The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
As I clicked the "I'm finished" button on Goodreads, I must admit that I felt a sense of relief. No, I didn't read all 544 pages of The Book of Disquiet, but I am, indeed, finished. This is not something I do lightly. Lemming a book is not my standard mode at all. In fact, I went through a sort of grieving process the last time I lemmed a book, which was also the first time I had lemmed a book since I came to Goodreads. I'm glad to see that it has been over a year now, with a lot of reads (some good, some great, some "meh,") in between. I consider myself a fairly resilient reader, with wide-ranging and exploratory tastes. I kind of pride myself on my reading stamina. But, in this case, I'm just sick of being beat up.
Granted, my expectations were high going into this read, but not unrealistic. I had read some positive reviews and had the book recommended to me by other readers who know my tastes and whose opinions I hold in high esteem. So, what happened? How did Pessoa break me?
It's not like the book is horrible. Not at all. Pessoa definitely has his own rhythm, his own voice. And though it took me a while to start to fall into step with it, I can still appreciate his ability to craft words and sentences. You don't get the kind of praise many of my Goodreads friends heaped upon his work by being a bad writer. Chapter 31, I felt, was brilliant. And if that was the whole of the book, I would have been totally satisfied. Unfortunately, that little slice of the ethereal was by far the exception here.
For me The Book of Disquiet's author was too presumptuous by an order of magnitude. And this presumptuousness takes a strange form: The self-deprecating mirror of the narcissist.
Believe me, I am all about self-deprecation. It's a viable defense mechanism for a lot of people, and I find that, usually, those who can be self-deprecating in a humorous way are some of the most "centered," emotionally healthy people I know.
But Pessoa takes self-deprecation to a new level. I knew this was coming, simply from the reviews of the book I had read. I was looking forward to some self-deprecating humor on the part of the author. But what I found was not very funny at all. Or if it was, I totally missed the humor. Rather than finding myself chuckling at the author's skewed view of self, I found myself more or less bored to the point of anger by the tedium of it all. Too often, the book slipped from healthy self-deprecation to self-loathing. I can take that in doses, but Pessoa rubs your face in it. I just got sick of reading about the author's view of himself as being, essentially, the coolest person in the world because he took an interest in nothing (excepting art - though I found his definition of art so poorly-constructed as to subvert his own arguments, if they can be called that, about aesthetics).
Aloofness is not necessarily the hallmark of a formidable intellect. Especially when one's own supposed intellect is the focus of one's entire attention.
Pessoa's love of himself, his love of his own sadness and banality, wore thin. Glorying in how pathetic one is really does nothing for this reader. I might have seen some of myself in him, perhaps wallowed with him in gothic misery (I've been known to do that from time to time), but my reaction to these boring, self-centered ramblings was to simply walk away and move on to better things.
Because there are a lot of better things, namely, a lot of better books, waiting on my To Be Read shelf. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be going to pick out something better to read.
Oh, and ignore the whining man curled up under the desk there. Give him a mirror and please, please, show him out the door!
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