, exhausted woman.

Did I mock the dreamer in my mother and then mock her for having no dreams? As the vintage story goes, it is the father who is the hero and the dreamer. He detaches himself from the pitiful needs of his women and children and strides out into the world to do his thing. He is expected to be himself. When he returns to the home that our mothers have made for us… he tells us some of what he has seen in his world. We give him an edited version of the living we do every day. Our mothers live with us in this living and we blame her for everything because she is near by.

Sinclair Lewis: It Can’t Happen Here

A late entry to my Americans in June challenge. Moving from the personal and gendered to the more purely political, this book is just as painful as the other two. It was written in 1935 as a satire and a warning against the rise of populists and tyrants like Hitler and Stalin in what must have seemed very frightening end of world times. (Hence the rise of dystopian fiction during that period, so similar to our own.)

A narcissistic, rude, almost illiterate, anti-immigrant, fear-mongering demagogue Buzz Windrip promises to make America proud and prosperous once more and wins the presidential election. The results are predictable but even more dire than the peace-loving newspaper editor Doremus Jessup had feared. His original ‘wait and see’ policy, the complacency of the ‘it can’t happen here’ type of those around him soon leads to the regime slipping ever more deeply into disturbing authoritarianism.

At first, Doremus and his family seem comfortable and protected, nobody seems to share his discomfort at the election of Buzz as president, and he has a bit of tantrum-ridden stomping off ‘fine then, don’t listen to me’ attitude that I can understand all too well.

All right. Hell with this country, if it’s like that. All these years I’ve worked – and I never did want to be on all these committees and boards and charity drives! – and don’t they look silly now! What I always wanted to do was to sneak off to an ivory tower – or anyway, celluloid, imitation ivory – and read everything I’ve been too busy to read.

But soon things go beyond a joke and beyond mere discomfort. There is no more sitting on the fence or ignoring the way the country is heading. It’s no longer about compromise and self-censorship, very soon it turns into attempting to escape, being tortured and even killed.

Interestingly enough, Buzz is a Democrat and originally runs on a socialist platform, showing that any ideology can be taken to extremes and abused. An absolutely chilling novel, sadly possibly more topical now than at any other time since the Second World War.

August Reading, Events and Book Haul

There I was thinking I hadn’t done all that much reading in August, because my #WITMonth contributions have been a miserly five. However, when I counted them all up, I realised I’ve read 16 books, 7 of them in translation (5 of them Brazilian, to fit in with my August in Brazil reading). 10 books were by women, and I even read two non-fiction books (Sylvia Plath’s diaries and The Secret Barrister’s rather terrifying descriptions of the shortcomings of the English legal system).

I have reviewed The Head of the Saint, Middle England, The End, Lost World, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Pine Islands and Clarice, so only about half of what I read. I still intend to review some of the above, but don’t hold your breath, as out of sight tends to be out of mind! I will not be reviewing Plan B or Guilty Not Guilty, which were quick fun reads but nothing to get worked up about, while Platform Seven is the kind of novel that started out very eerily and got my hopes up, but became a bit too much of a bog-standard thriller about a psychologically abusive relationship. Fatechanger is a YA novel about a Dickensian Boston of thieves and newspaper boys during the First World War and a time-travelling girl who has to pretend to be a boy in order to survive.

Next month I will be focusing on China – and I have a good haul of women writers, including Eileen Chang, Wei Hui, Xiaolu Guo and Yan Ge, so my #WITMonth is set to continue!

It’s been a good month of events as well: a powerful play about immigrants, a writing retreat at my house, a Russian film about life after the collapse of the Soviet Union, an exibition on writing at the British Library, a triumphant GCSE results day, a day trip to Oxford and, last but by no means least, an extremely inspiring conversation between Ali Smith and Nicola Barker, two of the most innovative and daring and poetic writers at work today.

With all of the back to school preparations, we’ve been going shopping and therefore ‘accidentally’ ending up in bookshops (my older son is nearly as addicted to them as I am – hurrah for him, but boo-hoo for my wallet). So this month has been the scene of another massacre of my book-buying ban (it hasn’t really been in place since April).

These two are actually for the boys: one is required for the GCSE (for younger son), the other was older son’s choice as he pursues his plans for world domination. They liked the tactile covers and wordcloud/ quotations on the front.

Speaking of beautiful editions, I just had to get these two favourite Murdochs in the new Vintage editions. Yes, I like stories about cult-like communities and dodgy patriarchal leaders.

Some politically prescient novels and another edition of To the Lighthouse. When I first came to the UK, I only had two medium-sized suitcases but I brought my battered editions of Virginia Woolf’s diaries (5 volumes), A Room of One’s Own and 5 of her novels. I left this particular one at my parents’ house and haven’t been able to find it since, so it was high time I got myself a new copy.

Last night’s haul from the London Review of Books bookshop. The Ali Smith and Nicola Barker ones are now signed, of course, while the very slim Korean novella was devoured in the train on the way home. I so hope I will get to see George Szirtes again to have him sign this book for me – a moving account of his mother and her journey into exile. Last but not least, Deborah Levy’s story of starting over as a middle-aged divorcee, mother and writer.

#WITMonth: Brazilian short stories

My final take on Brazilian women writers this month falls under the approximate label ‘short stories’, although one is a collection of short stories, one is a fragment of a novel and the third is an allegory.

Clarice Lispector is an old passion of mine, but I’ve read her novels rather than her short stories. This beautiful collection of the Complete Stories is published by Penguin Modern Classics (translated by Katrina Dodson and edited by Benjamin Moser, this was well received, before the whole scandal about Benjamin Moser erupted two weeks ago, when another Lispector translator Magdalena Edwards accused him of colonising both Dodson’s prose as well as her own). It is a massive volume, so of course I didn’t try to read all of it in one go, or even read the stories chronologically. I dipped in here and there, attracted by titles or trying to find narrators (usually women) at different stages of their life.

Although precisely, exquisitely observed, there is something as ancient as the hills about the stories, a sense of inevitability. In Obsession, a married woman who has an affair with a difficult, manipulative man called Daniel, leaves her husband, moves in with her lover, finds out love is not all it’s cracked up to be, but struggles to let go of her idealised notions of him and of love.

I never smiled, I had unlearned joy. Yet I wouldn’t have removed myself from his life even to be happy. I was not, nor was I unhappy. I had so incorporate myself into the situation that I no longer received stimuli and sensations that would allow me to modify it… He needed me! I repeated a thousand times afterward, feeling that I had received a beautiful, enormous gift, too large for my arms and for my desire.

Most of the early stories are about the relationship between men and women, and at least have a semblance of a structured narrative. A young girl discovers something about male double standards in the very short story Jimmy and I, but decides not to worry about it and enjoy her life instead. In Interrupted Story a girl is attracted to a sad, self-destructive type of man and wants to rescue him… but life smacks her in the face. In Happy Birthday a family gathers around the eighty-nine-year-old matriarch, who is silently disappointed in them all, but also reminds them uncomfortably of their own mortality.

Other stories are more wilfully experimental. Horses as metaphors romp through the pages of Dry Sketch of Horses, representing ‘what is best in the human being’, still and statuesque during the day, released from burdens at night. Mysterious rituals and revels with a charismatic androgynous divine creature give way to disillusionment the next day in Where Were You at Night’. The Smallest Woman in the World is an extraordinary story of colonialism and racism (and an indictment of anthropology when it studies ‘exotic cultures’ like butterflies pinned to a table). Marcle Pretre, hunter and man of the world, comes upon a tribe of tiny pygmies in Central Congo, including the fully-grown, 18 inch pregnant woman ‘dark as a monkey’, whom he chooses to call Little Flower. She becomes a bit of a media sensation when her picture appears in the newspapers, but she remains unknowable and confuses the explorer with her laughter, her very different definition of love and her joy at not being devoured, that most perfect of feelings, the secret goal of an entire life.

Love this picture of Lispector in Bern in 1946-47

Lispector seldom gives instructions on how to read her stories. They lurch like a runaway tram between realism and the fantastical, between universal and very detailed, very particular observation. Like with Shirley Jackson, there is always something slightly off about the stories, something lurking in their depths. Nothing is as straightforward as it might appear.

The extract from the novel Perhaps an Animal by Natalia Borges Polesso (transl. Sophie Lewis) is in a way a reprise of the Lispector story Jimmy and I, with its conclusion that it’s best to live like an animal, content in what you get every day and not daring to want too much. A poor girl who has come to Sao Paolo to work but is struggling to make ends meet and resorts to eating food out of bins. She encounters a boy who wants to become a woman, who tells her earnestly:

There’re times it’s good to be an animal. I think we hang on to this idea that humans and humanity are always the best thing to be. What we’re really talking about is kindness – except it’s not always like that. Humanity is far from being a good thing. Look around. If everyone was an animal, at least no one would feel guilty, No one would be bearing grudges, no one would be judging.

Both stories are from this rather lovely volume I bought at the Hay Festival last year.

If Polesso seems to have affinity with the more realistic side of Lispector’s fiction, Mariana Torres’ Roots (transl. Lisa Dillman) hearkens more to the surreal Lispector. This is a charming, sad little allegory about displacement. The narrator was ‘born in Brazil because everything grows in that soil’. The day she is born her father plants the seeds of an apple he was eating and a tree grows in the same rhythm as the roots on the soles of the girl’s feet. When the family moves to Rio, they prune and take the tree with them; both it and the girl acclimatize to life in the city, but her body becomes covered with shoots and she can no longer go to school. So the family decides to move to the other side of the world (somewhere in Europe), again with the tree in tow. In the new city where nothing grows, where ‘the earth is brown, hard and dry, it’s impossible to plant anything’, the girl learns to fake it but ‘the truth is that at night the scars on the soles of my feet burned’.

#WITMonth: Brazilian Literature – Patricia Melo

Patricia Melo has been on my radar as a crime fiction writer for quite a few years now, but it’s not always easy to get hold of her books, even though she has been translated into English to what the publishers call ‘rave reviews’. (She has been published by Bloomsbury and Bitter Lemon Press, incidentally.)

Lost World, translated by Clifford E. Landers, is not strictly speaking crime fiction, but more of a noir road trip. Which, as I’m beginning to find out, is a recurring motif in Brazilian novels. I’ve also reviewed Perfect Days by Raphael Montes, and The House in Smyrna by Tatiana Salem Levy, and there too we have the mingling of past and present, a search for someone or something, a running away from or running towards… and ultimately finding one’s self, even if that self is not very nice at all.

Maiquel is a retired contract killer. He’s been on the run and living under the radar for ten years, and managing to chug along relatively comfortably, because, according to him…

In Brazil… there’s no shame in having an arrest warrant out against you. It’s all the same, poor, rich, white, the hotshots, I mean cabinet members, council me, bigwigs, everybody’s got one. Brazilians are like that, real scumbags. It’s part of our culture to steal, to play dirty. It’s like being a hold-up victim: sooner or later everybody is.

He briefly shows up for his Aunt Rosa’s funeral, who leaves him her house and money, and realises that she was his last living relative… except for his daughter. His former girlfriend Erica ran off with his baby daughter more than ten years ago and he becomes determined to find her. With his aunt’s money he can now afford to pay a private detective to try and trace them.

His mission of revenge is not as simple as it sounds. Erica ran away with an evangelical preacher and has by now become quite a prominent figure in the church herself. They have guards, loyal servants, several homes and the ability to disappear suddenly over the border to Bolivia. Maiquel chases after them in an often hilarious but more frequently violent cat-and-mouse game. Along the way, we see him casually ‘dispose’ of people, treat women appallingly, behave erratically, but we also witness him getting beaten up, and rescuing and looking after an ugly dog in quite a touching manner. Melo keeps her main character deliberately ambiguous. Often infuriating and making stupid, rash decisions, he nevertheless sometimes has the air of a lost child, confused by the world around him and making cynical jokes as a coping mechanism.

This starts making sense when we discover more about his earlier life:

The first thing my father taught me was that I was invisible. And the second was that I was worthless. And that nothing mattered. He taught me in his own way, without saying a word, just with his eyes, while everything around us rotted. A can of worms. I learned fast.

He reluctantly allows himself to be helped in his quest not just by his private investigators and their friends and families, but also by a string of lonely women, which makes Maiquel meditate about love in the short, incomplete sentences that the author uses when she tries to convey his inability to articulate things.

And soon she’d disappear. Like all the other women… I’d never see Lucia again. Deep down, it doesn’t matter what you do, no one is left. Everything ends. They end it for you. They put things in the way. Life itself Or nothing. It just doesn’t work. You yourself try to destroy it. Because the hard thing isn’t loving. It’s seiing it through. Moving ahead. Living together, every day.

I should add that Maiquel does not always express himself like that. There are times when he is remarkably fluent, with wry humour, and his train of thought is mirrored in long sentences. Still, I think that Melo is trying to mimic his uneducated, unfiltered but nevertheless interesting take on life. This is a psychological journey for him as well. We watch him emerge from the chrysalis and at times it’s a painful process, which he doesn’t quite know how to describe.

So he is certainly not quite such a fast learner as he claims he was in his childhood, especially when it comes to the lesson that the past is the past and cannot be undone. That he has missed his opportunities and his ‘lost world’ or ‘lost family’ are nothing but an illusion.

I’d just like to point out the difference between the English and Portuguese language covers. The English cover has nothing to do with the story, and seems to be simply cashing in on readers’ impressions of Brazil (the beach, the skyscrapers, the poor children). The Brazilian edition at least shows you the protagonist is a grown-up man with a gun… but paused, waiting, blurry, losing himself at the edges.

In conclusion, this is a gritty and often graphic read, a condemning portrait of present-day Brazil, with a sad throb running all the way through it. Not as good as other books by Melo that I’ve read, so I wouldn’t perhaps recommend starting here. Perhaps try Inferno, heartbreaking because the main protagonist is a little boy.

#WITMonth: Fernanda Torres

My foray into Brazilian women writers continues apace with an author who has been recommended by many other Latin American authors (at the Hay Festival panels, for instance). Fernanda Torres is an actress, scriptwriter and novelist. Her debut novel The End is a witty depiction of beach bum culture and machismo, and it has been translated by Alison Entrekin for Restless Books in the US. However, as far as I can tell, it hasn’t reached this side of the Atlantic.

Ciro, Neto, Alvaro, Silvio and Ribeiro are five aging Carioca friends, who have either grown up together or got to know each other at university. The book has an interesting structure: we enter the minds of each one of the five in reverse chronological order of their death. We see them old and decrepit, hear their regrets, witness their deaths… and then get to see and hear what their wives, their sons and daughters, their friends their doctors and their priest thought of them. We get a flashback into their lives and their friendship, their marriages, their divorces, their affairs, their triumphs, regrets and disappointments. We see many of the same events, the parties, the seductions, the quarrels, the missed opportunities through five different pairs of eyes – and quite often from the point of view of their long-suffering wives.

For these are clearly men of the older generation, who expect to get away with anything. Ciro is the charismatic Don Juan, emulated by all, but is the first to die. Neto is the only one of them who tries to be faithful to his beloved wife Celia (and she tries to remove him from his circle of friends) – but is left a widower and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself after that. Ribeiro spent his whole life on the beach, proud of his good looks, terrified of aging. Now he’s resorted to giving volleyball lessons to old ladies and stuffing himself with Viagra. Silvio is addicted to sex orgies and drugs and cannot stop himself from carrying on with his friend’s girlfriend, even though he is married. Alvaro is the one who survives them all and he has become a grumpy old man. Modern life and habits only annoy him.

I don’t separate my trash, I don’t recycle, I throw cigarette butts in the toilet, I use aerosols, I take long hot showers, and I brush my teeth with the water running. Screw mankind. I won’t be around to see what happens. I haven’t voted in theirteen years, I’m not responsible for the tragedy around me.

Alvaro is impotent: both literally and metaphorically. And of course he blames others for his predicament. His is the first story and in many respects his monologues are the funniest. We’ve all met Alvaros like that.

It was women who made me lose interest. Nagging, snivelling, needy. Women love to blame their own unhappiness on the next person. I never let them drag me in. The minute they get one sign of life from you, they shoot off a three-page monologue in your ear. Boy, can they talk, they never get sick of yakety-yakking… I don’t like women. Truth be told, I don’t like anyone. I did like Neto, Ciro, Silvio, and Ribeiro, though. Men don’t talk. We each say something idiotic, we laugh, we drink, and there you have it: a great night.

Men’s friendships seem puzzling to me at times. I have male friends who are excellent friends and who can talk about anything, including their feelings. But very often I look at the friendships based on drinking beer, playing video games and watching football matches, while avoiding anything but the most superficial exchange of information regarding their personal lives and I wonder. Replace beer with cachaca and qualudes, video games with beach life – and you have that mysterious default of life itself, shared experience, growing old together even if you don’t have much in common, which Fernanda Torres manages to capture with what feels me to like great authenticity.

There are plenty of laughable, cringe-worthy moments to divert readers. But, as we get to see the other perspectives, the satire acquires additional layers of depth and the comedy turns into tragicomedy. Are all of these men losers who deserve their come-uppance, or are all of our lives full of mistakes and bad choices?

The famous wave pattern of Copacabana beach, about which Alvaro says: ‘Stupid mosaics. They’re everywhere. Pour some concrete over the top and send on the steamrollers!’

A book soaked in the atmosphere of Rio and Copacabana beach (which appears in the very first paragraph), yet with universally recognisable ideas of masculinity and looking back at life with regret.