Fernando Pessoa by Almada Negreiros (1954)Nicholas Lezard reviews Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.
There will never be a definitive edition of The Book of Disquiet, however hard anyone tries. Apart from a few fragments he suffered to be published in his lifetime, Pessoa's greatest work took the form of 350 fragments shoved into an envelope found in a trunk after his death. (The trunk also contained another 25,000 pieces, 150 of which literary scholars have tacked on for some editions.) The best English-language version is translated by Richard Zenith and published by Penguin, but that comes in at more than 500 pages. This one publishes 259 of the fragments and is much more wieldy; a pocket edition rather than a bedside one.Click to read the full article
You may want to get the Zenith as well, for Pessoa speaks to insomniacs, being one himself; but this edition is a very good book to keep by your side during those encounters with the mundane that can vex the sensitive soul. For it is all about the mundane: the reactions of a sensibility who walks through early 20th-century Lisbon, looking at pedestrians, co-workers, grocers, the seasons, the times of day, unsure, in a kind of existential insomnia, whether he is dreaming or not, whether he exists or not. And alongside the shimmering "reality" runs the flickering existence of the author himself, who is not only the man named on the title page, but one of the 70-odd "heteronyms" he invented for himself: in this case one Bernardo Soares, an insignificant clerk working for the firm run by the charming, avuncular Senhor Vasques. "Senhor Vasques. I remember him now as I will in the future for the nostalgia I know I will feel for him then. I'll be living quietly in a little house somewhere in the suburbs, enjoying a peaceful existence not writing the book I'm not writing now and, so as to continue not doing so, I will come up with different excuses from the ones I use now to avoid actually confronting myself."