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I was engrossed in this short novel.

For me the author has pulled off something quite special in making me feel so involved both in the character of Pereira and the fascist Portugal of the 30s.

All this in Tabucchi's understated narrative where nothing is extraneous. He has his character Pereira point out from time to time that something occurred but that there's no need to recount it as it's not relevant. That is how the author treats his narrative - no irrelevancies, no 'fat'.

For the first few chapters I was slightly irritated by the oft repeated 'Pereira maintains' but then grew to accept this narrative device (as if Pereira was telling his story?)

I raced through the last few pages hoping against hope that.......oh,no, time for the full-stop.

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PEREIRA MAINTAINS

Antonio Tabucchi

 

Pereira Maintains as its title suggests is a narrative at one remove from a personal document. Thus, the reader is continually reminded that this is only one man’s testimony, and thus it is open to question, or at least interpretation. The speech direction ‘Periera maintains’ is continuously employed throughout and, while this can become repetitive and even annoying to the reader, it reminds him or her that this is in part a self-revelatory monologue at a distance. One might wish to demand of the narrator how or she he came to know of Pereira and his life and thought. This way of telling breaks the smooth surface of what we have come to regard as the fictional transaction between reader and narrator. After all, we know the whole thing is fiction, is a novel, and could well be just another cock and bull story in the Sterne tradition.

 

But although the device of using ‘Pereira maintains’ instead of ‘he said’ or ‘he says’ throughout has a distancing effect, this turns out to be all to the good in the end. The reader ‘believes’ in the story because suspension of disbelief is part of the fictional contract: the principle behind fable and folk tale for instance - and behind talking pigs and friendly moles and badgers in river banks chatting like office mates – but in Tabucchi this double distancing has a shock impact, since we know about the insidious growth of fascism in Europe in the 1930s and its ruthless persecution of dissenters. This lack of political explication in the novel works well, for the fascist background needs no emphasis; it hovers over every page and makes the novel’s horrific dénouement all the more disturbing to the reader. If Pereira is telling his narrator a pack of lies, then he does so because this is his only way to reveal a deeper truth about acts of tyranny.

 

So much for the narrative technique, but what about the story? Well, it tells us about a journalist who is in charge of editing the culture page of a minor publication. He wishes to include reviews of French writers, such as Bernanos, who stand up for freedom and what the politicised may think of as frivolity - poetry and homosexuality for instance. He meets a young man who has republican views. The man is poor and dependent on an activist girl friend. He submits articles to Pereira that he never dares accept for the paper, but he never tells this to the young man. He simply pays the man from his own pocket. Gradually the noose tightens on both the active dissident and Pereira, his helper. The novel is thus a thriller as well as being a disguised political document, a muted appeal for civilised conduct in a world of cruelty and repression. The fact that this novel is set not in Spain or Italy but in Portugal adds even more power to the understated theme of survival in a time of terror.

 

This is a short and compelling novel that has received much acclaim, from such as Mohsin Hamid (his intro to the book is reprinted in the Review section of Saturday’s Guardian -11.12.10), Diana Athill, John Carey, Philip Pullman and MJ Hyland. It’s well worth a read.

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Whow! Your review published in a national newspaper is really something to be proud of. It is an excellent book.

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Thank you Chuntzy :-)

 

Yes, it's a very powerful book.

 

My tip for 2011 is Snowdrops by A.D.Miller - an amazing read, another book set in an oppressive state, and a novel I'd love to see on the Booker shortlist for 2011.

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Just finished this and thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrative device was original (to me at least) and stopped just short of being irritating but nevertheless omnipresent.

 

An interesting book and very short read.

 

Would recommend this.

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Somehow the ease with which this story slips by, the rhythm, the slow rhythm matching the sparseness of the language which again matches the sparseness of Pereira’s life, his almost threadbare house, the omelette he eats almost every day, the lemonade he savours, all belie the depth and complexity of this novel.

 

Many questions are asked. Asked of Pereira and of the reader. Questions of life and worth. What do we value most? Who do we trust? What is truth? Which truth is worth fighting for?

 

Pereira maintains his existence. His love for his deceased wife sustains it. His constant statement, his ‘maintains’, jars at first, pulled this reader out of the story but as the novel progresses the ‘maintains’ becomes like a mantra. Almost like the saying of Amen, Inshallah, an internal touching of wood, thoughts crossed, the void held back.

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Pereira maintains. He doesn’t say, he doesn’t report, he doesn’t tell. He maintains. At first this seems like a quirk. Then it irritates. Ultimately it intrigues. Why is Pereira maintaining? Who is challenging his view? Who is narrating, why, and to whom?

 

The very phrase “Pereira maintains” screams out that Pereira is an unreliable narrator. Pereira is not to be believed, but if he is being mendacious then, again, one wonder why and what the truth really is. Thus, what might appear to be a straightforward narrative of a fat, balding middle-aged journalist getting briefly entangles with a couple of seditious revolutionaries becomes altogether more sinister.

 

Moreover, in Pereira maintaining, we are conscious that Pereira’s story, perhaps true and perhaps not, is being filtered through the lens of someone else’s reporting. Thus, the narrator may be selective in what he reports, may not be putting points across as well as Pereira might have hoped, or may in fact be completely misrepresenting Pereira. Thus, we have a story which might appear simple but is anything but.

 

Similarly, we have a Portugal which is ostensibly free, independent and reasonable but really authoritarian and conservative. It is not what it seems, and takes pains not to seem as it really is. This is exemplified in Pereira’s editor who seems affable, pastoral whilst giving commands dressed as advice.

 

Pereira apparently falls under the spell of a younger man, Monteiro Rossi, whom Pereira identifies as the son he never had. Rossi has an exotic (Italian) name and exotic ideas. He wants to write about foreign art and ideas that interest him, even when they are dangerous to his patron and directly opposite to his commissioning brief. The fact that the writing in question is obituary of still-living writers adds a certain frisson. As the novel wears on, one wonders whether Rossi ever existed or whether he might represent a side of Pereira’s own mind – the devil inside – which sets a quiet man on a journey of self-destruction.

 

The writing is taut, Pereira is a complex character fully deserving of a plot so simple yet so ambiguous. The piece de resistance is the final episode which sees Pereira apparently fleeing to France. But did he make it? If he did, why does he have to maintain his story? And to whom?

 

****0

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For the first few chapters I was slightly irritated by the oft repeated 'Pereira maintains' but then grew to accept this narrative device (as if Pereira was telling his story?).

I'm at this stage at the moment - here's hoping I can get over it too.

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For the first few chapters I was slightly irritated by the oft repeated 'Pereira maintains' but then grew to accept this narrative device (as if Pereira was telling his story?

It's more than that, though - the way it's much more than the equivalent of legal testimony - it's an invitation for us to consider the very making of a story, the importance of what we say and how we say it. And how what we can say is even more important when society tries to censor it.

 

What is there to truth and to testimony other than the words we can use to express it in? To me the distancing effect of the "Pereira maintains" statements is a reminder that the story of a man's life can amount to no more than what can be said about him. Pereira hires Rossi to write obituaries for significant writers who are still alive, but cannot print them because they go against the dominant political ideology of his times. Under fascism and under censorship, what people's lives mean in no longer something that can adequately be expressed. Pereira's own living obituary (which we are reading) is stifled too - but we can sense a truth beneath it.

 

It's interesting that this book was first published in Italy in 1994 - the year of Berlusconi's election. As of 2009, Freedom House has rated the press in Italy as only "partly free" due to the conflict of interest between Berlusconi's political power and his degree of media ownership. But its political meaning is only one of the reasons this is an important book. Its engagement with the literary - with what it means to tell a story - is what I will remember most about Pereira Maintains.

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For the first few chapters I was slightly irritated by the oft repeated 'Pereira maintains' but then grew to accept this narrative device
Did he Pereira maintain less as the story proceeded? It seemed so to me and I felt that the decreasing frequency disappointing.

 

It's not often that I enjoy a book on so many levels. Or even recognise the subtleties. I think that must be down to the style and quality of writing (and the quality translation).

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